Risks 496 - 5 March 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

More work unpaid overtime than ever before

A record 5.26 million people worked unpaid overtime last year - the highest number since records began in 1992, a TUC analysis of official figures has revealed. The analysis, published on 25 February to mark Work Your Proper Hour Day (WYPHD), shows over one in five workers (21 per cent) regularly worked unpaid overtime last year, an increase of 0.7 per cent since 2009 and the highest proportion since 1997. WYPHD is the day when the average person who does unpaid overtime would start to get paid if they did all their unpaid overtime at the start of the year. Last year the 5.26 million people across the UK clocked up an average seven hours 12 minutes unpaid overtime a week, worth £5,485 per person and a record £28.9 billion to the economy. Public sector workers are the most likely to do unpaid overtime, with over one in four (26.3 per cent) regularly putting in more than seven hours of unpaid overtime a week, compared to around one in six workers in the private sector (18.9 per cent). TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'With tough economic conditions making employers reluctant to recruit, existing staff are picking up much of the increasing work load through unpaid hours.' He added 'there is a serious side to excessive overtime, irrespective of whether staff get paid for it. Bosses should always be on the lookout for a damaging long hours culture in their workplace and take steps to protect their workforce.' Writing in The Guardian, political blogger Richard Seymour commented: 'The irony is that while working longer hours than a generation ago, and working more unpaid labour, we are getting less as a share of national income for our trouble. As a share of GDP, wages have fallen from a high of 64 per cent in 1974 to approximately 54 per cent in 2010. This is despite the fact that we have become more productive.'

Anti-blacklist demo targets Olympic site

Anti-blacklist protesters caused chaos outside London's Olympic Park this week when they stopped deliveries getting onto the site for more than an hour. Traffic ground to a halt in Pudding Mill Lane on 1 March as demonstrators from unions and the Blacklist Support Group crossed continually a zebra crossing near the site gates. The protesters were supporting an RMT member who was recently removed from the job. Enfield-based electrician Frank Morris was shifted from his job at the prestigious media centre at the Olympic site after blowing the whistle on the use of an illegal blacklist on the construction project. He alleges his dismissal by subcontractor Daletech Services followed weeks of intimidation and threats by senior managers after he had raised concerns about the dismissal of a co-worker. The co-worker was dismissed from the Olympic Media Centre being built by Skanska and Carillion after his name appeared on a blacklist of trade union members, many of whom were targeted for their health and safety activities. After Morris raised concerns about this illegal practice, he says he was victimised, bullied and threatened with violence by senior management to the point that he had to call the police for his own protection before finally being dismissed. RMT is backing his unfair dismissal claim to an employment tribunal. RMT union official Steve Hedley commented: 'In over 25 years representing workers I have never seen such a blatant stitch up, victimisation and even threats of violence to a union activist whose only 'crime' was to expose an illegal blacklist operating on the Olympic site.' Site worker Paul Tattersfield has become the latest to win a blacklisting case. A tribunal found Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Ltd has refused him employment because he was on The Consulting Association blacklist. The tribunal awarded him just under £24,000 for loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages.

Call to follow Scottish lead on dogs

Postal workers have welcomed new controls on dangerous dogs that came into effect in Scotland last week after a lengthy union campaign. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) applauded the Scottish parliament for enacting The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and urged prime minister David Cameron 'to honour his promise to postal workers to bring in similar legislation across the UK.' The new law means workers in Scotland will no longer fall foul of a loophole in the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act which rules out legal action if an attack occurs on the dog owner's own property. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: 'Postal delivery workers across Scotland will warmly welcome the new protections that the new law provides, as will all public service workers who have to enter private premises as part of their daily duties. Now we need these laws extended throughout the UK.' The union says in the run up to the last election, David Cameron wrote to the CWU pledging that he would 'support extending dangerous dogs law to cover all places including private property.' Bill Hayes commented: 'On behalf of our members - and all workers affected by this hazard - we urge our Prime Minister to remember his promise and honour it without delay.' CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce, who has spearheaded the union's campaign for reform, said the new law 'is great news for Scottish postal workers, telecom engineers and so many other workers,' adding: "Now we need Mr Cameron to follow Scotland's lead.'

Campaigners warn 'cuts will kill'

Unions and campaigners have warned a government attack on workplace safety will kill. At a 2 March Trade Union Co-ordinating Group meeting in the House of Commons, health and safety advocates drove home the dangers of cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and moves to downgrade workplace safety protection. Paula Brown, who chairs the HSE branch of the union PCS, said the 35 per cent cut in the watchdog's budget would lead to thousands fewer inspections of businesses and warned HSE office closures and the axing of the HSE infoline, which takes 800 to 1,000 calls a day, were part of the cuts package. Families Against Corporate Killing (FACK) spokesperson Hilda Palmer said poor health and safety practices cost society billions a year, with business only bearing a small fraction of the costs. 'Instead, the lion's share is 'cost shifted' by business, which creates the risks, to the public purse, victims and their families,' she said (Risks 495). And RMT general secretary Bob Crow warned the 'ConDem cuts will kill', adding: 'Those commentators and politicians who try to trivialise and denigrate health and safety enforcement would be the first to run to their lawyers and the press if it was one of their relatives killed in a preventable accident at work or on public transport.' The union leader said: 'I will tell you what happens when corners are cut on safety regulations - you end up with the carnage of Potters Bar and Hatfield and our trade union will fight tooth and nail to stop our industry from being dragged back to that cavalier approach to maintaining safe standards.' Giant 'We didn't vote to die at work' posters and others accusing prime minister David Cameron of being the real 'job killer' were brandished by protesters outside the House of Commons.

Site safety abuses could be missed

Construction union UCATT has warned government cuts in safety oversight in the sector 'will prove lethal.' The union warning came after a Health and Safety Executive enforcement blitz in Merseyside found almost one in four sites were breaking safety laws. HSE visited 88 sites in Merseyside on 14 and 15 February, at the start of a month long enforcement initiative. In total 21 of the sites visited, failed to meet legal health and safety standards. UCATT says there are 'question marks about how frequently the HSE will be able to mount similar operations in the future' as the watchdog dramatically scales back enforcement activity as a result of swingeing government cuts (Risks 481). George Guy, regional secretary for the North West region of UCATT, said: 'The HSE are doing a difficult job with limited resources. The only way that deaths and injuries will decrease is if there are more inspections and a greater number of companies which ignore safety laws are prosecuted. Any reduction in enforcement activity at this time will be deadly.' Several of the sites visited in the first two days of the HSE enforcement blitz received more than one enforcement notice, either stopping work activities immediately or requiring improvements to be made. In total, inspectors issued 22 prohibition and 21 improvement notices, with more than half of the notices relating to unsafe work at height.

Prison officers could 'withdraw to safety'

Prison officers at risk from serious assaults, riots and disturbances may 'withdraw' to a place of safety if they believe they face a 'serious and imminent danger', the union POA has decided. It is illegal for prison officers to strike, but POA says acting to protect your own health and safety is a basic legal right of all workers. A motion supported by POA's leadership and passed last week at a special conference of the union demands 'the health and safety of every POA member be protected by the employer and that safe systems of work, risk assessments, impact assessments etc are reviewed immediately and the necessary funds released to ensure the safety and security of every place of work is put in place.' The conference also agreed the union should 'support any member or branch who withdraw to a place of safety following any act of violence, act of concerted indiscipline or riot, where they reasonably believe their health and safety is in serious and imminent danger.' Speaking ahead of the conference, POA national chair Colin Moses said: 'It is clear that the health and safety of people in prisons is being ignored and my members are being used as cheap punch bags for prisoners as this government pushes through dangerous and unsafe staffing levels and regimes, in an attempt to save money.'

Sea unions launch attack on pirates

Seafarers' union Nautilus is putting its weight behind an international shipping industry campaign to harness 'people power' in the fight against piracy. The campaign wants governments to be pressed into taking 'effective action to tackle the growing Somali piracy crisis before it strangles world trade and before more innocent seafarers are tortured and murdered.' The SOS Save Our Seafarers campaign, launched by shipping industry organisations and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), points out that the crisis affects everyone, with the dramatic recent extension of the pirates' operating area right across the Indian Ocean, meaning that there are no alternative routes to avoid the Somali pirate gangs, especially for tankers coming out of the Gulf. Nautilus warns: 'Over 800 seafarers are currently held hostage on hijacked ships. Subjected to physical and psychological abuse for months at a time, they are held ransom for millions of dollars.' ITF says a global boycott of piracy areas 'is now possible.' Calling for action, ITF seafarers' section chair Dave Heindel commented: 'The world has lost control of piracy. Each day it's becoming more savage and more widespread. All the Arabian Gulf and most of the Indian Ocean are now effectively lawless. Yet there is a way that control can be regained: by actively going after pirates, stopping them and prosecuting them. Not this ludicrous situation of taking away their guns and setting them free to strike again.'

Other news

'Undue pressure' killed worker, not suicide

The family of a construction worker who fell 33ft to his death at a Leeds sewage plant has spoken of its relief after an inquest found his death was the result of inadequate site safety and 'undue' work pressure, and not suicide. Dad-of-two Andy Parkinson, 38, died from injuries he suffered in the fall at Yorkshire Water's Knostrop works in 2008. An inquest jury at Leeds Coroner's Court found he was given 'inadequate' instructions. Speaking after the 10-day hearing, which ruled out suggestions made earlier that he had committed suicide, Mr Parkinson's mum Pat said: 'We have had it hanging over us for two years, it was such a big relief. I never believed he could have committed suicide, I was devastated enough.' Mr Parkinson was employed by Rhodes Engineering Group Ltd but was sub-contracted by another firm to help construct metal walkways above and around sewage tanks. The inquest jury heard that despite wearing a safety harness, Mr Parkinson fell on to a concrete surface on 13 November 2008. During the ten-day inquest, his boss at Rhodes Engineering, Harry Tranter, had suggested he had taken his own life. However, this claim was ruled out by assistant deputy coroner Kevin McLoughlin. The narrative verdict returned by the jury stated: 'Undue pressure was placed on Andrew Parkinson to progress the installation of the walkway... Method statements were underdeveloped, inadequate and lacked sufficient detail to assess risk on the installation of the walkway...' It continued: 'The jury believes that on the balance of all probability documented warnings were not given to Andrew Parkinson which would highlight his unsafe working practices.'

Councils cut health and safety enforcement

Local authority environmental health departments are suffering as a result of budget cuts, a survey has found. Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) working for local authorities enforce health and safety law in workplaces including shops, offices and warehouses. The survey by Environmental Health News (EHN) - the journal of the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health - suggests that environmental health departments hit by budget cuts have lost on average two full-time equivalent front-line staff in the last six months. A total of 25 councils reported that they have already lost environmental health staff, are expecting redundancies or have a recruitment freeze. Many management, EHO and technical officer posts have been left vacant. The erosion of safety enforcement is to be a campaign target of the union Usdaw, whose members work predominantly in sectors covered by local authority enforcement. 'As part of our activity around Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April, Usdaw will be urging members to find out what is happening to health and safety enforcement in their local authority,' the union reported.

New disability test 'is a complete mess'

One of the architects of the government's new sickness benefit system has warned it would be a mistake to start introducing it nationwide from the end of this month because of serious ongoing problems with the medical test designed to assess whether claimants are genuinely sick or disabled. 'The test is badly malfunctioning. The current assessment is a complete mess,' Professor Paul Gregg, an economist and welfare reform expert, said. During the preliminary roll-out of the test, people with terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis and serious mental illnesses have been found fit to work (Risks 494). Since early 2009, more than 240,000 cases contesting the result of the health tests have been accepted for tribunal hearings and, of the cases they hear, judges overturn about 40 per cent of test findings. Over the next three years, 1.5 million people claiming incapacity benefit will undergo a work capability assessment (WCA) to determine whether they are eligible for a replacement benefit, employment support allowance (ESA). An independent review of the test in November last year found serious flaws in the way it was functioning and called for major improvements. The government promised to implement these recommendations before people begin to be retested, at a rate of 11,000 a week. Gregg, who helped design the new ESA, recommends a further trial before it is introduced nationally. He said: 'The test so far has caused a huge amount of anguish to the people who have gone through it. We need to have something that is working accurately before we apply it nationally. We shouldn't roll this out until we have something that is working.'

Designing out NHS violence

Government plans to rethink the design of hospital Accident and Emergency (A and E) departments, in a bid to develop innovative new ways to reduce violence and aggression towards NHS staff, have been welcomed by the health service union UNISON. But the union says the solution to a problem the government estimates costs at least £69 million a year in staff absence, loss of productivity and additional security, must also include a commitment to a 'zero tolerance' clampdown on offenders. The year-long project, 'Reducing violence and aggression in A and E by design', is being run by the Design Council and has been commissioned by the Department of Health. The government says the project will involve designers, architects, healthcare experts, patients and frontline NHS staff working together to develop and trial potential solutions. The Design Council has launched a national search for a design team or teams to work with A and E staff and patients at three NHS Hospital Trusts - Guys and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust.Commenting on the plans, UNISON head of health Karen Jennings said: 'Statistics on violence in the NHS are shocking and cost millions of pounds in staff sickness absence, so changes to department design are desperately needed.' However, she added: 'Work environments are crucial in preventing violence and stress, but these measures must come as part of a package. We want to see zero tolerance of violence against health staff. No one should feel afraid of being hurt in their place of work. Employers must push for more prosecutions and also to listen to and respond to important concerns about staff shortages when raised by staff.'

Firm fined £5,000 for fatal trench collapse

A Buckinghamshire construction company has been fined £5,000 plus £5,000 costs after a worker died when a trench collapsed on him. Josh Bladon, 22, was killed while working on an extension at a house in Aylesbury on 16 April 2008. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Mr Bladon's employer, Russell Smith Limited, a breach of health and safety laws which led to the incident. Aylesbury Crown Court heard Mr Bladon was digging a trench for the foundations with a colleague, who was using a mini-excavator. At some point during the work, the other employee noticed Mr Bladon had disappeared and the long trench had collapsed in the middle. He tried to dig his colleague out with the help of neighbours but Mr Bladon was pronounced dead at the scene from asphyxiation. The HSE investigation found Russell Smith Limited failed to take into account the risks of increasing the depth of the trench and so took no action to put the right safety measures in place. The company did not have a safe system of work on site which would have mitigated the hazards arising from the trench excavation. HSE inspector Gavin Bull commented: 'This is a shocking case that has had a profound effect on the family of Mr Bladon. Companies need to recognise the dangers of excavations and ensure safe systems are in order prior to starting work.' Last month, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was fined £385,000 after becoming the first firm convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (Risks 494). The prosecution followed the death of employee Alexander Wright, 27, in a September 2008 trench collapse.

Tyneside firm sentenced after scaffold fall

A Tyneside construction company has been fined £1,500 and £1,500 costs after a worker suffered serious injuries in a fall from unsafe scaffolding. Ian Allan Building Contractors Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at the site in Murton, County Durham on 1 May 2009. Consett Magistrates' Court heard Kevin Clark, 54, was working on the windows of a new building when the scaffolding platform he was standing on became dislodged, causing him to fall more than four metres to the ground. He suffered several crushed vertebrae and a fractured left foot and was in hospital for two weeks following the incident. The HSE investigation revealed that the company had failed to control alterations to the scaffolding, failed to conduct inspections of the scaffold at least every seven days, failed to identify and correct unsafe alterations and allowed workers to use unsafe scaffolding. Ian Allan Building Contractors Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law. After sentencing, Mr Clark said: 'I've had steel rods put in my spine, I'm in constant pain and it restricts my movement and makes walking really difficult. I'll probably never be able to do the job I did again. I hope this prosecution helps make other employers realise the importance of ensuring scaffolding is safe so other workers don't have to suffer as I have.'

Steeplejack seriously injured in fall

A Stoke-on-Trent building maintenance firm was fined £3,334 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs after a steeplejack suffered serious injuries as a result of an eight metre fall from a church roof. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Alliance Technical Services Ltd after the 40-year-old employee, who did not wish to be named, fell from the roof of Holy Trinity Church, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, on 21 October 2009. Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates' Court heard the man was repairing tiles on the church roof when an anchor securing his ladders to the church masonry suddenly gave way. He fell about eight metres to the ground, suffering serious injuries including a spinal fracture, two broken ankles and a broken wrist. He spent three weeks in hospital and has not been able to return to work since the incident. Alliance Technical Services pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach. After the hearing, HSE inspector Keiron Jones said: 'When carrying out building repairs at height, companies should always ensure the work is properly planned and that ladders are properly secured. In this case Alliance Technical Services failed to provide the necessary training and instruction to their workforce to allow them to install and test the anchors correctly. This resulted in a completely avoidable and very serious disabling injury to one of their workers.'

Toilet roll firm fined for roller crush injury

A Neath toilet roll manufacturer has been fined after a worker suffered a serious injury on an unguarded machine. Phillip Evans, 43, was employed by Intertissue Ltd as a core operator, and was assisting his shift supervisor in clearing a wraparound of paper from the steel roller of a rewinding machine - used to layer the tissue paper. Neath Port Talbot Magistrates' Court heard a compressed air gun was used to cut the wraparound of paper and pull it free from the roller. The shift supervisor was at the controls of the rewinding machine and pressed the 'jog' button - which moves the rollers around at a reduced speed. Mr Evans' hand was caught between the upper and lower rollers of the machine. Three fingers on his left hand were crushed resulting in permanent damage. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Intertissue Ltd had failed to take effective measures to prevent access to a dangerous part of the machinery. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal charge under the Provisions and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,365 costs. HSE inspector Stuart Charles commented: 'Intertissue Ltd failed in its duty to ensure workers were able to operate machinery safely in their day-to-day roles. This is a well known hazard throughout the industry and had suitable measures been in place this incident would not have happened.' He added: 'Mr Evans' injuries would have been avoided if simple precautions, in this case, a machine guard had been in place.'

Man injured by unguarded drill

An engineering firm has appeared in court after a worker was badly injured when his hand became entangled in an unguarded drill. Michael O'Brien suffered permanent loss of movement to three fingers in his left hand following the incident at a construction site in Leyland on 1 December 2009. The 60-year-old from Clitheroe spent four days in hospital, required several skin grafts and has been unable to return to work as a result of his injuries. Jex Engineering Company Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to ensure a guard was provided on the drill. South Ribble Magistrates' Court in Leyland heard that Mr O'Brien had been installing a machine in a new factory when the incident happened. His hand got caught in the chuck, which holds the drill bit in place, while he was drilling holes into a steel plate. The HSE investigation found the company failed to spot the guard was missing both when it hired the drill, and when it was issued to Mr O'Brien. It also wrongly indicated the drill had been fitted with a guard when it completed an assessment form for the work. Jex Engineering Company Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the work equipment regulations and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £3,250 towards the cost of the prosecution. Speaking after the case, Mr O'Brien said: 'I'd only been working for the company for a couple of days but you just expect employers to know what they're doing when it comes to health and safety. Two of my fingers have been virtually paralysed and I now find it very difficult to grip with my left hand. Things I used to be able to do naturally, like holding a fork or opening a jar, now take real effort.' He added: 'I just hope the same thing doesn't happen to someone else as I wouldn't wish it on anyone.' Allen Shute, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'Jex had three separate opportunities to make sure the drill was fitted with a guard but it failed to act on all three occasions.'

International News

Canada: Second work death conviction

For just the second time in Canada, an employer has been convicted of criminal negligence stemming from a workplace incident leading to the death of a worker. Pasquale Scrocca, owner of a Quebec landscape company, was operating a backhoe on 12 June 2006, when it rolled down a slope, pinning his employee against a wall. The worker, Aniello Boccanfuso, suffered fatal injuries. The front brakes and the emergency brake on the backhoe were found to be completely non-functional. An investigation found the backhoe, bought in 1976, had not undergone any regular maintenance. The court found there was a breach of the 'legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to a person' and sentenced Scrocca to serve a conditional sentence of imprisonment of two years less a day. The sentence will be served in the community with conditions, including a curfew. The prosecution was brought under Canada's criminal workplace killing law. This was introduced after a campaign by unions in response to the Westray mine explosion on 9 May 1992 where 26 men were killed. Prior to the Scrocca case, just one company has been convicted under the law. Montreal-based Transpave plead guilty in December 2007 to criminal negligence related to the death at work 23-year-old Steve L'Ecuyer (Risks 343). In a pending case, three company executives in Ontario are currently facing criminal negligence charges stemming from a 24 December 2009 swing stage collapse that killed four workers and seriously injured another. The executives, along with Metron Construction Corporation, have been charged with four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Individuals convicted under the Canadian workplace killing law can be sentenced to serve up to life in prison, while the corporation can face a limitless fine.

China: Poisoned workers turn to Apple for help

Chinese workers who suffered debilitating solvent-related neurological problems while making touchscreens for mobile devices, including iPhones, have written to Apple asking it to do more to help them. Some 137 workers suffered adverse health effects following exposure to the solvent n-hexane, used to clean touch screens. Five workers, including 27-year-old Jia Jingchuan, have signed a letter to chief executive officer Steve Jobs, asking Apple to offer more help. In late February, workers told the New York Times that many were forced to accept compensation and resign after signing papers which absolved the company which runs the factory, Wintek, of liability. Wintek denied workers were pressed to sign the papers. For Apple and other consumer electronics giants tapping the global supply chain, this sort of controversy has become familiar. Last year, Apple confronted a spate of suicides at a factory complex in southern China operated by a manufacturing contractor, Foxconn. In its annual report, published last week, Apple acknowledged the Wintek incident. 'In 2010 we learned that 137 workers at the Suzhou facility of Wintek, one of Apple's suppliers, had suffered adverse health effects following exposure to n-hexane, a chemical in cleaning agents used in some manufacturing processes,' the report read. 'We required Wintek to stop using n-hexane and to provide evidence that they had removed the chemical from their production lines.' An Apple spokesperson said the company is still looking into the matter, adding that the company conducts continuing audits to see if their suppliers are in compliance with their standards. Mary Gallagher, associate professor of political science, and director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, said global manufacturers flocked to China for the low wages and low prices. 'There is an incentive in such a competitive market for factory managers to cut corners,' Gallagher said. The first cuts were usually made to worker safety.

Japan: Mazda told to pay up for worker suicide

A Japanese court has ordered car manufacturer Mazda to pay 63 million yen (£470,000) in damages to the parents of an employee who was ruled to have taken his own life because of overwork-related depression. Mazda Motor Corp said it was disappointed that the court in Kobe had rejected its assertion that the 25-year-old employee's 2007 death was not work-related. It added it will review the details of the ruling before deciding whether to appeal. 'We feel it is extremely regrettable to have lost a precious employee,' the Hiroshima-based firm said in a statement following the ruling. 'We offer our condolences from the bottom of our hearts.' The worker, who has not been identified because of the stigma in Japan associated with suicide, was a buyer who lived in company housing and was depressed from being overworked, according to Yutaka Kikui, the lawyer for the worker's parents. He was repeatedly ridiculed by his bosses, in front of co-workers, as a failure who racked up unnecessary overtime, adding to his stress, Kikui said. The damages award follows a 'condolence payment' from Mazda and a 2009 government labour office decision that also ruled the death work-related, allowing the parents to receive the additional payment, Kikui said. The latest damages plus the other payments give the parents the entire 110 million yen (£825,000) they demanded in their lawsuit filed against Mazda in 2008, according to Kikui. In the fiscal year ending in March 2010, the Japanese government acknowledged about 100 karoshi deaths, or deaths caused by overwork. It also ruled that 63 suicides were caused by overwork, known in Japan as 'karojisatsu'.

USA: Refineries exploit dangerous law flaws

Giant refineries in the US are more dangerous than the public realises, with the worst offenders routinely delaying both action to remedy serious violations and penalties for documented safety crimes. An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found while public and government attention focuses on singularly catastrophic events, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, problems quietly fester at the factories that refine the nation's fuels ? labyrinthine complexes full of hazardous chemicals that are plagued by often-preventable accidents, putting workers at risk and endangering nearby communities. The Center concludes the easily manipulated regulatory system allows companies to challenge citations for years and postpone mandated fixes. Despite calls for change, some refineries still run equipment to failure rather than maintaining it. 'We have a problem with the refinery industry,' said Rafael Moure-Eraso, chair of the US Chemical Safety Board, an independent government agency whose investigations of refinery accidents have uncovered a pattern of safety lapses. 'We have decreasing staff levels, disinvestment in safety, a lack of training, and accidents or near-misses - indicators of catastrophe - being ignored.' Over the past five years, only 13 of 41 remedies urged by the Chemical Safety Board after refinery accident investigations have been adopted by oil companies, trade groups, and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the government's main workplace safety agency. Even an industry insurer perceives an elevated risk. US refineries have sustained financial losses from accidents at a rate much higher than their overseas counterparts - four times as high, according to a 2006 report by Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, obtained by the Center. The difference was due in part to US companies 'pushing the operating envelope,' the reinsurer said.

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