Risks 494 - 19 February 2011

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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

UK asbestos law not up to Euro standard

The UK version of a European Union-wide law on asbestos safety is illegally lax and must be amended, the government has been told. The TUC, which had warned against the dilution of essential safety measures, said the European Commission (EC) ruling nails the myth the UK 'gold-plates' Euro laws (Risks 487). In discussions at the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) - now the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) board - prior to the introduction of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, the unacceptably weak interpretation was pushed through in a vote. This exceedingly rare measure was necessary because union representatives refused to accept the downgrading of essential clauses in the original European Directive that formed the basis of the law. This week's 'reasoned opinion' from the EC, in response to a complaint about inadequacies in the UK law, gives the government two months to amend the law or face possible action at the EU's Court of Justice. It says the UK misinterpreted requirements on 'sporadic and low intensity exposure to asbestos' to justify the exclusion of considerable amounts of asbestos work from asbestos licensing, health assessments and exposure recording requirements. The EC announcement, warning of court action if the government fails to act, notes: 'The UK legislation currently focuses on the measurement of exposure to asbestos and not enough on the how the material will be affected by the work itself, while the directive deals with both exposure and the material.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said 'this is another nail in the coffin of the myth that the HSE has been 'gold-plating' regulation. European regulations are there to protect workers and governments should see them as being minimum standards rather than trying to weasel out of their commitments.'

Government must create jobs, not blame

The government's continued use of a flawed fitness for work disability assessment system is expending resources on victimising the sick when it should be concentrating its efforts on creating more jobs, the TUC has said. Commenting on findings from the government's incapacity benefit reassessment programme published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'While we welcome the government's commitment to implement the Harrington Review [Risks 491] to improve the operation of work capability assessments, these trials were carried out under the old system where 40 per cent of appeals were upheld, due to problems the government acknowledges still exist.' He added: 'Even among those who do not appeal, many of the people judged as 'fit for work' in these trials are disabled, and will face additional barriers moving into the jobs market - particularly as they are likely to have spent a long period out of work and live in areas where unemployment is high. With more than five unemployed people now chasing every job vacancy, whether or not people get back into work will depend upon the economy starting to grow.' The union leader concluded: 'Instead of blaming sick and disabled people for being out of work the government needs to stop cutting back on support for unemployed people and start focusing on creating jobs.' Employment minister Chris Grayling said initial reassessments of those on invalidity benefit in Aberdeen and Burnley found over a quarter were fit for work (29.6 per cent). However, the government also admits changes recommended by Professor Harrington are yet to be implemented, so its findings are based on the use of a system the government itself accepts is seriously flawed.

Schools to face a dangerous future

A toxic mix of cuts in school building and maintenance, education budgets and official safety oversight is going to have a damaging impact on school safety, teaching union NUT has warned. A briefing from the union says '2010 was not a good year for health and safety in schools', but says worse is to come. The axing of the school building programme by the coalition government 'means that many thousands of pupils and teachers will be forced to continue to work in sub-standard buildings, in some cases in asbestos-ridden classrooms, with leaking roofs, or in science laboratories which have been condemned as unsafe,' the document warns. Redundancies driven by cuts in funds available to local authorities will lead to 'increased workload for teachers generally, and in the worst cases, to more violent assaults on teachers. This in turn is bound to lead to increased levels of stress-related illness in a profession which is widely recognised to be one of the most stressful to work in.' The union fears increased pressure on union facility time may mean essential union safety cover will be reduced. 'The end result is that accidents may not be investigated or reported and that the positive health and safety culture in many schools is likely to be diminished in the long term,' the briefing says. 'Employers will know they can get away with 'cutting corners', which will eventually lead to more accidents and ill health.' It adds swingeing cuts to HSE's budget mean 'visits by HSE inspectors to schools will become even rarer than they currently are, and the amount of guidance and number of initiatives directed at schools is bound to decrease.'

Port worker wins disability adjustments case

An RMT member from Morecambe whose damaged back was aggravated after his employer refused to make adjustments to his work environment has won his case for disability discrimination. Manchester Employment Tribunal found Andrew Russell, 38, was discriminated against when his employer Heysham Port Ltd refused to allocate new equipment to him. Mr Russell, whose case was supported by RMT, was a general operative at the port where for 90 per cent of his time and for up to four hours at a time he used a machine called a tugmaster to unload vehicles from vessels. He had back problems from 2006 and was off work with back pain from November 2008 until January 2009. On returning to work in January 2009, Mr Russell asked to be allocated with one of 14 new tugmasters which had better suspension and enabled the driver to move more easily. He explained that the older tugmasters were causing further damage to his back. The company refused, however, saying the vehicles were allocated on a first come first served basis and they wouldn't change the system because it would be unfair to other employees. Mr Russell ended up having to take three months off work in 2009 because of back pain and work-related stress. Only in September 2009 did the company agree to allow him to drive a new tugmaster. An Employment Tribunal agreed that Mr Russell had a disability and was discriminated against and ordered Heysham Port to pay him £6,000 in compensation. Mr Russell said: 'I ended up having to go to tribunal to get the Port to listen to its disabled employees' in the future.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'His employer could easily, with a little flexibility, have made adjustments and saved him further time off work. Whilst it is an indictment of the Port that he had to fight his case at an employment tribunal, he has stood up for his employment rights and woken the employers up to their duties to disabled staff.'

Safety warning on fire service privateers

The effectiveness of London's fire service is now seriously compromised by the commercial and operational problems of a private outfit brought in to maintain London's fleet of fire engines, firefighters' union FBU has warned. The union says financial problems blighting AssetCo, which is in line for further contracts, are reflected in serious operational difficulties. For nearly four months the private firm has had custody of 27 of London's fire engines, and was supposed to return them to their fire stations as soon as agreement was reached between the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and FBU. However, the much needed appliances were not returned to the agreed deadline because AssetCo didn't have drivers - so the engines eventually had to be collected this week by the fire brigade itself. AssetCo is still in line for another huge contract from LFB, to provide all its training. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'The recent fiasco of the 27 fire engines is a straw in the wind. A company which is struggling financially must be tempted to cut corners.' He added: 'The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) wants to privatise as much as possible of LFB's work, at any cost, for narrow ideological reasons; and it appears to want AssetCo, whose top directors are close to LFEPA chairman Brian Coleman, to get the work. The cost will be paid by Londoners in a lower standard of safety.' The union leader said fire engines should be owned and maintained within the fire and rescue service, adding: 'The only safe thing to do now is to take the work back into the London Fire Brigade.'

New warning on pilot fatigue

A recent air crash in which 50 people died was linked to pilot fatigue and exposes the folly of moves to extend pilots' flying hours, their union BALPA has warned. The UK union said the Colgan disaster on 12 February 2009 when a plane crash-landed at Buffalo, USA, could be repeated in the UK if EU revised rules on pilot fatigue are allowed to proceed as planned (Risks 493). 'A major cause of Colgan, investigations showed, was pilot fatigue,' said BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan. Speaking on the second anniversary of the crash, he added 'we want to warn British passengers, and residents around our major airports, that the same thing could happen here because of EU moves to increase pilot hours that will increase fatigue and lower safety standards.' The Colgan disaster was the catalyst for the US government to restrict pilot hours. 'But now we see the EU wanting to go in the opposite direction,' Jim McAuslan said. 'We say, and indeed pilots across Europe are saying that the EU proposals will put people's lives at risk.' The European proposals would increase pilot hours beyond what Britain's own Civil Aviation Authority and scientific research shows is safe. BALPA says its warning 'is directed not only to passengers but to residents around Britain's airports. Take-off and landing are the most critical parts of a flight and pilots cannot afford to be tired or worst still, suffering from fatigue, during these essential stages.'

Union exposes Tube's 'Russian roulette'

An unattended bag on a London Tube train was not checked for several stops - leading a manager to warn the company was playing 'Russian roulette with people's lives.' The internal email obtained by the union RMT says the suspect bag was allowed to travel four Jubilee line stations before being checked. The union believes low staffing levels were to blame. The email documents how controllers tried frantically to get passengers off the train as it passed through a string of stations including Canary Wharf - only to be told that 'due to staff shortages there was no-one available to investigate this potentially catastrophic safety issue.' The email adds: 'Canning Town staff eventually made the necessary checks and fortunately on this occasion, it proved to be a customer's bag. This is a very serious issue and I think we are beginning to play 'Russian roulette' with people's lives if this sort of failure in a duty of care is allowed to persist.' It continues: 'I was on the verge of suspending the railway and calling for the appropriate emergency services to attend. In hindsight, I was perhaps remiss in my duty by not doing so. In the run-up to the Olympics we cannot afford to become complacent as the threat of a terrorist attack on the Underground remains very real.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said Transport for London has 'had the nerve to accuse RMT of scaremongering over the safety impact of their cuts and yet here we have one of their own senior managers warning that we are playing Russian roulette with people's lives. This memo shows in the starkest possible terms that everything we have warned of in terms of safety and terrorism risks from the Tube cuts programme in the lead up to the Olympics is absolutely true.'He demanded that transport chiefs reverse the cuts programme 'before it's too late.' London Underground boss Howard Collins dismissed the RMT claims as 'absurd.'

Faulty lorry caused lasting disability

A worker from Gateshead who suffered debilitating long term damage to his hearing caused by defective work equipment has received £8,500 in compensation. GMB member Charles Haswell developed tinnitus, a condition which means he hears constant ringing in his left ear, after he was hit in the side of the face by a faulty lorry door handle. The driver for Asda's depot in Washington was attempting to unload a 40ft lorry trailer, owned by McBurney Transport, when the incident happened in September 2009. The lorry's door handle was stiff and as Mr Haswell applied pressure to open it, it released without warning hitting him on the left side of his face. It was later found that the handle was faulty. Mr Haswell, 54, suffered from severe internal bruising and soft tissue injuries to his face. The trauma caused the onset of his tinnitus. Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by GMB to act for Mr Haswell, argued that McBurney Transport should have ensured the lorry was regularly inspected and maintained so any problems were picked up and resolved. GMB regional organiser Michael Hopper said: 'Tinnitus is not just irritating it can also be extremely distressing and worrying. Our member was just getting on with his job. The lorry's owner left him with faulty equipment. We will be doing what we can by applying pressure on employers to ensure that all lorries used by their staff are in fit working condition before leaving the yard in the future.' Lyndsay Milligan from Thompsons Solicitors, the personal injury law firm brought in by the union, added: 'We see far too many faulty work equipment cases. For the owner of the equipment it is often something they mean to get around to fixing, but for the victim it can be the difference between a healthy future or a future with a disability.'

Other news

Fine for first corporate manslaughter conviction

A Gloucestershire firm has been fined £385,000 for the corporate manslaughter of a man killed when a trench collapsed on him. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings became the first firm convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Alexander Wright, 27, died in Brimscombe Lane, near Stroud, when the trench collapsed in September 2008. A jury at Winchester Crown Court found Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings guilty of failing to ensure his safety. Geologist Mr Wright was taking soil samples for a housing development in the 12.6ft (3.8m) deep pit, which was not supported by timbers, when it caved in. The company had denied corporate manslaughter. No-one was in the dock for the three-week trial. The judge, Mr Justice Field, said the company, which was described in court as being in a 'parlous financial state', could pay the fine over 10 years at £38,500 per annum. He said the gross breach of its duty to Mr Wright was a 'grave offence,' adding: 'It may well be that the fine in the terms of its payment will put this company into liquidation. If that is the case it's unfortunate but unavoidable but it's a consequence of the serious breach.' The Hazards Campaign said the new law was never going to deliver justice, because you can't jail a company. A statement from the campaign on the sentence called for new legal safety duties on company directors, and noted: 'A fundamental flaw with the new corporate manslaughter legislation is that it holds the company responsible, not the individual directors who make the decisions which lead to these disasters, and therefore no-one can be jailed, which is the appropriate sentence for taking a life by gross negligence.' This is the first corporate manslaughter case since the act took effect in April 2008. Prior to the introduction of the law, it was anticipated there would be about a dozen cases a year.

Firms have to pay asbestos care costs

An insurer's decision to drop an appeal against a landmark court judgment should now clear the way for hospices across the country to secure vital funding for the end of life care of industrial illness victims. The announcement comes just days before a scheduled appeal against a decision by the High Court last year, that ruled the company responsible for the death of James Willson from the asbestos related cancer mesothelioma should contribute to his hospice care costs (Risks 469). Caroline Pinfold of law firm Irwin Mitchell, who represented his family, said the decision would provide comfort for many industrial illness sufferers, and their loved ones, and clarity for hospices providing them with terminal care. Mr Willson died in March 2007 after 23 days at St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney, east London. The lawyer said his family 'welcomed the additional care provided at St Joseph's which helped to ease Mr Willson's pain, and felt compelled to give something back to the staff who provided so much support. But, like many families, they were restricted by limited funds.' Mr Willson's two daughters and a granddaughter had drawn up a rota to provide care to him 24 hours a day after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, but eventually he became too ill to remain at home. Irwin Mitchell's Caroline Pinfold said: 'There is no doubt that justice has been done and by withdrawing their appeal the defendants must recognise that this landmark decision is right. This decision is welcomed by the family of Mr Willson and other victims of asbestos related diseases, who rely on palliative care to relieve their suffering. It also now provides a legal basis for hospices to be repaid for the tremendously valuable work they do where their care has been needed as a result of someone else's wrongdoing.'

Work pressures hurt families

Nearly one in three people in the UK have been in a relationship that has suffered because of work pressures, according to a new poll. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) questioned 2,000 people to examine how a poor work-life balance can damage relationships. Of the 29 per cent who said they had been in a relationship adversely affected by a poor work-life balance, the two main problems identified were long working hours and high workloads. IOSH policy director Dr Luise Vassie said: 'It seems that too many of us are letting work take hold of our lives - and our home life is often suffering as a result.' She added: 'Of course, people are working harder than ever, but as our results show, too many are seeing their relationships outside of work suffer as a consequence. And this isn't solely a problem for the employee. An unhappy worker is often an unproductive one.' Overall, some 60 per cent of people surveyed said that said their work-life balance was either very poor, poor or could be better. Workplace stress expert Professor Cary Cooper commented: 'IOSH's poll ties in with the fact that the UK has the longest working hours in Europe.' He laid the blame squarely with bad behaviour by firms. 'One of the main issues that lead to a poor work-life balance is bad management,' he said. 'There are managers out there who create a culture where people feel they cannot leave - they have to come early or stay late. Employers need to be open to flexible working hours to allow home-life and work-life to have a healthy balance.' He said employees should avoid long hours.

Number of injured road workers doubles

The number of injuries to road workers on motorways and trunk roads in England more than doubled between 2005 and 2009, a BBC investigation has found. Figures from the Highways Agency showed injuries increased from 50 in 2005 to 110 in 2009, but the number of fatalities fell from five to one. Road workers often suffer abuse from impatient drivers and also have the threat of speeding motorists to deal with. Workers operate behind an impact protection vehicle, designed to act as a cushion. It absorbs the impact of a crash and is the best protection available to workers. A team from the BBC's Inside Out programme said one firm, Atkins, which is contracted by the Highways Agency to carry out repairs in some areas, is introducing another device to protect its workers, using stop-go boards on smaller roads. The boards are fitted with CCTV cameras to help bring about prosecutions for those drivers who put the workforce at risk. Ian Jobson, senior operations manager at the Highways Agency, said: 'On average we have 4,000 people working on our roads. In an ideal world, we would shut the roads, that would be the safest way of doing it. But we cannot operate like that, particularly in this country, the traffic has to go somewhere, we can't shut the country down. So we have to have a compromise, but we need to make it as safe as possible.' The road is the most dangerous workplace, safety campaigners have warned, with hundreds killed every year either working on roads or while travelling as part of their job.

Power company fined after crushing death

A Cambridgeshire power company has been ordered to pay £150,735 in fines and costs for its role in an incident which left a man dead after he was struck by a straw bale. Gary Darnell was working as a driver at EPR Ely Ltd's site on Elean Power Station in Sutton, Cambridgeshire, on 16 September 2008 when he suffered fatal injuries from a 700kg bale of straw that fell on to him. Cambridge Crown Court heard the 53-year-old received fatal injuries from mechanical asphyxiation when, during an unloading operation using an overhead gantry crane, the bale of straw fell from a lorry. EPR Ely Ltd, which produces electricity from burning straw, pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £30,735. Speaking after the prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), HSE inspector Gavin Bull said: 'Incidents like this are entirely preventable - it is tragic that Gary Darnell lost his life. Companies need to make sure that they do not put drivers at risk from unsafe loading procedures. They should have systems of work in place keep drivers or other workers away from places that might be unsafe. If necessary they should use a banksman to assist the driver, or have other equipment such as effective CCTV to make loading operations safe.'

Food producer fined for serial failings

A Hull-based food manufacturer has been fined £14,000 for repeated safety failings which meant two workers in Barnsley suffered severe injuries in separate incidents just three months apart. The first incident, on 29 December 2009, resulted in employee James Hardcastle, 32, having his left hand amputated after it became trapped in the rotating knives of an industrial tenderiser. On 4 March 2010, a fellow worker severed the ends of two fingers on his right hand while feeding plastic film into a machine designed to seal food into packaging. Both incidents at Cranswick Convenience Foods could and should have been avoided according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted the firm's operating company, Studleigh-Royd Ltd. The company pleaded guilty to two separate criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. Barnsley Magistrates' Court heard that in relation to the incident involving Mr Hardcastle, the tenderiser machine was poorly guarded, with workers able to access dangerous moving parts simply by using a metal object, like a knife, to override a guard interlocked by a magnetic sensor. Bypassing the interlocked guard made it quicker and easier to feed meat into the machine, but in doing so operators put themselves at risk. That was the case when Mr Hardcastle was operating the machine - his gloved hand was drawn into the machine and his arm became trapped between rotating knives. Engineers had to free him by dismantling the machine, but his left hand later had to be amputated. The guarding was also inadequate on the sealing machine that injured the second Barnsley worker, who does not want to be identified. He too was able to access a danger zone with his right hand and his fingers were caught between a sealing head. Studleigh-Royd Ltd was fined £8,000 relating to the offence involving Mr Hardcastle and £6,000 on the second offence. The firm was also ordered to pay £8,387.70 in costs.

Multinational fined for severed fingers

A global packaging firm has been sentenced after a worker's fingers were severed at a St Helens factory. The 49-year-old man, from Thornton near Crosby, lost the top of three fingers on his right hand while trying to clear a jam in a machine on 13 March 2010. Linpac Packaging Ltd, which has an annual turnover of £700 million and operates in 19 countries, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to protect workers from dangerous machine parts. St Helens Magistrates' Court heard the worker, who has asked not to be named, was clearing a blockage in a machine used to dry plastic beads. He had removed a discharge pipe to deal with the jam, when his hand came into contact with a 1.7-metre-long rotating screw, known as an auger. The HSE investigation found that workers were often at risk of being injured by the auger as they had to deal with blockages in the pipe once or twice a shift. Linpac Packaging Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,553 in prosecution costs. Chris Goddard, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'Unfortunately, the company became used to the machine being blocked, and did not realise the danger workers faced when they removed the pipe to clear jams. It should have looked in more detail at how its employees were dealing with the blockages, so that action could have been taken to prevent someone being injured. Instead, workers were able to reach into the machine and were at risk of coming into contact with the rotating auger.'

International News

Australia: Union says guard it - or ban it

Workplaces are so dangerous in Australia you can expect two amputations to occur every work day, a union conference has heard. 'Every year on average about 675 amputations occur due to industrial accidents,' Australian Workers' Union (AWU) national secretary Paul Howes said. He was speaking after the union's national conference agreed to campaign for new machine guard regulations. 'Business will almost always respond to these incidents by blaming workers and human behaviour... Seldom will their policies, their training or their supervisors be blamed. And certainly they will not accept there were any design faults with machinery or work procedures.' He added: 'Our union officials are appalled by the many injuries inflicted on workers by moving machine parts such as the drive drum of conveyor belts and various crushers. Incidents with these machines have caused not only injuries but at times resulted in fatalities. Our 'Guard It or Ban It' campaign will underline the union's position that all moving parts must be guarded - by a machine guard or guarding technique - in a fail safe manner. Any removal or breach of such guarding must automatically result in the machine immediately becoming inoperable.' He added: 'Our campaign will call on the federal government to initiate an appropriate review process, involving union reps and other stakeholders, to ensure that all the requirements of relevant occupational health and safety regulations are adhered to strictly.'

Colombia: Mine blasts highlight lack of oversight

A spate of deaths in Colombia's mines has exposed the country's threadbare safety system. Five miners died in a 1 February methane gas explosion at the semi-legal La Escondida colliery 100 kilometres north of Bogotá. On 26 January, 25 miners died 600 metres inside the La Preciosa Ltda coal mine. A blast at the San Fernando mine on 16 June 2010 saw 73 perish in North-West Colombia state. Following the recent deaths, both Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and mines minister Carlos Rodado Noreiga admitted the country's Institute of Geology and Mining (Ingeominas) is ill-equipped to oversee safety standards in the nation's burgeoning mining industry. Ingeominas has 17 mine inspectors covering the 6,000 currently licensed mines. Roughly 19 per cent are coal operations, with the vast majority of them underground mines operated by small- and medium-sized businesses. It is estimate just over half of all mines in Colombia operate illegally. According to ICEM, the global federation for mining unions: 'Colombia's underground mine safety regulations fall under the out-dated Decree 1335 of 1987, a regulatory code that is easily breached by small- and medium-size companies. The problem is complicated by the fact that Ingeominas has been too quick to award mining licences without the proper safety culture or safety equipment.' Colombia is now the world's fifth largest exporter of coal, behind Australia, Russia, South Africa and Indonesia. According to ICEM: 'There are reported to be 5,800 new mines in various phases of exploration and development and unless the government revamps its internal mine safety structure, and adopts global mine safety standards as outlined in ILO Convention 176, more tragedies are certain to occur.'

Global: Union warning on container danger

Unions worldwide are stepping up their campaign against the dangers posed by shipping containers. Global transport unions' federation ITF said affiliates are 'lobbying politicians, the European Union and other stakeholders on the dangers of badly prepared shipping containers this week, ahead of an International Labour Organisation (ILO) forum on the subject in Switzerland on 21 and 22 February.' ITF says the forum, dealing specifically with safety across the container supply chain, 'is the first truly worldwide examination of the safety problems linked to overloaded, badly packed or inadequately secured freight containers, and those carrying undeclared dangerous goods.' ITF general secretary David Cockroft explained: 'At their best containers are a key link in the world supply chain, at their worst they are a danger to the lives of workers and the public.' He added: 'So far, best practice and self regulation have failed to stop the worst kind of incidents, and we're therefore recommending that international mandatory instruments be developed that guarantee that those handling and moving containers are informed of their weight, state of packing, stowage and securing, as well as their centre of gravity and whether or not any fumigants or dangerous substances are present.' Commenting on the reasons behind the forum, ILO noted: 'Many accidents in the transport sector are attributed to poor practices in relation to packing of containers, including the overloading of containers. This has caused major concern particularly because the victims can be the general public, transport workers, or their employers, who have no control over the packing of containers.'

USA: BP boss 'quit over safety fears'

A former BP drilling operations chief resigned just months before last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill amid disagreements over the oil giant's commitment to safety, a US class action lawsuit alleges. Documents lodged in Houston, Texas, claim Kevin Lacy quit as BP's senior vice-president for drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico in December 2009 - because he believed the company was not adequately committed to improving safety protocols in offshore operations to the level of its industry peers. The Deepwater Horizon rig blast on 20 April 2010 killed 11 workers. The claims come in an amended version of the lawsuit, filed last year, alleging BP inflated its stock price by hiding information and making false statements about its safety practices before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Public pension funds in New York and Ohio are the lead plaintiffs in the suit, which also includes individual investors and the Oklahoma police pension system. The amended complaint claims a BP reorganisation that began in 2007 and resulted in redundancies and cuts to safety budgets 'would materially affect the company's ability to drill safely in the Gulf of Mexico'. The lawsuit adds: 'Lacy's departure from the Gulf of Mexico drilling unit in December 2009 coincided with other additional and extensive reshuffling of personnel in the BP Gulf of Mexico drilling unit... such that by the time of the Deepwater Horizon incident, four out of five of BP's senior drilling officials for the Gulf of Mexico had only been in their posts for a few months.' It cites a confidential witness who gave information about cuts and job losses in safety programmes and budgets.

USA: Laws are good for jobs and safety

Workplace health and safety regulations don't only save lives, they benefit the economy, the USA's top safety official has said. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), said in a 15 February statement: 'Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA's commonsense regulations have made working conditions in this country today far safer than 40 years ago when the agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs. The truth is that OSHA standards don't kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers. OSHA standards don't just prevent worker injuries and illnesses. They also drive technological innovation, making industries more competitive.' Speaking ahead of a Republican-driven formal government committee hearing 'Investigating OSHA's regulatory agenda and its impact on job creation', Dr Michaels said: 'Many OSHA standards cost little and easily can be adopted by employers with nominal effect on the bottom line. OSHA, by law and by practice, always looks at both the overall cost of compliance with a proposed regulation and at the expected benefits. The evidence shows that OSHA generally overestimates the cost of its standards. Congress' Office of Technology Assessment, comparing the predicted and actual costs of eight OSHA regulations, found that in almost all cases 'industries that were most affected achieved compliance straightforwardly, and largely avoided the destructive economic effects' that they feared.' He concluded 'OSHA's job isn't over. More than 3 million workers in America are injured every year. Every day 12 workers die on the job. OSHA's commonsense regulations are helping to drive these numbers down and, at the same time, helping American businesses modernise and compete in the global economy.'

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