Risks 476 - 2 October 2010

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Risks
Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 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

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

Union News

Deaths expose Network Rail's 'ignorance'

Network Rail's 'ignorance' and 'irresponsibility' has been condemned by train drivers' union ASLEF after an official investigation found the company 'did not properly understand' the risks posed by a level crossing where three people died. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report into the 29 September 2009 tragedy at Halkirk level crossing, Caithness (Risks 432) concluded: 'Network Rail did not fully understand the risk at Halkirk crossing because they had not taken the records of previous accidents there into account. If they had done so, additional risk reduction measures, such as the provision of barriers, might have been justified.' Commenting on the findings, ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman said: 'This amounts to irresponsibility verging on the criminal, and ignorance bordering on the insane. It baffles me that anyone associated with the industry can fail to recognise the risks involved at level crossings, where one person a month has died for decades. Level crossings kill. Unmanned ones kill regularly. What is there not to understand?' He added: 'This report recommends a risk assessment of the crossing. I can save them a lot of trouble. They are all inherently unsafe. That is why we advise our members to slow down their trains when they approach them. What really maddens me is that we know the solutions: they are tunnels, bridges and in-cab technology to enable a driver to look further up the track than the eye can see. They are all available. But no one will put up the money to stop the carnage.'



Social workers send out safety SOS

Stressed out social workers have sent an SOS to MPs and the public, calling on them to back their campaign for a new 'Social Work Contract.' Public sector union UNISON has joined up with social work journal Community Care to promote a specially devised contract that would allow social workers to do their job properly and in safety. The union said alarming new evidence about the effects of spiralling caseloads on social workers and their clients prompted the action. It said social workers want the government and their employers to sign up to the contract because they cannot practice safely if they can't give enough time and attention to the people who need their help. As part of the campaign, UNISON and Community Care are launching an e-petition, while social workers will be sending the contract to their local MPs to get their support, and using social media to spread the message. Helga Pile, UNISON national officer for social workers, said: 'We're taking this campaign out there because social workers want the government and their employers to provide the minimum conditions for safe practice. A manageable caseload, the right to have their professional concerns heard and acted upon, the right to a minimum level of professional supervision and to keep their skills up-to-date - these are basic requirements that social workers should be able to expect. They know better than anyone how badly things can go wrong when workloads spiral out of control.'

Coalition attacks 'the right to be safe'

The coalition government is attacking the most fundamental of workers' rights - the right to be safe at work, retail union Usdaw has warned. Moving a rights a work motion at this week's Labour Party annual conference in Manchester, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said the government was intent on diluting workplace safety protections. 'The Tories claim that shops and offices are safe workplaces, that they don't need health and safety inspections,' Hannett said. But drawing attention to the violence risks facing workers in the public service frontline, he added: 'It's true that they don't have the obvious hazards of a chemical factory, or an oil rig, but there are hidden dangers. Like so many other public facing workers, those dangers tend to come from other people. As soon as the Tories and Lib Dems got into power, they attacked the most fundamental workplace right - the right to be safe. The Tories, because they are ideologically committed to putting profit before people and the Lib Dems, because they are ideologically committed to clinging to their ministerial limos. They justify their attacks by peddling myths and misinformation.' The union leader concluded: 'We must keep independent workplace inspections, we must resource rigorous enforcement of the law and we must protect all public facing workers. Protect them from the dangers of the workplace and from the dangers of the coalition government.' A September report from the TUC challenged the safety myths behind the government's attack on safety, and concluded health and safety regulations and enforcement were a benefit and not a burden to business (Risks 473).

Unite calls for better truckstops

Transport union Unite has called on the trucking industry to support its campaign to provide more and better truckstops. A report in Road Transport magazine says the union has set up an email hotline so that drivers can send photos and information highlighting the problems they face. Unite will use the information to lobby the government for improvements in truckstop provision, it says. According to the union, member are keeping diaries of their experiences at truckstops around the country, highlighting problems including inflated parking charges, poor food and drink, dirty toilets and washing facilities, or truckstops closed during public holidays when drivers still require them. Unite spokesperson Karen Viquerat said: 'Secure and affordable truckstops are vital for our haulage industry. The union knows it is what members want, and Unite says it is not much to ask.' Malcolm Bingham, head of road network management policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), told the magazine his organisation supports any initiative to improve facilities for truck drivers. He added: 'The FTA is supporting two EC initiatives: Secure European Truck Parking Operational Services (SETPOS), which is a pilot project aimed at improving parking security; and LABEL, a project aimed at establishing a certification system for truck parking areas in Europe.'

Jumping beer keg crushes finger

A beer delivery man from South Shields has received £3,500 compensation from his employer after his finger was crushed and left deformed when it was crushed by a beer keg. GMB member Paul Anderson, 42, sustained the injury in May 2008 while attempting to unload a delivery of beer kegs at a pub in Newcastle. The Tradeteam Ltd delivery wagon had been overloaded with stock and there was not enough space between the kegs, which were separated by locator boards, to allow access to remove them from the wagon safely. As Mr Anderson pulled on one keg that refused to budge, it popped into the air without warning and threw him off balance. The keg landed on his finger, crushing it under its 50 kilogram weight. The crush injury forced Mr Anderson to take eight weeks off work on reduced pay. 'Prior to the accident I used to do a lot of shooting and fishing,' Paul said, 'but I just don't have the same grip after the accident. The loss of grip and discomfort means I can't cast a line or feel confident using a gun.' David Burn from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by GMB to act in the case, said the 'fact is this accident should never have happened. If Tradeteam had ensured its wagons were loaded with safe levels of stock as well as suitable locator boards then Paul would still have the full use of his finger today.'

Faulty ladder makes caretaker 'the fall guy'

A school caretaker has received £30,000 compensation after damaging his knee when he fell from a ladder at work. The GMB member, who worked in Leeds but whose name has not been released, was attempting to unlock a toilet cubicle door when the ladder he was using slipped on shiny quarry tiles. The non-slip caps to stop the bottom feet of the ladder from slipping were missing. The injured man said: 'I guess that I was three or four foot up the ladder when the ladder started to slide. I had no choice but to jump off and when I landed my left knee gave way.' The caretaker had to have two operations to repair a torn ligament and now has a prominent scar on the front of his knee. The injury may require knee replacement surgery in the future. 'It seems incredible looking back, but at the time of my accident there was no system for inspection of the ladders that we used,' he said. GMB regional secretary Tim Roache commented: 'This was an accident waiting to happen and the employee was - literally - the fall guy. Ladders are essential equipment for caretakers yet, incredibly, there was no system in place to check that they were safe. The good news is that the employers now have a system in place.'

Tube danger from uninspected trains

London Underground Limited (LUL) has been breaking safety rules by running trains that have missed essential safety inspections, rail unions have warned. RMT accused LUL last week of running trains that had not been inspected within the stipulated time limits and was continuing to open under-staffed stations, in breach of safety rules and increasing risk to passengers and Tube staff. It said train brake blocks, cab equipment, chassis brackets and other critical equipment is supposed to be inspected at 14-day intervals, but the union has evidence that trains that have not been inspected for at least 22 days. In contravention of operating rules, these trains had not been taken out of service, the union said. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'It is becoming ever more clear that LUL's determination to force through these dangerous cuts has impaired its judgment to the extent that it is prepared to ignore its own safety standards. It is also in danger of throwing away far more money than it is likely to save by pursuing cuts that the men and women who get out there and run the Tube day in and day out have made clear are both unsafe and unnecessary.' RMT and TSSA members across the Tube are refusing to work extra hours as part of a safety dispute over the company's plans to axe 800 posts.

Other news

Non-union firms fail to involve workers

Unless unions are involved, companies are unlikely to take worker involvement seriously and even when they do it will be on management terms, new research has found. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) was commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate worker involvement in health and safety (WISH) in non-unionised workplaces in Scotland. RoSPA says the initiative built on evidence that organisations with 'properly involved' unionised safety representatives achieved better health and safety performance than those without. The RoSPA report concludes that worker involvement in health and safety 'as a concept, is low down on the agendas of most of the employers; there is little willingness to invest money and resources in worker involvement.' It adds worker involvement 'is perfectly feasible, and is happening, in some non-unionised workplaces, but is likely to follow the employer's agenda and be confined to the involvement/consultation end of the spectrum, rather than anything approaching joint decision-making (ie. unionised safety reps are more likely to be empowered to set an agenda and be challenging).' It also discovered that effective worker involvement needed the support of the managing director or a senior director. The most commonly cited barriers to worker involvement 'were lack of resources, knowledge, time and imperative,' RoSPA said. Other barriers mentioned by a significant number of participants included fear of managers and lack of respect shown by managers. Hugh Robertson, TUC head of safety, commented: 'The RoSPA work shows the difficulties in extending worker involvement to non unionised areas. Sadly, on these occasions it is attempted, it is always on management's terms.' He added: 'Only where workers are supported, such as through unions, will involvement be effective. The union model is the one that has been shown to work and the one that should be promoted if worker involvement is to be meaningful' (Risks 456).

HSE benchmarking tool 'a costly flop'

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) corporate benchmarking tool has been branded 'a costly flop' after figures obtained from the watchdog showed each use has cost taxpayers over £5,100. Health and Safety Bulletin (HSB) made the charge after discovering the low take-up of the Health and Safety Executive-sponsored Corporate Health and Safety Performance Index (CHaSPI). HSB asked HSE for the information after examining an HSE-commissioned review of CHaSPI carried out by Greenstreet Berman, which also developed and still manage the tool. HSE told HSB that it has paid £582,257 - mostly to Greenstreet Berman - for CHaSPI over seven years, including full development, running, IT and evaluation costs. Greenstreet Berman was paid an additional £50,030 for the report. Launched in 2005, CHaSPI is a free web tool that allows organisations with more than 250 employees to track and benchmark their health and safety performance. At the end of December 2008, there were 642 registered users of CHaSPI. Of the 642 users, 601 had started an index, with only 114 completing it. HSB asked HSE whether it believed 114 completed indexes was too few and, if so, whether this was limiting the tool's benchmarking value. An HSE spokesperson responded that the figure represents 'those that have gone all the way through and obtained authorisation to publish', but there may be other users that 'may have derived health and safety benefits even if they decided not to complete the index fully.' When asked why HSE had not commissioned an impartial, independent evaluation, HSE said the report was part of the HSE's normal process of reviewing work after an appropriate period of time. HSE said the £50,030 report 'was not designed to give an independent view on the success of the tool; it was simply to measure factors like scope and take-up'. As of this week, the CHaSPI website lists 712 registered users, out of which 148 had 'signed off' the index and 564 were listed as having not completed the process.

Lead level reached four times the legal limit

A Black Country glass maker has been fined £3,600 after an official inspection found airborne lead levels in some instances were over four times the legal limit. Employees at Brierley Crystal had elevated blood lead levels, with four in excess of the 35 micrograms/dl level described as evidence of 'significant' over-exposure in the lead regulations. Recent reports have indicated serious health problems can arise at exposures a fraction this official trigger level. The unannounced Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection of the site in Brierley Hill found the levels of lead contamination to be up to 61mg/m3, over four times the official Occupational Exposure Limit of 15mg/m3, the watchdog told Hazards magazine. This created a 'significant and substantial risk to the health of employees in the factory itself and in the office areas,' HSE said. The inspection found there wasn't even a place for workers properly to wash their hands or a rest area for workers to have meals. In good weather they would go outside, but otherwise they would have lunch in the factory, greatly increasing the prospect of them ingesting lead. The firm, which produces lead cut crystal items, was served with six HSE improvement notices. Staffordshire Crystal Ltd, trading as Brierley Crystal, pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. As well as the £3,600 fine, the company was ordered to pay £7,000 costs. HSE revised its advice on the dangers of working with lead last year after a Stirling University/Hazards magazine investigation found it greatly under-estimated health risks that could be affecting over 100,000 workers (Risks 432).

Families at risk from deadly asbestos

It's not just your own asbestos exposures at work that can lead to a deadly cancer, they can hit your family too, recent cases affecting a daughter, a wife and a granddaughter have demonstrated. Retired secretary Sylvia Pusey died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma aged 62 after breathing in asbestos fibres from her father's overalls, an inquest heard last week. When her father finished work at Fawley Power Station, the family would all sit together in the living room. Robert Stone, deputy coroner for Portsmouth and South East Hampshire, said: 'I must say with all that I've heard I record Syliva's death as a result of an industrial disease.' Retired medical secretary Hazel Williams, 71, was killed by the disease as a result of cleaning her husband's work clothes during the '60s and '70s. Husband David Williams worked fitting out Southampton ships including QE2 for the company JI Thornycroft. Deputy Southampton coroner Gordon Denson recorded a verdict of death due to an industrial disease. 'Hazel was exposed to asbestos when cleaning her husband's overalls which were covered in asbestos dust,' he said at last week's inquest. Debra Edwards, 44, is dying of mesothelioma and she is convinced she got it after inhaling asbestos fibres from granddad Jack Duffin's overalls. He worked with the substance at Plymouth's Devonport Docks and died from mesothelioma in 2000 aged 86. Now Debra has been given nine months to live. The former shop worker is being cared for by boyfriend Paul Stevenson and children Deanne, 23, and Carl, 21.

Worker loses leg on offshore wind farm

Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd and Scaldis Salvage and Marine Contractors BV have been fined after a worker lost his leg during work on an offshore wind farm. The incident in August 2006 took place 20 kilometres offshore in the Moray Firth, during construction of the Beatrice Windfarm Turbine B. This was one of two wind turbine generators which were being built to provide power to the Beatrice AP Oil Platform. Alexander Murray, 48, was standing on a partly completed structure while another part was lowered into place by a heavy lift vessel, when the part swung towards him and crushed his left leg, leading to amputation. The case was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and reported to with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) Health and Safety Division, whose specialist prosecutors brought the case to court. The firms pleaded guilty at Aberdeen Sheriff Court on 23 September. Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd was fined £225,000, reduced from £300,000 as a result of their guilty plea. Scaldis Salvage and Marine Contractors BV was fined £18,750, reduced from £25,000. Following the case, Elaine Taylor, head of the COPFS safety division, said: 'Working alongside colleagues in the HSE, our specialist prosecutors use their experience and expertise to meet the challenges of these complex and serious cases. In this case, as a result of this joint working, both companies pled guilty which meant that the case was resolved without the case proceeding to trial and witnesses being required to give evidence.' She added: 'This wholly avoidable incident has had a devastating effect on Mr Murray's life. We hope, however, that he can derive some comfort from our commitment to prosecute those in breach of health and safety legislation and to work with the enforcing authorities to raise standards of health and safety in the workplace, hopefully to prevent similar incidents in future.'

Firm fined after spinning screw death

A Preston engineering firm has been fined after a worker was killed when he became entangled in machinery. Michael Lohaza was found dead after becoming trapped in a lathe at Autoy Ltd on 10 January 2009. The 45-year-old was discovered by two colleagues in a small building next to the main workshop, where he had been working alone. He had worked at the firm for 28 years. Preston Crown Court heard Mr Lohaza was killed when he became entangled on a one-metre-long metal screw, while cutting its thread on a lathe. It was extremely cold in the unheated workshop and the employee, who had long hair tied back, was wearing at least four layers of clothing, including two hooded tops. They became trapped in the lathe. The screw was rotating at approximately 200 times every minute. Autoy Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £17,500 and ordered to pay £12,251 costs. Michael Clarke, the investigating inspector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said: 'It is extremely sad that Michael Lohaza needlessly lost his life after nearly three decades working for the same company.' He added: 'Autoy was unable to demonstrate it had assessed the risks faced by employees working alone on the lathe. It should have made sure all workers, including Michael, wore suitable clothing while operating the lathe. If they had taken this action then Michael might still be alive today.'

Site giant Kier fined £160k after death

A major construction firm has been fined £160,000 after a labourer fell to his death while building Premier League side Everton FC's new training academy. Karl Davis was working on the first floor when a guardrail gave way and he fell out of an open window frame. Kier North West, part of the Kier group which has an annual turnover of more than £2.4bn, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the incident on 27 February 2007. Mr Davis remained in a coma for three months before he died on 29 May, less than a week after his 43rd birthday. Liverpool Crown Court heard that a rubbish chute had been attached to a temporary guardrail at the window frame, leading to a skip below. Kier North West's site management team had failed to ensure that the guardrail could withstand the weight of the chute and materials being thrown down it. HSE inspector Robert Hodkinson said: 'What is incredibly sad about this incident is that a man lost his life when equipment installed to make the work safer failed. Kier North West should have planned and managed the use of the rubbish chute on the site to make sure it was safe.' He added: 'If Kier North West had ensured the rubbish chute was attached to a structure which could support its weight then Mr Davis would still be alive today.' Kier North West pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay £43,993 costs. HSE says in 2008/9, there were 35 deaths and more than 4,000 major injuries caused by falls from height.

Hand deskinned in chicken machine

A chicken deskinning machine tore the skin off the back of a worker's hand, a court has heard. The Crown Chicken Ltd employee was using the industrial machine to skin chickens when his glove became caught and his hand was pulled onto the cutting blade. Thetford Magistrates' Court heard that the skin on the back of his hand, from his knuckles to his wrist, was torn completely away from the underlying tissue in the incident on 24 July 2009. The firm, which processes 365,000 chickens a week at its site on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, pleaded guilty to four breaches of health and safety law, including a separate incident where a second worker's hand was crushed. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the first incident found the machine did not have adequate guards, there was no emergency stop button, and the gloves were not suitably protective. Five months later, on 7 December 2009, another employee severed a finger when his hand was crushed by the lifting mechanism of a forklift truck when he was standing on the forks to access the back of a trailer. HSE inspector, Saffron Turnell, said: 'The company failed to ensure that simple measures were in place to protect employees using the deskinning machine. Similarly, the company had no safe method for staff to access the refrigerated trailers.' Crown Chicken Ltd admitted two criminal safety breaches and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £5,500 in costs.

Walkers fined after toxic gas death

Food giant Walkers Snack Foods Ltd and chemical distributor Omnichem Ltd have been fined after a worker was killed by a cloud of toxic gas. John Marriott, 59, was working for Omnichem on 19 July 2006 when he was seriously affected by chlorine dioxide fumes. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told Leicester Crown Court that Mr Marriott was driving a lorry containing four steel tanks, two with sodium chlorite and two containing hydrochloric acid, to a Walkers' site in Leicester. Mr Marriott inadvertently mixed up the hoses on the tanks while transferring the two chemicals from the lorry, causing them to produce green fumes of chlorine dioxide. When he realised his error, Mr Marriott stopped the transfer and started to hose the area down, but he was already starting to be affected by the toxic gas. Mr Marriott and a Walkers employee who tried to help, were both taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary. The Walkers employee was in hospital for 30 hours, with breathing difficulties, but later recovered. Mr Marriott's condition gradually deteriorated, and he died from the effects of the gas a month later on 17 August 2006. Walkers Snack Foods Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £200,000 plus costs of £38,971. Omnichem Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £150,000 with £29,229 costs. HSE inspector Sue Thompson said: 'It took about an hour after the appearance of the gas cloud for Walkers to realise the gravity of matters, and to get employees out of the area. Walkers had no planned evacuation procedure for a chemical emergency at this location, which was a major failing. There were insufficient written procedures for deliveries of chemicals and for the receipt of chemicals, and the tanks were also insufficiently labelled.'

International News

Australia: Site commission makes sites less safe

An Australian construction commission set up to limit the power of unions in the sector has been an 'abject failure' that made sites less safe, unions have said. National union federation ACTU said the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) must be abolished. ACTU said the departure of John Lloyd, the head of the commission, clears the way for ABCC to be axed. ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the commission 'has been an abject failure which has led to poorer safety standards in the industry.' He added 'ABCC engaged in politically partisan behaviour that is inconsistent with its obligations as a statutory body.' ACTU head Jeff Lawrence said the case of Ark Tribe, a CFMEU union rep who faces jail after acting over site safety concerns then refusing to answer to ABCC for his actions, exemplified the problem with the commission (Risks 460). 'Industrial laws are intended to protect the rights of workers, not undermine them,' Mr Lawrence said. 'The priorities of the ABCC should be to strengthen workplace health and safety in the building industry, and to stamp out dodgy contractors who avoid their obligations to employees and to the tax system. But overwhelmingly, the ABCC has investigated and prosecuted workers for exercising their rights rather than employers.' He concluded: 'The ABCC has wasted millions of dollars while health and safety in the industry has not improved. There should be one set of laws for all workers, regardless of the industry they work in. The Federal Parliament must vote to abolish the coercive powers that impinge upon civil liberties and the right to be members of a union.' Construction union CFMEU this week revealed the ABCC had obtained evidence from an undercover police officer who had infiltrated a union meeting.



China: Bosses use stand-ins to evade mine dangers

Mine bosses in China are using stand-ins to get round a rule requiring them to go down the country's notorious hazardous mines. In July, premier Wen Jiabao ordered that 'leaders' must go into mines with workers. But a Beijing News report this week said one mine had responded by appointing substitutes, increasing cynicism about whether senior mine staff will comply. Under the rule, the mine leaders must go below ground with miners or be considered 'absent without leave' and face fines of up to 80 per cent of their annual income (Risks 468). If an accident occurs when no management-level shift leader is present, the enterprise will be fined up to five million yuan. However, a number of mine fatalities in which mining officials were unharmed have fuelled scepticism about the practical application of the rule. China Labour Bulletin said 'the rationale behind the government's plan is obvious: mine managers are much more likely to pay attention to safety and order an evacuation of the mine in times of danger if their own life, rather than just the lives of the workers, is at risk.' It warned however there must be more fundamental changes if mining is to get safer. 'Currently, the vast majority of coal miners are poorly educated, unskilled migrants who have no formal employment contract with the mine and are paid solely on a piece rate basis,' it said in an online article published this week. 'This situation needs to be changed, with miners given rigorous and extensive training, wages based on skill levels and safety awareness rather than output, and long-term contracts that will ensure they have a vested interest not only in their own safety but in that of their co-workers and the entire mine community as well.'

Global: Spanish metalworker death spurs global action

Following the death of a worker at a steel plant in Spain on 5 September, workers and their unions at Gerdau plants worldwide have taken action to demand improvements in workplace health and safety. The 28-year-old subcontracted metalworker died on after being trapped at chest level by a casting at the Sidenor Gerdau plant in Basauri, Spain. In response, workers at all the company's plants in the country stopped work for one and a half hours on 6 September, holding demonstrations at the front gates of the plants. In Colombia, Gerdau workers in Tuta and Duitama held a minute's silence, as did workers at Canadian plants at Selkirk, Manitoba, Whitby and Cambridge, Ontario and at Chilean plants in Aza, Matco, Armacero and Salomón Sack. A minute of silence was also held at a number of plants in Brazil, and bulletin on the issue was distributed to members. According to IMF, the global union federation for the sector: 'Since the creation of the Gerdau Global Workers' Committee in 2006 the workers, supported by the International Metalworkers' Federation, have been trying to gain recognition from the company of the global committee so as to discuss improving workplace health and safety at all Gerdau plants.'

India: Hunger striking silicosis widows fight on

A hunger strike by silicosis widows has forced a district official to make a compensation gesture of 100,000 rupees (£1,400) for each victim. The move came after the women, who are backed by a mining union and the Mine Labour Peoples' Campaign (MLPC), protested for three days last week. They were demanding the workers' compensation the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had directed should be provided by the state government to 22 silicosis widows. An NHRC delegation had visited Jodhpur as a result of a complaint from MLPC about the plight of sandstone quarry labourers in the district suffering from the debilitating and deadly dust disease silicosis. News of the ad hoc payment came within hours of the chief minister Ashok Gehlot meeting with the women. The campaigners are still pressing for the full compensation payments. NHRC has given local officials a November deadline to come up with the payments or be dragged before the commission. MLPC's Ran Sengupta commented: 'The victims have to be compensated according to the Workmen's Compensation Act. But as most of these people have been labourers in small quarries in the district, no records are available as to who their employer was.' He said since the NHRC visit, more workers had died of silicosis. 'In fact, there are more than 800 people who have worked in such mines and there could be many more who could have died of the disease,' Sengupta said.

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