Risks 509 - 11 June 2011

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

Union News

'Beware behavioural safety', says Unite

Unite has launched a campaign to warn members in the paper and corrugated packaging sector about the dangers of behavioural safety initiatives at work. The union says the approach, which includes a number of different programmes with worker behaviour as the prime target (Risks 457), is a 'blame the worker' system that doesn't work. Peter Ellis, Unite national officer for the paper and corrugating industries, said: 'Too many employers are introducing behavioural safety schemes thinking they are the answer to everything on health and safety. They cost a lot of money and they don't work.' He added: 'We know from our experience, dealing with safety in thousands of workplaces, that hazards and unsafe conditions cause injury and illness. When the hazards are properly identified and fixed, injury and illness decrease. In the meantime, it is our members who face the workplace risks, and under behavioural safety tend to get the blame as well. Involving Unite safety reps, identifying hazards and fixing them is the real route to safer workplaces.' The union adds that many behavioural safety programmes are designed to undermine trade union activity on health and safety, reduce the role of joint health and safety committees and shift the blame for accidents and poor health and safety from management to workers. 'Safety reps need to be involved in all decision making processes around health and safety so that they can bring their expertise to any discussions on what is needed to improve workplace health and safety. It is important that workers and unions achieve the fundamental goals of the union - achieving safer, healthier and more hazard-free jobs. Fix the hazards, don't blame the victims. Workers and their reps are the solution to workplace health and safety concerns, not the problem.' Behavioural safety has been used by a number of companies in the oil and gas industry, in both the US and UK, who have had major safety incidents in recent years, including oil giants BP and Chevron.

UNISON pushes organisation on safety

Public sector union UNISON is putting health and safety at the centre of a recruitment and organising drive. General secretary Dave Prentis says the union's new 'Organising for health and safety' guide is part of a strategy 'to turn UNISON into a genuinely organising union.' He adds: 'There are few more important areas that can act as a vehicle for this than health and safety at work - particularly during the massive attacks by this Conservative led government on our public services.' According to Prentis, when budgets are cut, corners also tend to get cut on health and safety. 'As always it is our union that stands between the excesses of the employer and our members. Achieving this means having an organised workplace where as many people as possible are members,' he says. 'Organising around health and safety issues cuts right to the core of what's important for our members. Becoming an organising union means that as many people as possible take part in organising activities that helps to stand up for our members during these increasingly difficult times and continues the growth of our union.'

Victimisation is money down the tube

London Underground (LUL) has thrown at least £250,000 down the Tube trying to defend its 'indefensible' victimisation of train operator Arwyn Thomas, the union RMT has estimated. Six-figure legal fees, management time spent preparing for and attending six days of tribunals, including senior managers on £600-plus a day, on top of Arwyn's salary - paid on the orders of an interim hearing in January - add up at least to the cost of employing 20 modern apprentices for a year, the union says. Along with RMT safety rep Eamonn Lynch - who has now been reinstated after winning an employment tribunal outright (Risks 505) - Arwyn was targeted for his involvement in a union challenge to cuts that could have turned the underground system into a 'death trap', according to RMT. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'London Underground knew in January that their case against Arwyn Thomas, like that against Eamonn Lynch, had fallen flat on its face when the interim tribunal judged that Arwyn had been sacked for his trade union activities. The interim tribunal judge even suggested that LUL go outside for 15 minutes, think about it and re-instate him, but instead they have squandered huge sums of public money on trying to defend the indefensible. Our legal team estimates that LUL's legal bill alone will have run to six figures.' He added: 'We reckon that adds up to at least a quarter of a million and could well be a lot more - and that's before we add the tribunal costs that also come out of taxpayers' pockets. That is a shameful waste of money that could have been spent on developing, maintaining and staffing the Tube. The time has come to call a halt and to start investing in building better industrial relations - and that has to start with treating staff and their unions fairly."

Unite welcomes Crossrail no bogus jobs pledge

A commitment by Crossrail to use a properly trained, directly employed workforce for the construction of the cross-London rail project has been welcomed by Unite, which says it will work with the company to make sure it also has 'gold standards' of safety. The union says it has opposed to 'bogus self employment' on the project, which will run from Paddington to Abbey Wood. In addition to depriving the economy of tax revenue, unions have linked non-direct employment to higher rates of injuries. Unite says it will be seeking 'gold standards' in health and safety during the building of Crossrail, which is due to open in 2018, increasing the capital's rail capacity by 10 per cent. It is expected to add at least £36 billion to UK gross domestic product (GDP). Unite regional officer Vince Passfield said: 'Unite welcomes the commitments given towards direct employment and our national agreements. Bogus self-employment plagues the construction industry and deprives the economy of millions in tax revenue.' He added: 'Unite will seek to work with Crossrail to ensure project compliance through a structured consultation process. Our aspirations are high in regard to Crossrail's pledge for training and development and we will hold the company accountable for ensuring that these promises are delivered. We are looking for 'gold standards' on health and safety and, as talks progress, expect a framework of principles to be agreed with the main contractors.'

Care worker holed up with attacker

A careworker left alone overnight with a violent patient after being beaten was forced to give up her job as result. UNISON helped support worker Lorraine Morgan, 42, obtain compensation after her bosses ignored the beatings and instead instructed her to hole up overnight, resulting in another assault the following morning. Her employer, Cartrefi Cymru, failed to tell her about the vulnerable woman's history of violence - including assaults on 15 other workers. It ignored her calls for help and told her instead to lock herself in a staffroom with no toilet facilities for hours. Dave Prentis, UNISON's general secretary, said: 'Lorraine will never be able to escape the nightmare her bosses forced upon her. Without the training needed to defend herself, or any help, it must have been a terrifying wait until morning, when she was attacked for a second time.' He added that 'Cartrefi Cymru's negligence knew no bounds' and was 'an unacceptable abuse of care. It is one failing after another and has caused colossal damage to Joanne's health and career. Employers have a duty to keep their workers safe - they must tell workers if they are at risk, provide proper training and respond to attacks immediately.' Mother-of-three Mrs Morgan said: 'The situation I was put in was unbelievable. I called for help and was ignored and then told to stay in a dangerous situation until morning. I felt abandoned and terrified in that staffroom. I was also worried about the woman who attacked me. I was there because she was a vulnerable person but I was under orders to abandon her.' A union backed compensation claim was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum after Cartrefi Cymru admitted liability. Kirstie Ellaway, from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by UNISON to act for Mrs Morgan, said: 'Mrs Morgan's experience sounds like something out of a horror film. The situation she was put in was unacceptable by any standards. The care industry has lost a devoted and capable member of staff.'

Bike crash led to months off work

A Unite member who suffered a serious injury requiring months off work after his cycle hit a pothole has received nearly £13,000 in compensation, as a result of court victory obtained with the support of his union. Keen cyclist Martin Bourne, 55, dislocated his shoulder when his bike hit a 10 inch long hole on a busy road. He was forced to take a total of four months off work and needed surgery to mend his shoulder. Central Bedfordshire Council was ordered to pay £12,951 compensation by Luton County Court. After the incident, Mr Bourne was signed off his work as a warehouse operative for Scapa for four weeks and returned to light duties. But his shoulder never healed and in August 2008 he was underwent reconstructive surgery with a further three months off work. He still suffers intermittent pain in the shoulder but has regained most of its function. Peter Kavanagh, the acting regional secretary for Unite's London and Eastern region, commented: 'Unite supports members and families who have accidents at or away from work. Here a massive pot hole had an equally massive impact on our member's health and we hope that Central Bedfordshire Council will take heed of this award and take their responsibilities to provide safe highways seriously.'

Other news

Chevron refinery blast kills four workers

Three male painting contractors and a female fire-watch officer have died in the huge explosion at the Chevron refinery at Pembroke Dock, south west Wales. The Health and Safety Executive is undertaking a joint investigation with Dyfed Powys Police and other agencies after a large storage tank blew up late on Thursday 2 June during routine maintenance, rocking houses and sending a plume of black smoke into the sky. A fifth worker is critically ill with severe burns. The complex is one of the largest in western Europe and was the site of a 1994 explosion and fire in which 26 workers were injured. Chevron is carrying out its own inquiry. The explosion occurred while a storage tank was being taken out of service for maintenance, the company said. 'From across Chevron worldwide, all the major Milford Haven industrial sites and our local community in Pembroke we have received a huge number of messages of condolence and offers of support, for which we are extremely grateful and touched,' said the Chevron statement. 'Our focus over the coming days and weeks will be to work together to ensure that everyone on site receives the support they need from those around them.' The dead have been named as Julie Jones, aged 54, a mother of one and a grandmother from Pembroke, and Dennis (Denny) Riley, 52, a father of two and a grandfather, Robert Broome, 48, a father of seven and Andrew Jenkins, 33, a father of young twins, all from Milford Haven. The dangers posed by large chemical plants were reinforced by other major fires within 24 hours of the Chevron blast. A large blaze struck the Terra Nitrogen plant in Billingham, Teesside, on 1 June. And the Eco-Oil Ltd waste oil depot in Kingnorth was the scene of a 'huge' blaze on 3 June. There were no injuries reported in either fire.

Relief for man dragged through CD size hole

A plater who suffered a string of serious injuries when an engineering machine dragged him through a hole the size of a CD case says he is 'greatly relieved' after his former employer pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety regulations. Matthew Lowe, 25, from Barnsley, says he was lucky to even survive a December 2008 incident which left him with a broken arm, nerve damage, a torn bowel, a fractured rib, fractures to his vertebrae and a smashed hip joint. Mr Lowe was working on a large saw and drill machine at Compass Engineering in Barnsley. As he was using the machine a lifting arm became attached to his overalls and dragged him through the five-inch wide hatch in the wall. In addition to his multiple physical injuries, Mr Lowe has also been left suffering with psychological injuries causing nightmares and flashbacks. In a 2 June hearing at Barnsley Magistrates Court, both Compass Engineering and Kaltenbach - the company who installed the machine and signed it off as safe to use - pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches. The matter has now been referred to Sheffield Crown Court for sentencing. Mr Lowe said: 'This prosecution isn't about securing justice, or seeing Compass Engineering and Kaltenbach publicly flogged in court. What matters most is that the industry learns from my experience.' He added: 'I hope my case highlights the dangers posed by not following health and safety regulations. It still won't be able to put my life back to how it was before the accident but at least then it might prevent others from suffering in the future. Too many people are needlessly killed and injured in accidents at work.' HSE inspector Chris Chambers said: 'Compass Engineering Ltd have at least had the good grace to stand by Mr Lowe and provide continued support, but both they and Kaltenbach ultimately failed to protect the young worker when it mattered most.'

Risks stacked against new workers

Workers are as likely to suffer a reportable injury in the first six months at a workplace as during the whole of the rest of their working life, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned. The safety watchdog says a number of factors contribute to the excess risk, including lack of experience at or familiarity with the job and workplace. New workers may also be reluctant or not know how to raise concerns, it adds, and as novices may not recognise the risks or safe work processes. It adds 'vulnerable' groups, including young workers and migrant workers may face additional problems, which should be taken into account by employers. HSE has produced a six point plan to protect new starters. It says firms should access their capability, for example literacy, numeracy or other factors including familiarity with the job and command of language. They should also provide a carefully planned induction and ensure control measures are up to date and are being used and maintained. There should also be adequate training and supervision. Finally, firms should make sure all these measures are properly understood. HSE's online guide concludes: 'Check workers have understood the information, instruction and training they need to work safely, and are acting on it, especially during the vital first days/weeks at work. Remember to make sure workers know how and with whom they can raise any concerns about their health and safety and that they know about any emergency arrangements or procedures.'

Scaffolding death was 'entirely preventable'

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The death of a Scottish worker who fell 30 feet from scaffolding while working with his brother was 'entirely preventable', an official fatal accident inquiry has ruled. Kenneth McLean and his brother Brian McLean were carrying out rough casting at a construction site in Partick in October 2005 when Kenneth fell to his death. The 53-year-old had been unloading items on the fifth level of the scaffolding when he leaned on a bracket that was insecurely fastened and fell over the side. Brian McLean, now 60, went to see what was delaying his brother but there was no sign of him. He then looked down and saw his brother lying on the ground. Kenneth McLean was rushed to Glasgow's Western Infirmary but died from head and chest injuries on 13 October 2005. The brothers were working at a PBL Construction Ltd site at the time. In a written judgment, Sheriff John McCormick said: 'Regrettably this is one more example of health and safety legislation being ignored on site by those who are either unqualified or unwilling to take the necessary action so as to protect employees and other workers on site from accidents which are entirely preventable.' He added: 'At the conclusion one is left with the general impression of a company, PBL Construction, having insufficient scaffolders, neither of whom was qualified to erect Kwikstage Scaffold, with site managers not qualified to notice this deficiency or to conduct inspections. The number and extent of the failures to properly manage and maintain this site will be cold comfort to Mrs Elizabeth McLean and her family to whom the court sends its condolences.' The firm has now gone into liquidation.

Phoenix firms must face justice

The government must tighten the rules to make sure firms aren't allowed to sidestep justice for health and safety breaches by going into administration, a Labour MP has said. Steve Rotheram has tabled an early day motion calling for a clampdown on so-called phoenix companies, which go into administration to avoid large fines, then re-emerge and begin trading again under a modified name. The Liverpool Walton MP cited the case of Bryn Thomas Crane Hire which was convicted over health and safety offences in April after the death of Mark Thornton in Liverpool in March 2007 (Risks 502). 'The firm was fined the significantly reduced amount of £4,500 due to the company being in administration,' the EDM notes, adding that 'the owner of Bryn Thomas Crane Hire is now trading as Bryn Thomas Cranes Limited using largely the same plant and equipment.' The MP is calling on the government 'to introduce stronger legislation to ensure that companies can no longer avoid justice by going into administration.' George Guy, acting general secretary of the construction union UCATT, told the Morning Star newspaper: 'Sadly cases such as this occur all too frequently following the death of a construction worker. Rather than face large fines for health and safety offences, companies choose to enter administration. In many cases the companies then re-emerge using a similar name and the same equipment.' Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said: 'That any company can avoid being held responsible for the negligent killing of workers in this way is a scandal. That the directors of the company can evade being held criminally responsible for their actions or inaction which kill is an outrageous injustice.' She added: 'The failure to prosecute those at the top accompanies what seems to be an increase in the prosecution of individual workers and is a morally bankrupt policy.'

Firms fined after worker killed on M25

Construction firm Carillion Highway Maintenance Limited and its traffic management subcontractor have been fined a total of £202,000 after a worker employed by another subcontractor was killed while working on the M25 motorway. Christopher Lewis was carrying out fencing work on a section of the M25 near Enfield, when he was crushed between a van and a safety barrier after a lorry jack-knifed on the motorway. During the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, Southwark Crown Court was told Carillion was carrying out repairs to overhead lighting in the tunnel in August 2004. To allow the repair work to take place, Carillion arranged with Traffic Management (North East) Limited (TMNE) to set up an overnight contraflow. CD Fencing and Construction Services Limited were removing and restoring wire rope safety fencing in the central reservation. After the repair work had been completed, Mr Lewis and colleague Simon Reid, both employees of CD Fencing, were in a closed lane waiting to reinstate the safety fencing so the traffic management equipment could be removed, allowing the tunnel to re-open. A lorry jack-knifed in the contraflow system, hit cones and a stationary CD Fencing van, sending the van careering towards the hard shoulder. Mr Lewis was later found pinned between the van and a safety barrier at the rear of the hard shoulder. Gavin Shaw, an employee of TMNE, was knocked over by a traffic cone and suffered a broken wrist. Carillion Highway Maintenance Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £200,000 with £50,000 costs. Traffic Management (North East) Limited, which is under administration, was found guilty of criminal charges and fined £2,000 and £120,000 costs. The jury did not agree on the charge against CD Fencing Ltd and it was acquitted when the prosecution concluded it was not in the public interest to proceed to re-trial. The driver of the lorry had been previously convicted of driving without due care and attention in a case brought by the Crown Prosecution Service.

AMEC and RWE npower guilty over death

Contractor AMEC and energy giant RWE npower have been fined £450,000 after a maintenance worker fell to his death at a South Wales power station. Agency worker Christopher Booker fell 12m through an unprotected opening in a working platform at Aberthaw Power Station in June 2007. The incident prompted a walkout by hundreds of construction and maintenance workers on the Unite-organised job, concerned about the lack of medical facilities on the site (Risks 310). Cardiff Crown Court heard last week that work was being carried out to fit equipment into a deep pit in the water cooling system to hold back seawater when the tide rose. Sections of the floor gratings at the top of the pit had been removed to allow the work to proceed. Booker fell through the opening in the walkway to the floor below and died from multiple injuries to his chest and pelvis. A Health and Safety Executive investigation identified confusion and misunderstanding between RWE npower and principal contractor Amec over who was responsible for controlling the work at the time of the maintenance worker's death. RWE npower admitted a criminal breach of safety rules and was fined £250,000 with £30,000 costs. Principal contractor Amec also pleaded guilty and was fined £200,000 with costs of £30,000. After the hearing, HSE inspector Caroline Bird said: 'This tragic case highlights the consequences of failing to do something as simple as adding protection to an opening in a walkway. Inadequate planning and a poor choice of safety control measures meant that a very obvious hazard remained.' She added: 'Both companies had a duty of care to Mr Booker that they failed to meet with catastrophic consequences. This awful incident could so easily have been prevented had the correct safety measures been taken.'

Family firm pays after director's fatal roof fall

A family firm from Norfolk renting out business units has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), after one of the company's directors died after falling through a fragile roof at one of its properties. Keith and Nigel Ragan, joint owners of Allenbrooks Developments Ltd, were replacing skylights in the roof of one their units along with an employee, Stephen Cullum. While carrying out the installation on 6 April 2010, Keith Ragan fell 10m through the corrugated asbestos cement sheet roof and the impact of the fall caused his death. Although edge protection had been put in place along the roof, a safe working platform had not been installed, meaning the men had to walk along the horizontal beams of the roof. In addition to this, there were no safety nets or harness systems being used. The lack of a safe system of work and the failure to ensure the health, safety and welfare of Stephen Cullum while he was at work, led the HSE to prosecute the firm. After the hearing at Norwich Magistrates' Court last week, HSE inspector Anthony Brookes said: 'The death of Keith Ragan is a tragedy which has left a family without a loved one. It was only by chance the other two men did not fall through the roof as well.' Allenbrooks Developments Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,320.

Ex-squaddie loses arm at recycling site

A Hull man, who returned unscathed from active service with the British army in Bosnia, was maimed for life working as a 'civvy' back home, a court has heard. Ray Wright, 34, had his right forearm severed in a baling machine incident while working alone at the Transwaste Recycling site at Hessle Dock in April 2009. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuting site operators, Transwaste Recycling and Aggregates Limited, told Beverley Magistrates' Court the original protective guard to the baling machine had been damaged and replaced with a makeshift one. As the replacement was not designed for the machine, it allowed access to the baling ram when the machine was operating. The court heard the qualified mechanic tripped on a scaffold tube in front of the machine and put his arm out to break the fall. However, his arm went into the baling chamber and was severed between his wrist and elbow. Surgery to re-attach the limb was unsuccessful and he now has a prosthetic limb. HSE told magistrates that Mr Wright had been working alone at the site at the time, and had struggled to get help after the incident. In shock and badly injured, he attempted to ring for help on his mobile phone but dropped it to the ground and the battery fell out. Unable to replace the battery he ran to get help from a neighbouring company. He spotted a van driver and alerted him to his plight lifting his severed arm to show the disbelieving driver he was severely hurt and in desperate need of help. Moments later, he passed out and an ambulance was called. After the hearing, Ray Wright, said: 'I am determined to carry on with my life as best I can, in the circumstances, and am still working at Transwaste in a different job although every day is still a challenge.' Transwaste Recycling and Aggregates Ltd was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £6,408 costs after admitting a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations. HSE found the firm had employed a health and safety consultancy business whose risk assessment on the machine failed to identify the obvious guarding defects. It urged companies to vet safety consultants on the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) set up this year.

Worker's wrists 'shattered like glass'

A Macclesfield man who plummeted 10ft from a ladder causing his wrists to 'shatter like glass', leaving him permanently disabled, has secured a six figure settlement. He fell as he was doing some preparation for plasterwork in his job at a Macclesfield car garage. Commenting on his ordeal, the 37-year-old, identified by his lawyers only as 'Paul', said: 'I'm determined not to let my injury get the better of me, and have plans to study music at college as I can't ever return to manual work as a joiner, I just don't have the strength or mobility in my wrists as a result of my accident. Plus it's impossible to go out and ride motorbikes now, which I used to love. I've just had to cut that hobby out of my life.' He said he has to be 'realistic' about his future. 'I might have to take time off any job I end up doing in the future if I need further surgery or rehabilitation. I hope that as a result of what happened to me, employers will do everything they can to prevent their workers from getting injured by providing people with the correct work equipment to complete jobs, especially when asked to work at height.' Sabrina McCarron, the solicitor at Irwin Mitchell who represented Paul, said: 'This has been an extremely distressing experience for Paul and his family. Immediately after his accident, he lost a huge amount of his independence and had to move back home with his parents as he had suffered serious fractures to both his wrists.' She added: 'Far too often, people are injured each year through no fault of their own while carrying out their normal duties at work. Many of these cases could have been avoided if businesses had followed simple health and safety procedures and undertaken the required risk assessments. More must be done to protect workers and make sure companies comply with statutory regulations.'

LA inspector oppose relaxed injury reporting

Plans to increase the threshold for reporting workplace injuries from more than three days to more than seven days off work will make it harder to gather evidence on workplace safety (Risks 492), local authority-based workplace safety enforcers have warned. In a submission to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) consultation on proposals to change the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) - the organisation representing the environmental health officers responsible for workplace health and safety inspection in the local authority enforced sectors - said the current system, while flawed, produces a 'beneficial evidence base' for regulators. 'The CIEH believes that the extension of the reporting period to seven days will not contribute to worker or consumer safety, nor will it have a meaningful effect on reducing any perceived burdens on business,' the submission notes. It adds that 'a fresh and more comprehensive approach' to address under-reporting and to ensure businesses investigate and 'learn lessons' from accidents. 'It is generally considered that much of the under-reporting is concentrated in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Such businesses are in urgent need of clear guidance to improve the level of reporting and to address the fear of attracting unwanted attention from regulators resulting from reporting,' it says.

International News

Guatemala: Another union leader murdered

Violence against banana unions in Guatemala is escalating, the global foodworkers' union federation IUF has warned. The alert came after Idar Joel Hernandez Godoy, finance secretary of the IUF-affiliated banana workers union SITRABI, was shot dead on 26 May by a gunman on a motorcycle while driving through the village of Cristina to the union headquarters in the town of Morales. According to IUF: 'This brutal assassination follows the 10 April murder of SITRABI officer Oscar Humberto Gonzalez Vasquez, killed by two men on a motorcycle in Nueva Chiriqui, Morales. SITRABI leader Marco Tulio Ramirez was murdered in September 2007.' As part of an international campaign for justice, global union confederation ITUC has written to Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom Caballeros urging him 'to take every action necessary to end, once and for all, this tide of anti-union murders and generalised violence, which has risen to even greater heights during his time in office.' ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: 'Over three years ago, during the inauguration of the ITUC conference against impunity in Guatemala, President Colom expressed his political resolve and commitment to fight for social justice, genuine rule of law and for an end to impunity in Guatemala', but the union body says these promises have gone unfulfilled. IUF and ITUC are requesting all those sharing their revulsion at the murders 'send a message to the president of Guatemala Álvaro Colom Caballeros to condemn this latest murder of a banana union leader and demand that the perpetrators be swiftly brought to justice.'

Mexico: Union-busting at unsafe Excellon mine

Miners at an unsafe Mexican metals mine have been faced with a mixture of intimidation and bribes by the company in a concerted bid to stop them joining the National Miners' and Metalworkers' Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM). Management of Excellon Resources Inc at the La Platosa mine in the state of Durango, Mexico started a union-busting drive in November last year after workers at the mine decided democratically to affiliate to the SNTMMSRM. Global union federation IMF says 65 workers at the unsafe mine - it has been prone to flooding and other problems - 'to sign a document stating their disinterest in unionising, and offered increases in wages and benefits if they would sign.' IMF says it has been informed by SNTMMSRM and the human rights campaign organisation Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC) that Excellon Resources is not complying with health and safety laws. In a letter to Excellon, IMF general secretary Jyrki Raina urged the company to cease the union-busting activities, adding 'the ongoing persecution of members of the SNTMMSRM is the subject of a much publicised complaint filed by the IMF with the International Labour Organisation's Committee on Freedom of Association. These actions, which are corroborated by a reputable human rights organisation, constitute serious violations of Mexican and international labour law, including ILO Convention 87 to which Mexico is a signatory.' Excellon Resources Inc mines silver, lead and zinc in the region.

USA: Six figure payout for popcorn lung

A US factory worker has been awarded $814,500 (£496,000) by a court after his lawyers argued successfully he contracted potentially lethal 'popcorn lung' from breathing a chemical used to make food taste buttery. A jury had awarded Maryland-resident Brian Hallock $5.4 million (£3.3m) from Polarome International Inc, a New Jersey-based chemical manufacturer and distributor. But a judge at Baltimore County Circuit Court last week reduced the amount because the state of Maryland has a cap on non-economic damages. Mr Hallock's lawyer, Kenneth B McClain, said his client was first exposed to the chemical diacetyl in 1981 at his job at spice maker McCormick & Co, which was not named in the suit. The US operates a workers' compensation which largely precludes action against the actual employer, so law suits are frequently directed at others in the production chain. Hallock worked making various food flavourings and food products. In 2006, he went to be tested for bronchiolitis obliterans - the condition commonly known as popcorn lung - and his doctors concluded he had the disease. Now in his 50s, he has severely depleted lung capacity and plans to retire within five years, McClain said. McClain said no one else at McCormick has filed a lawsuit against the chemical distributor Polarome, which became another angle for the defence, which argued that there were multiple cases at other plants. McClain suggested others could be sick but fear losing their jobs if they complain. Some, he said, don't know about the disease and haven't been tested. So far, McClain has settled or won cases for hundreds of popcorn lung sufferers across the country. 'You can be quite functional for a long time, and you don't know you have a lung deficit until you look,' he said. 'People think they are just getting older. But when there is publicity, people look.'

Events and Courses

World day against child labour, 12 June 2011

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is to mark this year's World Day against Child Labour on 12 June with events in more than 50 countries and the publication of a new report on children in hazardous work. The new resource, 'Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do', has been prepared the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). It analyses the latest trends and estimates of children in hazardous work, and the risk to their health from such work as agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, domestic work and waste-picking. The report looks at the issue of children in hazardous work both from a developed and developing country perspective, including the US and Europe. It also offers a series of policy recommendations to address this problem.

TUC courses for safety reps

COURSES FOR APRIL 2011 TO JUNE 2011

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  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
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