Risks 499 - 26 March 2011

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
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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

Official plan means less justice, more deaths

A new government safety strategy that will mean an unprecedented reduction in the number of workplace safety inspections, no proactive inspections for the majority of firms and new quickie risk assessments for millions of businesses will lead to more deaths and injuries at work, the TUC has said. The warning came this week as the government launched its 'Good health and safety, Good for everyone' strategy. The new blueprint will be accompanied by a review of all workplace safety legislation and has been welcomed by the business lobby but slammed by safety campaigners. Announcing the changes, employment minister Chris Grayling said: 'Of course it is right to protect employees in the workplace, but Britain's health and safety culture is also stifling business and holding back economic growth. The purpose of health and safety regulation is to protect people at work and rightly so. But we need common sense at the heart of the system, and these measures will help root out the needless burden of bureaucracy.' He added: 'This will help us make Britain a more growth focused, entrepreneurial nation. By reducing unnecessary red tape we can encourage businesses to come and invest in the UK, creating jobs and opportunities when we need them most.' But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said it was a lose-lose package. 'Employers need to know that there is the possibility of a safety inspector visiting, otherwise there will be no incentive for them to ensure they are protecting their workers. Removing proactive inspections from a large number of workplaces means that employers can get away with ignoring the law until they kill or seriously injure someone. This is in no-one's interests and will mean an increase in deaths and injuries, leading to a rush to the bottom as cowboy companies undercut responsible employers by cutting back on safety.' He added: 'The proposals are not only bad for workers' health and safety, they will also be bad for the economy as the health service and benefits system have to deal with the aftermath of more injuries and illnesses caused through unsafe work. The strategy is not about better regulation, it is about deregulation and is all part of a bigger plan to reduce the rights that workers have to safety and fair treatment.'

Cost-cutting will cost lives

Cost-cutting not deregulation is behind a package of measures announced by the government and will undermine the work of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the inspectors' union has warned. Prospect was commenting on the government's new safety strategy which will bring a further review of regulation, a dramatic reduction in proactive regulation - down by a third, a reduction of 11,000 inspections a year - and the introduction of more fees for employers when HSE inspectors find fault. Prospect negotiator Mike Macdonald said the new strategy 'shows that health and safety regulation in Britain is now driven by the government's wish to cut spending rather than by a professional assessment of what action saves lives and avoids accidents. The key question should be what type of regulation best suits British business and its workforce, not a simplistic dogma that all regulation is bad.' Commenting on the regulatory review, to be headed by Professor Ragnar E Lofstedt of King's College London, he added: 'It looks as if the government is determined to announce cuts before Professor Ragnar Löfstedt even starts his review. What happens if he concludes that more inspection, not less, is required?' Prospect members in HSE are convinced that proactive inspection is vital, not least because prevention is cheaper and better for business, employees and the taxpayer than the cost of putting lives back together after an accident, Macdonald said. He added: 'We understand that the removal of proactive inspection from lower-risk workplaces is one of the least damaging options. But the government should recognise that this still means lives are being risked to achieve 35 per cent budget cuts... We have to ask, is health and safety such a low priority that it deserves such a cut with the knock-on impact on taxpayers who work?'

  • Prospect news release.
  • Job killers - a Hazards report spelling out why the government is wrong to say health and safety 'stifles' business and 'holds back economic growth'.

Killer blow for workplace safety

Unions and campaigners have reacted with horror and anger to the government's new safety strategy. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'When ConDem ministers talk about easing regulation what they mean is removing it, and when it comes to health and safety that is a charter for death and injury. There are already far too few workplace inspections and it is already next to impossible to get bosses whose negligence causes injury, death or disease at work to face legal consequences.' Referring to comments made by employment minister Chris Grayling, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: 'What on earth is wrong with Britain having a 'health and safety culture'?' He added: 'If employers know their premises won't be inspected, it's blindingly obvious that they'll start to let standards slip.' A spokesperson for construction union UCATT said: 'These plans will allow employers to ignore safety rules, as they will know that they will not be prosecuted. Workers should not be forced to play Russian roulette with their safety.' Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said the government strategy 'is dangerously illogical, will have major detrimental impacts on workers' health and lives, and is a completely false economy as it ignores the evidence that the major burden of poor health and safety falls not on employers, but on workers and their families, but also the taxpayer.' Linda Whelan, a founder member of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) and whose son Craig died in a workplace fireball, said: 'None of our family members was killed by red tape or employers fearing enforcement. They were killed because of the exact opposite - too little if any time spent on health and safety, and no fear of being found out.'

Shop death confirms union fears

A union warning about the dangers of government-driven moves to introduce quickie online risk assessments for shops and other 'low risk' businesses as part of its new safety strategy has been borne out after another violent retail death. A 43-year-old shopworker attacked at Stanningley Wines in Leeds on Saturday 19 March, died of his injuries on Monday. The death came less than two weeks after shopworkers' union Usdaw warned the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) proposed online risk assessment for shops, which assumes shops to be 'low risk', could encourage a 'dangerously complacent' approach to health and safety. The union's response to an HSE consultation said it was 'totally wrong' to classify shops as low risk, especially as a number face a very real threat of robbery. The online risk assessment was developed by HSE as part of its efforts to implement recommendations from last year's David Cameron-commissioned health and safety review, which called for simple online risk assessments for 'low risk' premises such as offices, schools and shops (Risks 478). Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: 'By giving the impression that spending 20 minutes going through the online questions an employer will have met their legal obligation to do a risk assessment, the HSE could end up encouraging a dangerously complacent approach to health and safety management.' And Doug Russell, the union's health and safety officer, said: 'The nature of the business being assessed and its location is obviously crucial and this simplistic assessment completely misses the point that the risks faced by a local bookmakers or off-licence will obviously be very different to say a second hand bookshop or hairdressers.' The Leeds death was the second violent shopworker killing in West Yorkshire in just over a year. Gurmail Singh, 63, was beaten to death in a Huddersfield convenience shop in February 2010 when he confronted shoplifters. The government says HSE's new 'Health and safety made simple' package will extend the quickie approach criticised by Usdaw to other 'small and low risk employers.'



Job injury leads to employment fears

A metal worker who broke his elbow after a fall at work has received £60,000 in compensation after he was left unable to do his job properly. GMB member Geoffrey Skelton, 61, needed three operations on his elbow following the incident. It happened when the Casting Repairs employee, a cast iron stitcher, was working at Sheffield Forgemasters Engineering Ltd in September 2005. His injuries are so bad that nearly six years later he suffers from constant pain and is unable to use heavy vibrating machinery which he needs to do his job. He has been told he needs a further operation which will leave him without use of his arm and unable to work in a role he was trained in as a teenager and that has been his job ever since. Cast iron stitching is a skilled job involving cold welding using compressed air tools. Mr Skelton broke his elbow after he tripped on a pothole. He said: 'I am in constant pain and my injury means there are certain tools or jobs I can no longer do. I can't even do DIY at home. I am a trained fitter but I had to get someone in to fit my kitchen.' He added: 'I am very worried about what the future holds. I had plans to work until I am 65. I just hope that I can hold off on this fourth operation to allow me to continue to work until then.' Lawyers brought in by the union argued that Mr Skelton's employer, Castings Repairs, and Sheffield Forgemasters Engineering Ltd were responsible for the injury. They said both firms should have had procedures in place to ensure the workplace was safe. The claim was settled out of court after both firms admitted to share 90 per cent of the liability. Tim Roache, regional secretary at the GMB, said: 'A pothole is a pothole and is a danger. Both firms ignored the risks and a hard working skilled professional has been left with a long term injury and facing potential unemployment.'

Agencies make workers pay for protection

Employment agencies are ignoring safety laws and requiring staff to stump up for their protective equipment, construction union UCATT has revealed. The union is calling for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to take action. UCATT says its officials 'have become increasingly alarmed that many employment agencies require construction workers to supply their own personal protective equipment (PPE) or alternatively charge the worker if they supply it.' The union says the law is clear, stating 'an employer cannot ask for money from an employee for PPE, whether it is returnable or not.' UCATT executive council member Dennis Doody raised the union's concerns at least week's meeting of the construction industry advisory committee, CONIAC. He said: 'Increasingly UCATT officials are finding that agencies are forcing workers to supply their own PPE. This is against safety regulations and given growing concerns about fake and counterfeit PPE being available in the construction industry, places already vulnerable workers at greater risk of injury.' Mr Doody said several well-known agencies were breaching the law. He said the union had particular concerns about Bespoke Recruitment. This firm is run by Simon Noakes, the chair of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation's (REC) construction group. Mr Doody said: 'REC claim that they take safety seriously, however until senior people in that organisation begin to follow safety regulations themselves, then construction workers will need to take these pledges with a very large pinch of salt.' Recent entries on the Bespoke Recruitment webpage now have no mention of PPE.

UNISON supports stressed social workers

A new guide to help stressed-out, overloaded social workers improve their workplaces has been launched by UNISON Scotland. The union says 'Keeping safe in the workplace' aims to help social workers recognise when they are becoming stressed or overloaded at work and to seek support from their employers, trade union or professional association. It adds the guide has been written 'by social workers for social workers' and examines some of the key issues faced by staff in their day-to-day working lives. Kate Ramsden, a member of UNISON's social work issues group, said: 'There is no doubt that social work staff work in an increasingly difficult climate with rising demands not always matched with an increase in available resources. This group of staff are constantly overstretched and this can lead to stress, ill-health and burnout. This guide aims to help social work practitioners to keep themselves safe in the workplace, to recognise when they are becoming stressed or overloaded, and how to seek the necessary help from their employer or trade union.' UNISON group chair Stephen Smellie said: 'People are essential to the quality of service provided and it is vital that we support the staff who deliver services. We need to ensure they are trained, supported and properly resourced in order to undertake the often difficult tasks required by our service users.'

Other news

'Mild' stress damaging to work prospects

Even relatively mild stress can lead to long term disability and an inability to work, a new study has found. The large population based study published online this week in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports it is well known that mental health problems are associated with long term disability, but adds the impact of milder forms of psychological stress is likely to have been under-estimated. A research team headed by Dheeraj Rai of the University of Bristol tracked between 2002 and 2007 the health of more than 17,000 working adults up to the age of 64, who had been randomly selected from the population in the Stockholm area. During the monitoring period, 649 people started receiving disability benefit - 203 for a mental health problem and the remainder for physical ill-health. Higher levels of stress at the start of the study were associated with a significantly greater likelihood of subsequently being awarded long term disability benefits. But even those with mild stress were up to 70 per cent more likely to receive disability benefits, after taking account of other factors likely to influence the results, such as lifestyle and alcohol intake. One in four of these benefits awarded for a physical illness, such as high blood pressure, angina, and stroke, and almost two thirds awarded for a mental illness, were attributable to stress. The authors say that it is important to consider their findings in the context of modern working life, which places greater demands on employees, and social factors, such as fewer close personal relationships and supportive networks. These factors lead them to ask: 'Are the strains and demands of modern society commonly exceeding human ability?'

  • Dheeraj Rai and others. Psychological distress and risk of long-term disability: population-based longitudinal study, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Online First, March 2011; doi 10.1136/jech.2010.119644 [abstract].

Report highlights Tube cuts folly

Tube union RMT has demanded an immediate halt to staffing and maintenance cuts after an official investigation found crumbling infrastructure and staffing cuts led to a potentially lethal tube derailment last year. The incident happened between Earl's Court and Gloucester Road on the Piccadilly line at 5.30am on 12 May 2010. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report concluded an engineers' train was derailed because the Tube track was in such poor condition it shifted and collapsed under the weight. RMT says this confirmed the union's warnings about the consequences of the Tube cuts programme. RAIB said there were not enough staff to maintain the track properly and morale was low. Investigators found five steel brackets holding the track were not secured to the sleepers underneath because the screws had broken. The investigation found several sleepers were in 'poor condition', track faults were not identified and workers had 'insufficient time' to do the repairs. RMT general secretary Bob Crow commented: 'We have warned that the attack on staffing and maintenance at London Underground means that corners are cut, essential repairs are not carried out and the workforce is hacked to the bone - this report confirms everything we have said and nails yet again the lethal complacency of Boris Johnson and his senior managers.' He added: 'This report is a wake-up call to the Mayor and London Underground, if they carry on with their cuts in light of this warning then they are truly gambling with the lives of the millions of Londoner's who use the Tube. The cuts should stop now before we have a major tragedy on our hands.'

Jarvis charges dropped over train deaths

Unions have reacted with dismay at the decision to drop a health and safety charge against the rail maintenance company Jarvis over the 2002 Potters Bar train crash. Seven people were killed and 76 injured in the Hertfordshire crash when a northbound train derailed at high speed. The rail maintenance section of Jarvis is now in administration, which led the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to conclude continuing the prosecution would not be in the public interest. The regulator said any trial would be lengthy and costly, and any conviction would lead to only a 'small financial penalty.' Commenting on the decision not to proceed, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said an inquest had confirmed the tragedy 'could have been avoided if safety had been put ahead of profits. Those responsible for creating that lethal culture have escaped prosecution for their role creating an avoidable disaster, and it is clear that key lessons have not been learned.' A statement from train drivers' union ASLEF said: 'Given the seriousness of the offences committed it is difficult not to conclude that the decision to drop charges was motivated more by a desire to save money than a desire for justice.' Overall responsibility for rail maintenance at the time of the incident lay with Railtrack, which was replaced by Network Rail later on that year. When charging Jarvis last year, the ORR also bought a similar charge against Network Rail, which pleaded guilty last month (Risks 495). The next hearing will take place at St Albans Crown Court on 30 March, when a provisional date for sentencing should be set.

Kwik-Fit worker died two years after injury

A widow whose husband died almost two years after receiving a serious head injury at work has received a 'substantial' sum in compensation. The 44-year-old from Gateshead suffered the original injury when a tyre was dropped onto his head, knocking him out. Despite asking for an ambulance, he was forced to stay at work until the end of his shift. When he returned home his wife rushed him to hospital. In medical evidence obtained for a compensation case, it was confirmed the head injury was the direct cause of the high blood pressure which subsequently caused the stroke in 2007 from which he died. His wife said: 'His blood pressure, a side effect of his brain injury, became a major problem and ultimately killed him.' She added: 'He is such a huge loss to me and all our family. A thoughtless practice condoned by his employers meant he ended up dead.' Lawyers acting for the family settled a compensation claim out of court after obtaining an admission of liability from the insurers for Kwik-Fit. Paul Brown, the solicitor in Thompsons Solicitors' Serious Injuries Unit who acted for the family, said: 'This man sustained serious injuries and was ultimately killed by Kwik-Fit's gross negligence. They allowed the practice of dropping tyres from above onto a busy working area. Kwik-Fit couldn't see the obvious risks or didn't bother to think it through and introduce a safer regime.' Because of the time lag between the injury and the man's eventual death, the tragedy will not be recorded as a work-related fatality.

Car firm fined £400,000 over forklift death

A car components factory has been fined £400,000 after the death of a worker who was struck by a forklift truck. Darren Small died in hospital three days after the truck at Calsonic Kansei in Llanelli reversed into him, said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Mr Small, 35, died on the day he was to take voluntary redundancy. Calsonic Kansei, which admitted criminal health and safety charges, was also ordered to pay £44,790.14 costs at Swansea Crown Court. HSE said that on 17 March, 2008, Mr Small had gone onto the factory floor to 'issue instruction' to a forklift truck operator. As Mr Small finished speaking, the forklift truck reversed into him, knocking him to the ground. He sustained fatal head injuries. HSE inspector Stephen Jones said: 'It's fairly routine for forklift trucks to operate within the same area as pedestrians in this industry. However, working procedures and systems need to be in place to prevent vehicles colliding with people.' He added: 'This tragic incident could have been avoided had all contractors and employees been aware of the risks, and had the safety procedures been taken to avoid such risks.' In a statement, Mr Small's family said no other family should go through what they had had to endure. 'Darren was such a fabulous, lovely and kind-hearted person and a really devoted father,' they said. 'To die on the day he was due to have taken voluntary redundancy is even more tragic. Time does not heal. We all miss him so very much and his children are still finding it extremely hard to cope with losing their loving father. We hope employers hearing this case will have more regard for health and safety in future as no other family should go through what we have had to endure - losing such a wonderful person from our lives."

Farm fined for fertiliser foot failings

An Aberdeenshire farmworker's toe was severed when his foot became trapped in a fertiliser spreading machine. Andrew Walis, 32, and Rhys Anderson, a partner in Burnton Farm, Laurencekirk, were spreading lime on a field on 24 May 2010. The men noticed fertiliser was jamming the spreader, so Mr Anderson asked Mr Walis to stand inside the hopper of the spreader and use a broom handle to keep the fertiliser flowing smoothly, and Mr Walis did this for about an hour. However, as the vehicle was driven over uneven ground, Mr Walis slipped and his foot got trapped in the mechanism of the spreader. He had to use his penknife to cut his boot and sock off and free his foot. Such was the damage to Mr Walis's foot, a toe had to be amputated and two others were seriously injured. He needed a skin graft and spent a week in hospital after the incident, and was off work for three months. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the farm did not provide or maintain a safe system of work for spreading lime. At Stonehaven Sheriff Court last week the family partnership that operates Burnton Farms of Burnton, Aberdeenshire, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £8,000. HSE inspector John Radcliffe commented: 'Mr Walis' life will always be affected by this totally avoidable incident. He should never have been asked to put his safety at risk by standing inside the machine so close to the moving parts without any protection. If his employers had used their common sense it would have been clear that they were asking Mr Walis to do something very unsafe and he was likely to be injured.'

Recycling boss didn't have insurance

A company boss has been fined for running a plastics recycling business without having the legally required insurance in place to protect his employees. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Brian Woods, trading as Brian Woods Recycling, following a complaint from an employee at the factory in Lilleshall, Newport. Telford Magistrates' Court heard that Mr Woods, aged 55, who employs three people, had displayed an Employers' Liability Compulsory Insurance certificate at the premises but did not pay the insurance premiums. After writing to him several times extending the deadline for payment, the insurance broker sent a final letter to Mr Woods on 9 August 2010 stating that his policy was cancelled and requesting him to return the certificate. The court heard that Mr Woods had run the business from 17 August to 13 October last year with no employers' liability insurance in place. He pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, and was fined £2,500 with costs of £1,000. HSE inspector Sara Cragg said: 'Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their staff while they are at work, and must protect them with compulsory insurance. Employers' liability insurance is designed to ensure employees are covered if they are injured or made ill by their work.' She added: 'Failing to have this insurance leaves members of staff vulnerable in the event of an accident or ill-health. This case is a warning to all employers about how seriously HSE takes this issue.'

Work victims come second to insurers' profits

Victims of industrial disease have seen their entitlement to compensation come a distant second to the profits of insurance companies, a legal group has charged. Karl Tonks, incoming vice-president of the not-for-profit Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), said: 'Dying workers are tired of subsidising insurers who have taken money in premiums but who have avoided providing proper compensation because of problems with tracing old insurance policies.' He was speaking out after the Financial Services Authority (FSA) announced new rules which require insurers to publish details of policies which cover employers for injuries caused to their staff. Information on policies taken out from April this year will have to be published, but details of all policies before this date will not because insurers claimed doing this would be disproportionate and expensive. Injured workers need to trace their employer's insurance company in order to pursue a claim for full compensation. Mr Tonks said: 'Many sick and dying workers who can't trace their employers' insurers from decades ago still won't be able to claim the compensation they need, and insurers know it. Some people are dying from asbestos-related diseases without receiving their compensation and this situation cannot go on.' APIL and workplace health campaigners have called for a 'fund of last resort' to underwrite payouts to workplace injury and disease victims where the insurer cannot be traced. Mr Tonks said: 'The right thing is for insurers to support the widespread calls for a fund of last resort because no tracing system, no matter how efficient, will provide complete protection for injured workers. Should the insurance industry continue to obstinately oppose such a fund, the government must legislate for it.'

  • APIL news release [pdf].

New online directory of safety consultants

A new online directory of health and safety consultants gas been launched. More than 1,600 consultants in the UK have signed up to the online Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR), which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says 'was created to increase employers' confidence that they are receiving good quality, proportionate health and safety advice should they need external help.' It says before consultants can join the register they must prove they can meet strict eligibility criteria. 'Each must belong to a professional body, have a degree-level qualification, at least two years' experience and have demonstrated a commitment to continuing their professional development,' the safety watchdog said. Launching the register, employment minister Chris Grayling said: 'Those who do not have the requisite expertise and experience will be excluded from the register, making it easier for employers to access reliable, reputable advice.'OSHCR has been established by a number of professional bodies representing general safety and occupational health consultants, with support from HSE. It was one of the key recommendations of the David Cameron-commissioned 'Common Sense Common Safety' review by former Tory cabinet minister and safety tsar Lord Young. His report, which was the template for many of the measures introduced this week in the government's new safety strategy, was branded a 'grave disappointment' by the TUC (Risks 478).

Government will mark Workers' Memorial Day

The UK government will continue to recognise Workers' Memorial Day, the global 28 April event each year when unions and campaigners vow to remember the dead and fight for the living. Last year was the first to make the event official in the UK, after a decision by the previous Labour administration. This year, the government has confirmed it will continue to promote the event on its Directgov website. A Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson told SHP Online, the magazine of safety professionals' body IOSH: 'Following the UK's official recognition of Workers' Memorial Day in 2010, we will ensure that the day is appropriately publicised on the government's Directgov website. But official recognition is only one side of the story. The main responsibility for controlling work-related health and safety risks rests with those who create the risks. Workers' Memorial Day is a stark reminder of why that responsibility is so important. The government extends its deepest sympathies to all those for whom the day is especially poignant.' The TUC is encouraging unions to use Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April to campaign against the cuts in HSE and local authority funding and enforcement activity (Risks 497).

International News

Europe: Working longer requires better working

The improvement of working conditions throughout a worker's career is 'a necessary condition' to enable workers to continue to work for as long as possible, a European think tank has concluded. The Dublin-based European Union research body Eurofound says the issue is of crucial importance as working lives are extended and the population ages. Its latest Foundation Focus publication reports new research data showing increasing levels of stress and work intensity. For Europeans, work intensity has increased over the past 20 years - more workers work at high speed, work to tight deadlines, or have their pace of work driven by more demands, Eurofound notes. It reports that in the European Union nearly 60 per cent of workers say that they have to work at very high speed for at least a quarter of their working time. It concludes that by reducing the physical strain of work as well as the stress caused by the intensity of work, workers are more likely to stay in their jobs longer.



Global: WHO says chemicals kill millions each year

Researchers from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has calculated the death toll due to the use of chemical substances. In 2004, chemical substances caused 4.9 million deaths (or 8 per cent of total mortality). When related ill-health is factored in, the number of years of life lost reached 86 million (5 per cent of the total). According to WHO, asbestos alone was the cause of 107,000 deaths in 2004. The toxic metal lead, according to WHO's estimate, caused 143,000 deaths from cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) diseases. Commenting on deaths and Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) - a combination of the deaths and illness related to the exposures - the report notes: 'Occupational exposure to arsenic, asbestos, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, diesel exhaust, nickel and silica were estimated to cause 111,000 deaths (and 1,011,000 DALYs) from lung cancer in 2004. This represents about 9 per cent of the total burden of lung cancer.' The study is based on an examination of almost 100 scientific articles. The WHO team note their estimates relate only to the known impact of chemical substances, and that the unknown impact might be considerable. 'Although under-estimated, the global burden of disease attributable to chemicals is useful information for international, regional and national decision-makers from the different sectors and programmes who have a role to play in reducing human exposure to toxic chemicals,' the authors conclude. 'This review supports that further attention should focus on investigating population health impacts from chemicals, and on the preventive measures limiting harmful exposures to chemicals.'

Global: IUF calls for lung killer action

A long union push for workplace regulation of the highly toxic food flavouring diacetyl has resulted in the introduction of a strict new workplace standard in the state of California. But only watered down controls have been introduced in the US at the national level - and global foodworkers' union federation IUF says action on the widely used butter flavouring is near non-existent elsewhere. The chemical can cause the crippling lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans, now widely known in the US as 'popcorn workers' lung'. But whereas action has been taken in the US, IUF is highly critical of authorities in Europe for ignoring the risks. It says the European Union 'has set no exposure limits for diacetyl, which has never been evaluated with regard to inhalation and other forms of exposure in manufacturing.' IUF adds: 'In recent correspondence with the European Food Safety Authority, the agency stated that diacetyl has been declared safe, that no new evaluation was carried out, that it has no plans to do so, and that evaluation falls outside its mandate, which is limited to oral exposure rather than inhalation.' According to IUF: 'This regulatory inaction in the face of a known workplace killer stands in sharp contrast with the introduction of a binding standard in California.'

Pakistan: Mine gas explosion 'kills 52'

A coal mine declared unsafe two weeks ago by authorities in Pakistan exploded on 20 March with the loss of dozens of lives. Rescue workers used shovels and bare hands to dig out victims buried by methane explosions in the coal mine in southwestern Pakistan, but officials fear all 52 miners underground at the time of the blast are dead. The mine is located in Baluchistan province, some 40 kilometres east of the provincial capital of Quetta. Iftikhar Ahmed, a top mine inspector, said the mine was declared dangerous two weeks ago, but the warning was ignored. The mine is owned by the state-run Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation but leased to a contractor, he said. Mining ? for gems, marble, granite, chromite and coal ? is one of the only industries in much of Baluchistan and northwest Pakistan. But it has attracted very little foreign investment in recent years due to the precarious security situation. Accidents are commonplace.

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