Risks 506 - 21 May 2011

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

Union News

Top docs back union dust plan

The Institute of Occupational Medicine has backed a union push for a dramatic reduction in the amount of dust allowed in workplace air. Unions have for over two years been pressing an intransigent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to reduce the occupational exposure limit for general workplace dust to a quarter the current level and to run a campaign to raise awareness of dust dangers. HSE's own advisory committees also called for such a campaign as 'a priority'. But HSE has refused to budge on both issues - even though it admits workers are getting sick when exposed at the current allowable limit. In response to HSE's stance, unions last year agreed, as an interim measure, to introduce their own 'precautionary standard' of 1mg/m3 for respirable dust, a quarter the current official standard. The unions noted that health effects had not only been seen at the official limit of 4mg/m3 for 'a range of so-called low toxicity dusts', but for some dusts even a 1mg/m3 limit was not protective. This month, the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) said it was backing the move to a lower, safer, standard. An IOM position paper noted the organisation 'considers that the current British occupational exposure limits for airborne dust are unsafe and employers should attempt to reduce exposures to help prevent further cases of respiratory disease amongst their workers.' The position paper notes that as HSE's own advisory WATCH committee has advised 'there is no threshold for the effects of dust on the lung then... reducing exposure should pro rata reduce the risk of disease in the future.' According to IOM: 'We suggest that, until safe limits are put in place, employers should aim to keep exposure to respirable dust below 1mg/m3...' A TUC spokesperson commented: 'This report shows that the HSE could slash lung disease, including cancers, simply by reducing the current exposure standards which are clearly far too high. However it is equally important that any standards are adhered to and that will become far more difficult as the HSE cut pro-active inspections and reduce access to guidance.'

  • The IOM's position on occupational exposure limits for dust, May 2011[pdf]. Delivering for health: HSE action on occupational respiratory disease [pdf], paper to the HSE board meeting, December 2010 [minutes, pdf].


Union's inquiry hopes on crossings cover up

A public inquiry offers the best hope of uncovering who led a 'cover up' at Network Rail over the deaths of two school girls on an unsafe level crossing, the TSSA rail union has said. Two key safety documents which could have prevented the deaths of the teenage girls at Elsenham in 2005 were not disclosed by Network Rail (NR) to the Essex Coroner at the inquest in 2007, said union general secretary Gerry Doherty. Speaking at his union's annual conference in Norwich, he disclosed details of the reports, one in 2001 and one in 2002, which called for the crossing to be made safe by either building a bridge over it, a subway beneath or locking the pedestrian gates. Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were killed on the crossing by an express train when they opened the gates to cross the line on a Christmas shopping trip in December 2005.Commenting on impact of withholding the reports, Mr Doherty said: 'The inquest was a travesty because neither the coroner, the families nor the rail regulator, the ORR, were told about them. Senior management within NR must have decided to keep them secret because they only wanted the coroner to look at a verdict of accidental deaths rather than something more serious such as unlawful killing.' He also charged that NR persuaded the coroner, Caroline Beasley Murray, to exclude the evidence of an expert independent witness who would have been critical of the company's risk assessment policies at level crossings. Ian Ferguson, from the government's Health and Safety Laboratory, had prepared a report criticising the system as 'not suitable or sufficient', said TSSA, adding his evidence was withheld from the jury after legal objections by NR. 'A public inquiry is the only satisfactory way for the families now to get public justice,' said Mr Doherty. 'The public pays the majority of the bills for NR and they are entitled to answers as well.' The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is currently conducting an inquiry into the tragedy. On 14 February this year, ORRadmittedit had 'recently received a copy of a key document which it had not seen previously, relating to the tragic double fatality at Elsenham level crossing in December 2005.'

Union concern as HSE cuts phone lines

Construction union UCATT has warned workers will be put at risk as a result of cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) information service. The watchdog's Infoline, which last year dealt with over 200,000 inquiries, will close in October and will not be replaced. The move, which will save HSE less than £1 million, is part of a package of government-imposed budget cuts of £35 million over four years. George Guy, acting general secretary of UCATT, said: 'The HSE should be better publicising the Infoline number not cutting the service.' The union has also warned that a move to require most records of reportable accidents to be filed online, removing the phone-in option, is a backward step. UCATT has written to Judith Hackitt, the chair of HSE, expressing its concerns and calling for the Infoline service to be retained. The TUC has also warned about the implication of axing the Infoline which it says 'has, for many years provided an invaluable service to both health and safety representatives and to small businesses.' It says 'you cannot replace a human interface with a website', adding it is small businesses 'who will be affected most by the closure of the service as they are far less likely to have access to other advice and support. This change will make it much harder for them to get the information they need when they need it' (Risks 504).


Car crash ended nurse's career

A UNISON member, whose nursing career was ended by injuries suffered in a road smash as she travelled to see a patient, has received a £441,227 court payout. She was forced to take the union-backed case to the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) after an insurer refused to concede her serious injuries left her unable to work. The 47-year-old from Uxbridge was on her way to visit a patient in May 2007, when her Ford Focus was hit in the rear by a Luton lorry driven by a drunk driver. Although she initially felt fine, over the next week she began to suffer whiplash injuries. The pain became so bad that she was sent home from work and hasn't been able to return since. She was left with severe whiplash injuries to her neck and back, and developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CPRS), the chronic condition that forced her to give up her 25-year long career as a community nurse. The lorry driver was charged with driving under the influence and received a driving ban. He also admitted liability for the crash, but his employer's insurer, PHS Investments, refused to accept her injuries meant she was no longer able to work, forcing the case to court. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis commented: 'After a lengthy court battle, our member has finally got the compensation she deserves. But this money will not make up for what she has lost. Not only has she had to give up her job, which has robbed her of a career she loved, the taxpayer has lost a great community nurse with 25 years of experience. She should never have had to wait so long for justice.' Lisa Gunner from Thompsons Solicitors, acting for UNISON, added: 'The insurers have treated her appallingly, even suggesting that her disability was not caused by the accident. Our client has now been vindicated and we hope that she will now be able to continue her life in the best way possible.'


Tax office trapped disabled worker

A PCS member with a disability who was injured by a faulty lift in the government building in which she worked has received £3,700 in compensation. The 57-year-old, who as a result of diabetes suffers from muscle weakness and must walk with a stick, was trapped between lift doors while trying to get to her office on the 16th floor of the HMRC building in Cardiff. The lift had already been reported faulty after closing suddenly on two other employees earlier that day but nothing was done to put it out of action. As the administrator was entering the lift, the doors suddenly slammed shut on her and she had to force them open to get out. She was left with soft tissue damage to both shoulders and needed intensive physiotherapy. She still suffers from pain in one shoulder. In a union-backed compensation claim HMRC admitted liability. Peter Lockhart, PCS national officer for HMRC, said: 'Many of our members have complained to us about this lift and HMRC should have acted a lot quicker to fix it and prevent this accident.'

Other news

Network Rail fined £3m over train crash

Network Rail has been fined £3 million for safety failings over the Potters Bar train crash. The rail infrastructure company admitted breaching safety regulations over the May 2002 crash which claimed seven lives. Faulty points were to blame for the crash in which a London to King's Lynn service operated by WAGN derailed near Potters Bar station in Hertfordshire. Overall responsibility for the track lay with Network Rail's predecessor company, Railtrack. Last year, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) launched proceedings against maintenance firm Jarvis and Network Rail under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Both companies were accused of failings over the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars which keep the moveable section of the points at the correct width for train wheels. The action against Jarvis was subsequently dropped. Director of rail safety at ORR, Ian Prosser, said: 'It is welcome that Network Rail, as the successor to Railtrack, pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches, demonstrating that, under its new management, it is now an organisation willing to take responsibility and learn from past mistakes.' Network Rail was set up as a not-for-profit organisation to take over Railtrack's responsibilities. Network Rail has no shareholders and its debt is guaranteed by the government. This means that any fine imposed on the company effectively comes out of the public purse.

Privatisation to blame for rail disaster

Shambolic safety management by Network Rail's privatised predecessor Railtrack was to blame for the Potters Bar disaster, rail unions have said. Commenting after Network Rail was fined £3 million for safety offences related to the fatal crash in May 2002, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'People need to remember that it was the privatised Railtrack and their contractors who were responsible for the Potters Bar disaster and that Network Rail have been left to sweep up the mess that they inherited from that failed company and that includes paying this fine. Network Rail didn't even exist when the tragedy of Potters Bar occurred.' He said directors of Railtrack and contractor Jarvis should have been held personally liable for the disaster, adding: 'It is a scandal that those really responsible have got away with it.' Mr Crow said instead we are seeing a fine paid from 'precious' public funds 'that could and should have been invested in improving and maintaining safety on our railways. That is an appalling indictment of the way that this whole episode has been handled.' ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman said: 'It is ludicrous that seven people died, but the managers responsible for rail safety walked away unscathed - while the public picks up a £3 million bill. Surely those individuals responsible should be punished - not the travelling public?'


Serial safety offender Celsa fined again

Major steel firm Celsa has extended its unenviable run of prosecutions following serious injuries and criminal safety offences. The latest, after a worker at the Cardiff steel producer had parts of two fingers amputated when his hand was crushed in a rolling mill processing red hot steel, led last week to a £50,000 fine for the firm. In February this year, Celsa Manufacturing UK Ltd was fined £80,000 after a worker was electrocuted. In November 2010, it was fined £200,000 for offences relating to the death of a worker whose head was crushed by a crane hook. In December 2007, it was fined £3,000 after a worker lost four toes in an unguarded machine (Risks 338). And in January 2007 it was also fined £5,000 after another workplace accident. In the latest incident, Neil Smith was measuring steel at Celsa Manufacturing UK Ltd using 18in callipers - a method dubbed 'extremely dangerous' in Cardiff Crown Court - after his original measurement was disputed by shift managers and he was sent back to re-measure. While wearing protective gear, including gloves, Mr Smith was measuring the steel, which reaches temperatures between 800 and 900 degrees Celsius and goes through the rollers at a speed of one metre a second. His glove became caught in the calliper, dragging his hand into the rolling mill, crushing and burning his right hand. The court heard the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) describe calliper measurement of moving steel as an 'extremely dangerous operation.' Commenting after Celsa was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £10,715 in costs, HSE inspector Steve Curry said: 'Had Celsa ensured correct and safe working practices, the serious injuries suffered by this employee may have been avoided.' He added: 'This was a completely unnecessary incident. There were alternative measures the company could have used for this task.' The case provides additional ammunition for unions and grassroots safety campaigners, who have argued fines alone are not proving an adequate deterrent and company directors must be held accountable for safety crimes.

Contractor fined after brain damage fall

An 'incompetent' principal contractor has been fined £2,500 after a boatyard employee suffered devastating brain injuries in a fall from a badly constructed gantry. On 18 September 2006, Kevin Cleightonhills was attempting to push a boat on to the purpose-built loading platform. As the Bembridge Marine Ltd employee was doing so, a panel in the floor of the gantry moved and opened a gap, causing him to fall nearly 3.5 metres. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the number of clips used to hold the floor panels in place was fewer than that recommended by British Standards on walkways and stair treads, and that there was no other means of preventing the panels from moving sideways. Principal contractor Malcolm Ely accepted he had not ensured that handrails were fitted to the platform, giving rise to a serious fall risk. Pleading guilty at Portsmouth Crown Court to a criminal safety breach, he was fined £2,250 and ordered to pay costs of £1,000. After the hearing, HSE inspector Tracey Cartwright said: 'As the design and build contractor for this project Mr Ely should have ensured effective co-ordination and communication by all those involved in this project.' She added: 'The judge was correct when he said Mr Ely was not competent to provide a design and build service to Bembridge Marine, his incompetence contributed to the sorry series of events which led to the catastrophic injures of Mr Cleightonhills.' Mr Cleightonhillls, now 26, lives with round-the-clock support in a bungalow near the family home in Bembridge. Initially given a 5 per cent chance of survival, he needed further surgery when he developed post-traumatic hydrocephalus and later underwent intensive rehabilitation. In January 2011, he received a £7.2m compensation payout from Bembridge Marine Ltd.

Woodworking firm ignored dust warning

A Bristol joinery and staircase specialist that ignored an official order to improve control exposures to wood dust has been fined. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector visited the Blackstone Developments (South West) Ltd workshop on 9 February 2011 and found the firm had failed to comply with an official improvement notice issued on 7 October 2010. The inspector found that the local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system, used to control exposure to wood dust, was not working efficiently and was not in good repair. Bristol Magistrates' Court heard that Blackstone Developments (South West) Ltd, an architectural and traditional joiners who use hard and soft wood, had been given until 13 January 2011 to make the necessary improvements after the initial visit in October. According to HSE, 'on returning to the business unit in early February the inspector found that action had not been taken to comply with the improvement notice and HSE were forced to prosecute.' Exposure to wood dust can cause nose and lung cancer, asthma and other respiratory and skin diseases. After sentencing, HSE inspector Christine Haberfield said: 'Woodworking dusts can be potentially harmful to health. They can cause asthma and dermatitis and some are linked to cancer. It is imperative that where local exhaust ventilation is provided to prevent employees breathing in the dust, it is maintained and examined to ensure that it is working properly.' She added: 'Companies need to be aware that improvement notices are a last chance to get their house in order and we will normally prosecute if they have not been complied with by the set date.' The firm pleaded guilty and was fined £3,750 and ordered to pay £836.50 in costs. Ignoring an official improvement notice is one of a small number of offences under safety law that can result in a prison sentence.

Inspection caught quarry's crimes

An unannounced Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection at a Lincolnshire quarry found dangerous equipment with its safety guards removed and in a condition where a worker 'could easily have been killed'. The inspection led to the prosecution of Andrew Freeman, who trades under the name Freemac Aggregates at the quarry in Baston. He had failed to comply with a legal notice prohibiting the use of the machine until it was made safe. Spalding Magistrates Court heard HSE visited Mr Freeman's premises on 9 June 2009 and issued the prohibition notice. When an inspector revisited the site two months later on 16 September 2009, the machine was still in use and guarding that had been fitted to comply with the notice had again been removed. Andrew Freeman was found guilty of a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. He was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay full costs of £3,437. After the hearing, HSE inspector Jo Anderson said: 'The fact that the guards had again been removed after we had issued the prohibition notice, and given him advice on what he needed to do to bring it up to standard, shows a blatant disregard for health and safety. If someone had fallen into the machine they could easily have been killed or had a limb amputated or severely crushed.' In the last 10 years, over 3,000 quarry workers have suffered an injury reportable to HSE, 24 of these fatal. A new enforcement policy introduced by HSE means routine preventive inspections at quarries are being discontinued, with the consequence dangerous practices such as these would almost certainly go unseen until after a serious injury or fatality.

Aerospace worker suffers severe hand injuries

An aerospace firm has been fined after a worker suffered severe hand and wrist injuries. Kishor Patel, 53, had to have three fingers and his thumb amputated after his left hand was crushed in a cooling press at Meggitt Aerospace's site in Shepshed, Leicestershire on 10 May 2010. He was hospitalised for several weeks and has not been able to return to work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the incident, told Loughborough magistrates Mr Patel had been making aircraft components and was in the process of removing a round mould without handles from the press. As he did so, the bottom part of the hydraulic press, the platen, moved up and trapped his hand. After the hearing, HSE inspector Dr Richenda Dixon said: 'The incident was completely preventable. Reaching into the danger zone between powered platens is inherently unsafe and there is foreseeable risk of crush injuries to the hand or arm.' She added 'the mould being used had no handles to help with its removal so there was no safe system of work in place for unloading the presses. The company simply did not appreciate the risks this machinery posed to the wellbeing of its workforce. As a result a man has suffered a life-changing injury and has been unable to perform everyday tasks ever since.' Dr Dixon also described how there were no daily safety checks for any of the industrial presses. Meggitt Aerospace Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £6,758. Mr Patel, who began work at the firm in 1997, hopes to restart work at the plant soon.

Firm fined after engineer loses thumb

A Stourbridge engineering firm has been fined after an employee lost his thumb when it was crushed during a lifting operation. Terence Grove, a 55-year-old mechanical engineer at MI Engineering Company Ltd, was using a rope sling attached to a crane to lift a half-ton angle plate when the sling snapped. The thumb on his right hand was crushed by the falling steel plate and had to be amputated. Dudley Magistrates' Court heard Mr Grove now has difficulty carrying out everyday activities such as holding a pen, cutlery and tools and getting dressed. He has returned to work but has to do everything left-handed or ask colleagues for help. He requires a further operation later this year to remove a number of pins from his hand. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Mr Grove had been using the sling for several years without it being thoroughly examined and with no indication of its safe working load. The company had not undertaken any risk assessments for work at the factory. MI Engineering pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £3,321 costs. HSE inspector Angela Gallagher commented: 'This was a preventable incident that has left a man permanently disabled.' She added: 'MI Engineering did not have a health and safety system to monitor the use of lifting equipment or to ensure all the equipment was thoroughly examined. Furthermore, the company had not carried out any risk assessments for work at its factory. All companies must ensure they manage risks in the workplace properly. It is unacceptable to rely simply on the experience of their employees.'

Firm fined £100,000 after death plunge

A steeplejack firm has been fined £100,000 after one worker plunged to his death and another was injured in separate falls within 18 months. Brian Collins was working for Nottingham-based Central (High Rise) on a contract to paint chimneys at Sutton Bridge Power Station in March 2008. Collins, 52, had been setting up abseiling equipment with two other workers when he fell through an open grating, plunging 34 metres to his death. In a separate incident, nearly 18 months later, another employee fell 10 metres after using the wrong abseiling equipment while maintaining rocks on Nottingham Castle, breaking a bone in his back. Leicester Crown Court heard the firm failed to ensure the work at both locations was carried out safely, putting several employees at serious risk. At the castle, the firm also failed to ensure the work was properly supervised. At the power station, it had failed to make a proper assessment of the risks and to properly manage and monitor the work. Central (High Rise) pleaded guilty to one criminal breach of safety law in relation to the death of Collins and one in relation to the incident at Nottingham Castle. As well as the fine, the company was ordered to pay £32,000 costs. HSE inspector Martin Giles said: 'The work at the power station required careful planning and assessment of the risks involved. Tragically, the company failed to make sure the rigging of the ropes was done safely and the result was the needless death of an employee.' He added in the incident at Nottingham Castle, 'Central failed in its duty to properly supervise the work to make sure it was carried out safely. Luckily the injured man has since made a full recovery but his injuries could easily have been much worse.'

Firm fined after man crushed by granite slabs

A London granite business and one of its directors have been fined after a man was trapped under a two-and-a-half tonne pack of stone slabs while unloading a truck. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted M&R Granite & Marble Ltd and Monzer Mahmoud Alrayes, a director of the company, over the incident on 21 October 2010. City of London Magistrates' heard the worker, who does not want to be named, was unloading pallets from an articulated truck under the direct supervision of Mr Alrayes, when a pack of stone slabs toppled and fell, trapping the worker against another pallet. Injuries to the man's chest and left arm required several operations and many months of post injury therapy and rehabilitation, which are likely to affect his future employment prospects. After the hearing, HSE inspector SaifDeen said: 'The incident was completely avoidable as many companies have developed methods of safely unloading containers and there is no reason why M&R Granite & Marble Ltd should be any different.' Company director Monzer Mahmoud Alrayes pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,079. M&R Granite and Marble Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined £5,000 and costs of £2,079. The case follows a similar incident which led to the prosecution last year of Marble City Ltd (MCL) and company directors Gavin and Jamie Waldron after a worker was crushed to death by granite slabs as they were being unloaded from a truck (Risks 453).

Man loses arm in shop door

An engineer has told of the moment he lost his arm in an accident at work. Ascot Doors employee Paul McNulty, 34, had been called to repair a mezzanine conveyor belt at a Currys store in Ashton under Lyne, used to carry stock from one floor to another. But while carrying out the repairs, his sleeve became trapped in the belt and his arm was dragged through a set of rollers, requiring an emergency amputation. Recalling the January 2009 incident, Mr McNulty said: 'It was the most blinding pain. I knew straight away I was going to lose the arm.' He had worked for the firm for 12 years, starting as a trainee and working his way up. He is now employed by the North West Ambulance Trust as a driver and labourer. Ascot Doors pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety breaches and was fined £10,500 and £4,100 costs at Tameside Magistrates' Court. The firm admitted it could not prove that staff had attended all necessary safety training sessions.

International News

Chile: Unions press for mine safety action

The Chilean government must show a specific commitment to improve the country's poor mine safety regulation, the global mining union federation ICEM has said. The union body said moves to reform Chile's 'antiquated' workplace health and safety culture were to be welcomed, after the government last month ratified the International Labour Organisation's general occupational health and safety 'framework' convention. But it said the Chilean government must also take explicit measures on mine safety, including ratifying ILO's Convention 176 on safety and health in mines. 'Chile is a nation of rich mineral resources, extracted and sold on global markets,' said ICEM general secretary Manfred Warda. Commenting on the rescue in October last year of 33 miners from the San José mine, he added: 'If the amazing story at San José taught us anything it is Chile must meet world class mine safety standards regarding prevention and monitoring.' ICEM said since San José, Chile has made some progress on mine safety. The National Service of Geology and Mining (SERNAGEOMIN) has seen an increase in funding. A proposed new law would revise mine regulations, including safety. But ICEM said 'only by ratifying and fully implementing Convention 176 will Chile be able to claim that it meets mineworker safety standards inherent to a world class extractive resources nation.'

Finland: Unions track asbestos exposure risks

Unions in Finland are keeping track of workplace asbestos exposures, using a purpose designed 'follow-up' card. The say the initiative, which was launched last month by the Breathing Association, the union confederations SAK and STTK, and the trade unions representing metal, electrical, paper and construction workers, will record information on individual worker's exposures and on possible occupational diseases that could be related to those exposures. Under the system, details of subsequent health checks, their results and any treatment are also recorded on the card. Experts expect these cards to be especially helpful in following up workers after they have retired. They estimate that about 200,000 Finns have been exposed to asbestos. Most exposures took place in the 1960s and 1970s at construction sites, shipyards and power plants and in vehicle installation, repair and service jobs. Asbestos was banned in Finland in 1994.

Japan: Worker dies at crippled nuclear plant

A worker at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has died, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said, bringing the death toll at the complex to three since the massive earthquake and tsunami in March. The man, in his 60s, was employed by one of Tokyo Electric's contractors. He was exposed to 0.17 millisieverts of radiation on his second day on the job, Tokyo Electric said. The Japanese government's maximum level of exposure for male workers at the plant is 250 millisieverts for the duration of the effort to bring it under control. The worker fell ill 50 minutes after starting work and was brought to the plant's medical room unconscious. He was later moved to a nearby hospital and confirmed dead, a Tokyo Electric spokesperson said. Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, voiced concerns about the working environment at the Fukushima complex. 'I would like to spend my energy to improve working conditions. Many people told us working environment (at the plant) is way too bad,' Hosono told a news conference. The protective clothing required to entire the plant itself creates risks to health - there is a well-recognised link to extra heart strain and other problems associated with the use of often heavy personal protective equipment. Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced last week that Japan will drop the plan it announced last year to boost, from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, the amount of the nation's electricity that comes from nuclear power. Kan said his government will 'start from scratch' in planning the country's energy future. The fatality at the plant is the third to date. The bodies of two workers were found shortly after the earthquake and accompanying tsunami.

USA: New chemical safe law good for jobs

More stringent controls on industrial chemicals could support job creation in the US while protecting health and the environment, a new report has concluded. The study, produced by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and commissioned by the BlueGreen Alliance, shows that innovation in sustainable chemistry can reverse the industry's job shedding trend in a market that increasingly requires cleaner, safer production. The authors say the US chemical industry has shed 300,000 jobs since 1992, despite production increasing by 4 per cent per year. Under the current scenario, the industry stands to lose approximately 230,000 jobs in the next 20 years. But the new report argues that innovation in sustainable chemistry presents new opportunities to reverse the job shedding trend. For example, if 20 per cent of current production were to shift from petrochemical-based plastics to bio-based plastics, 104,000 additional jobs could be created in the US economy. 'Instead of our members losing quality jobs in the chemical industry and accepting the myth that policy reform will somehow cost more jobs,' commented Leo W Gerard, international president of the steelworkers' union USW, proposed new more stringent chemical safety laws 'will create sustainable, good-paying jobs while protecting the health of workers and the environment by encouraging investment in education, technology and research.' James Heintz, associate director of the Political Economy Research Institute, commented: 'This study shows that an effective regulatory environment will support the chemical industry's ability to take advantage of new markets in sustainable chemistry. Either we can continue with weak and ineffective regulation - continuing to produce potentially hazardous chemicals while manufacturing jobs disappear - or we can move toward disclosure, regulation, and sustainability; encourage innovation; create stability for businesses and investors; and build new markets for safe and sustainable chemicals.'

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