Risks 510 - 18 June 2011

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

Union News

Bullying hits hard as cuts bite

Six in ten workers across the UK have been bullied, or witnessed bullying, over the past six months, a survey by the union UNISON has found. The union is warning that government cuts are fuelling workplace bullying and silencing workers fearful for their jobs. One in four workers say staff cutbacks have led to workplace bullying - double the number from two years ago - and around half say they would be too scared to raise concerns during the period of cuts. The union is predicting the amount of workplace bullying 'will rocket further', as the cuts really start to bite. Findings from the survey of more than 6,000 staff, carried out by for the union by the Centre for Organisation Research and Development (CORD) at Portsmouth Business School, reveal that one in three employees are being bullied at work across the UK, with many more witnessing it. Despite reporting bullying related health concerns, more than half of the bullied workers said they would stay in their jobs and suffer in silence - compared to only a quarter of staff in 2009. Dave Prentis, UNISON's general secretary, said: 'Workers are stuck in a living hell, as they are faced with a double whammy of cuts and bullying. Our results show that bosses are failing to clamp down on workplace bullying and staff are too scared to raise concerns in the current climate of staff and job cuts. There is more pressure than ever from management and the levels of stress are soaring.' He concluded: 'The government must rethink its savage cuts agenda, or see workers' health and efficiency deteriorate. It is more important than ever that workers join a union, as this may be their only point of call for help.'

UNISON news release.

Engineers walk out on bully bosses

More than 550 engineers at Royal Mail subsidiary Romec have taken to the picket lines following claims of management bullying and 'Big Brother' abuses of the company's vehicle tracking systems. The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents more than half the firm's technicians, led strike action at mail centres across the country to protest against ill-treatment of its members (Risks 508). CWU national official Ray Ellis said members were responding to a 'regime of intimidation' and bullying of staff. Working hour's changes introduced unilaterally by the company have angered staff, 'who are already being harassed by managers using tracker data," he said, referring to the company's vehicle tracking systems. The company also offers 'portable tagging solutions' - electronic ankle bracelets for individual employees - on its corporate website, providing clients with 'real-time accountability 24 hours a day.' Ellis condemned the company's 'Big Brother' approach, adding the union believed the misuse of the vehicle tracking software was in breach of data protection laws. Electronic surveillance at work has been linked to increased stress and strain injuries.

CWU news release. Morning Star.

GMB concern at contract 'harassment'

A council trying to impose a new employment contract is bullying and harassing staff to sign, a union has said. GMB says some staff at Central Beds Council report they have been told by managers and councillors their 'card will be marked' if they do not sign. The union is now planning a confidential survey to gauge the extent of the problem. GMB organiser Tony Hughes said: 'When GMB gets reports of bullying and harassment we act immediately as the effects of can be highly damaging to people and can have long term health effects.' He said the union wrote to all members in response to the council's attempt to force through the new terms and conditions, and 'got an immediate response from members who told us they are being bullied and harassed,' including being told 'their 'card will be marked' if they do not sign the proposed new contract.' GMB is asking members to complete a bullying survey so it 'can evaluate the depth of the bullying problem and pass on the results to the employer Central Bedfordshire Council whose responsibility it is to make sure that its staff are not bullied in the course of their work."

GMB news release.

Move towards a 'sweat-free' Olympics

A new agreement signed in Indonesia between major sportswear brands and textile, clothing and footwear unions in the country has raised hopes that merchandise produced for the London 2012 Games can be produced in factories free from exploitation, the TUC has said. It believes the protocol agreed in Jakarta between the unions and several large factories which make goods for famous sportswear brands like Adidas, Nike, and Puma, opens the way for the unions to represent Indonesian workers making sportswear and Olympics merchandise for next year's Games. The Playfair 2012 campaign - of which the TUC is part alongside campaigning organisation Labour Behind the Label - is hopeful that a union presence in the Indonesian sportswear factories will lead to workers being paid a living wage, ensure their fair treatment and put an end to excessive working hours. This increases the likelihood that goods being produced for next summer's Olympics will be produced in a 'sweat-free' environment, says the TUC. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This agreement is an important first step, but the real test now is to see if it does anything to change the poor working conditions for hundreds of thousands of sportswear workers across Indonesia, and in other countries producing sportswear and Olympic goods, such as China and Turkey.' He added: 'British sports fans who have been lucky enough to get tickets to Olympic events in 2012 will want to know that no worker has suffered making any sportswear or merchandise that will be going on sale between now and the opening ceremony next July.'

TUC news release. Playfair 2012 news release. ITGLWF webpage and Protocol on Freedom of Association [pdf].

Bid to get more women safety reps

Safety enforcers have joined with unions to encourage more women to become workplace health and safety reps. 'Help make your workplace safer', a leaflet published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and backed by rail safety regulator ORR, the TUC and individual unions, notes: 'European research suggests that women are under-represented in the health and safety decision-making process. In particular, more women are needed to be safety representatives.' The leaflet adds: 'By representing your colleagues you're playing vital role', including making workplaces safer and 'making sure that women's views and experience of workplace health and safety are taken into account.' And there are benefits for safety reps' themselves, including new skills. It urges women interested in becoming safety reps to get in touch with their union.

Help make your workplace safer leaflet [pdf]. TUC safety reps webpages. HSE worker involvement and HSE health and safety representatives webpages.

Government must not ignore dog dangers

The government must revise the 'out-dated' dangerous dogs law in England and Wales, a union backed coalition has said. The group of 20 animal charities, enforcement agencies and trade unions wants the government to include a Dog Control Bill in next year's Queen's Speech. Communications Workers' Union CWU, which has been at the forefront of the campaign, says despite thousands of attacks by out of control dogs every year very few result in a successful prosecution because attacks on private land are outside the scope of the law. Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: 'Our members, along with thousands of members of the public, are suffering because of out-dated laws on dangerous dogs. The government must listen to the expert organisations which have all agreed a better way forward on responsible dog ownership. It's time the government brought forward some positive legislation to protect working people and this is it.' CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce, who has spearheaded the union's 'Bite-Back' initiative, said: 'Dangerous dogs are an occupational hazard for many of our members with 6,000 attacks on postal workers and over 400 attacks on telecom engineers each year.' He added: 'We want the out-dated laws to be made fit for purpose and brought in line with the new laws introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland this year. We want responsible dog ownership which helps prevent horrific attacks taking place, whether on postal workers or small children. Where attacks do still occur, it's vital the new laws suitably identify and hold owners to account. Victims of dog attacks have been let down for too long.'

CWU news release and joint briefing paper [pdf]. Morning Star.

Rail could become 'a mugger's paradise'

Rail union RMT is demanding an urgent meeting with transport secretary Phillip Hammond in a bid to head off proposals that could turn the rail network into 'a mugger's paradise', with safety critical staff slashed on both stations and trains. It says the union's detailed study of the fine print of the McNulty Rail Review (Risks 507) show its recommendations would bring in widespread ticket office closures and reduced opening hours in many that did survive the axe. McNulty's proposals would halve the number of ticket offices on the rail network, leaving threequarters of stations without a ticket office. The McNulty review also recommended that Driver Only Operation should be the default position on all services, which RMT says 'gives the train operators the green light to dump all guards from their services by the beginning of 2013 on top of the ticket office cuts and closures - axing safety-critical staff from stations and trains in one blow.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow warned the McNulty proposals would result in 'wholesale de-staffing of trains and stations to fatten up profits at the expense of passenger service and passenger safety.' He added: 'We warned that the McNulty carve up would turn the rail system into a muggers and a criminals paradise, where profits are the only show in town, and this latest research shows the full extent of the dangerous track we are being dragged down. For passengers it means paying higher fares to travel on unsafe, de-staffed services while the train operators are laughing all the way to the bank.'

RMT news release.

Firm was several rungs short of safety

An employer that routinely provided workers with ladders that were too short and failed to train its staff in the safest way to work at height has been forced to stump up compensation after a labourer suffered a hernia. The 49-year-old GMB member from Maryport in Cumbria needed major surgery after suffering the injury as he pulled himself up from a step ladder through a loft while working for Home Group in Whitehaven. It was normal practice to use ladders which were too short and for workers to balance themselves on the top to pull themselves up. Under the Working at Height Regulations employers must risk assess the use of ladders and ensure they are used safely. The worker, whose name has not been released, had to wait 12 weeks for his operation and then was forced to take three months off work as he recovered. Home Group did not admit liability but lawyers brought in by the union were successful in obtaining a court settlement. The member, who has two daughters, said: 'Since I involved the union we've received training and now use new, longer ladders so hopefully this won't happen to anyone else in the future.'

Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Ford pays out for double failure

A machine operator at a car manufacturer has received £20,000 compensation after an unsafe storage system led to a workplace injury, which was subsequently aggravated when he fell through a rotten floorboard in the factory toilets. Barry Lester, 64, was forced to take three weeks off work after he strained his groin attempting to lift a box of car parts at Ford Motor Company in Dagenham. The parts were in bags of 500 and were stored in interlocking boxes to make them easier to transport. As he went to lift the top box it caught on the boxes below and he was forced to take the weight of the entire stack, weighing several tonnes. There had previously been a number of accidents and complaints about the way the boxes were stacked, but nothing was done to fix the problem until after Mr Lester's injury. He was able to work through the pain for a year after the original incident, but then aggravated the injury when he fell through a rotten floorboard in the staff toilet. In a union backed compensation case, Ford admitted liability and settled the claim out of court. Unite acting regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: 'As soon as complaints were made about these storage boxes Ford should have reacted quickly to fix the problem. Instead it took a loyal employee getting injured for them to finally resolve what was clearly a health and safety hazard.' Tom Moore from Thompsons Solicitors, brought in by the union to act in the compensation case, said: 'Ford had been told there was a health and safety problem with these boxes but they did nothing to make the process safer. Ford turned a blind eye to their duty of care to make sure they keep their employees safe.'

Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Other news

The only way isn't up, says HSE

Major safety successes in which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has played a central role could be a thing of the past for the resource-strapped and hamstrung safety watchdog, a senior official has indicated. Speaking at a health and safety forum held at the Olympics site in east London earlier this month, HSE principal inspector of construction for London, Mike Williams, said the health and safety record of the London 2012 Olympics construction project had been 'fantastic'. But he said budget cuts and government-driven changes mean that when it comes to major sites the watchdog will no longer be able to replicate a proactive approach at the Olympics where it had opted 'to get involved early, checking that all the arrangements are there and looking to others in the chain to see what they plan to do.' He said: 'The HSE's role is not what it has been. We are under much more scrutiny, and expected to remove burdens and simplify things. Our website, now, will be the main vehicle for 'talking' to people. Construction is high risk and, as such, it is a sector we will continue to focus on, but our primary focus will be on smaller sites, not large projects, so we will just have to see how it goes.' The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) this month said the Park and Village workforce had achieved 3 million hours worked without a single reportable injury. ODA said the reportable accident rate on the Olympic Park is around a third of the construction industry average and below the national average for all workplaces.

SHP Online. Sypol news report. HSE London Olympics 2012 webpages.

Cable admits Red Tape Challenge has backfired

Business secretary Vince Cable has admitted a 'red tape challenge' for the retail sector has 'backfired' because the great majority of responses are supportive of regulation. The secretary of state told a British Retail Consortium (BRC) symposium that the website is being targeted by lobby groups who want more regulation, and that retailers 'haven't won the argument' over reducing regulation yet. 'The challenge in some ways has slightly backfired. People who want regulation are bombarding the website so we're getting more people clamouring for regulation.' Trade magazine Retail Week said he added that while the scheme was intended for business groups, it was becoming a 'bit of a political tug of war' because groups representing disabled employees, for instance, are making their voices heard. He said to retailers: 'If you want to get your voice heard you have got to muck in. It gets drowned out by others if you don't.' If a more moderate approach to regulation is to be taken, he said, the case needs to be made for it. The government has urged the business lobby repeatedly to press for removal of regulation, including an explicit May 11 request from the Chancellor George Osborne in a speech to the Institute of Directors.

Retail Week. 11 May 2011 Speech by George Osborne to IoD.

Peers arrest police safety opt out bid

A bid to exempt police forces from workplace safety law has been dropped. The House of Lords debated an amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on 9 June 2011. An amendment moved by Tory peer Lord Blencathra, which was subsequently withdrawn, would have repealed parts of the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997. This would, in effect, have removed the statutory protection afforded police officers by the Health and Safety at Work Act. Asking the peer to withdrawn his amendement, the government promised instead to look at whether more discussions are needed between the police, government departments and safety agencies on whether the necessary balance has been struck in protecting both police officers and the public. In the debate, former Labour health and safety minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton told peers the repeal of the 1997 Act 'would be a seriously retrograde step'. He added: 'The law, as it stands, serves both the public and police effectively. It is certain interpretations of the law that have produced isolated anomalies. Therefore, clarity of interpretation is needed rather than the unnecessary changes to health and safety law that could turn the clock back decades on the protection afforded to society.' On behalf of the government, Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Lord Blencathra to withdraw his amendment. He added: 'We will institute a dialogue, if it is needed, between the Police, the Home Office, the DWP and the HSE, as suggested. We recognise that this has to be a question of balance and we will assess whether the balance has now been struck in the most sensible place.' The application of safety law to the police is support by top police officers, the Police Federation and safety enforcement agencies (Risks 505).

Hansard report of the House of Lords debate, 9 June 2011. IOSH news release. SHP Online.

Poor wood dust control caused cancer

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to investigate the occupational risks facing those in the furniture and woodworking industries, more than 10 years after the last checks found the official standard was routinely ignored. It says about 50 people a year are diagnosed with nasal cancer related to their exposure to wood dust, while others have asthma as a result of their occupation. The news coincides with a £375,000 compensation payment to the widow of a cabinet maker who died of nasal cancer in 2005. Ken Mitchell died in April 2005 aged 56 after 'a gruelling four years of biopsies, operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy', said his wife, Deborah. She met and married Ken years after he worked for a now defunct east London cabinet maker, E Lock and Son, in the late 60s and early 70s. Her lawyer, Pauline Chandler of solicitors Pannone, said: 'His job involved a lot of sanding and sweeping up the dust of hardwoods like oak... Nasal cancer caused by wood dust seems to be on the increase so far as compensation claims are concerned and, like most cancers, it develops many years after the exposure.' A statement from HSE said: 'Funding has been secured for HSE to commission a piece of research, alongside intelligence gathering activities undertaken by HSE, to update our understanding of exposure risks in the woodworking industry.' Sample checks on employers by the HSE more than a decade ago indicated that workers were exposed to higher than permitted levels of wood dust at more than a quarter of sites. Two-thirds exceeded the limit some of the time. There have only been a handful of prosecutions or convictions related to wood dust exposure in the past seven years, the most recent last month when Millbrook Furnishing Industries Limited was fined £27,000 plus £25,000 costs.

The Guardian. HSE wood dust survey 2000 [pdf]. HSE news release on the Millbrook prosecution.

Grassroots research uncovers cancer link

A new medical research project is investigating links between the region's steelworks and bladder cancer, an association first spotted by a groundbreaking grassroots workplace health project. In the 1970s, Simon Pickvance was a founder member of Sheffield Occupational Health Project, which started by asking people in the city's working men's clubs about how their work was affecting their health. It has since become an respected model based in GPs practices which has been copied and influenced practice in the UK and abroad. Simon's regular contact with current and former steelworkers, and the vast knowledge and anecdotal evidence he has picked up as a result, paved the way for his latest research project, investigating potential links between chemicals used in heavy industry and bladder cancer. 'It started during routine interviewing with people at their GP practices as we tried to work out what special industrial disease benefits, if any, these bladder cancer patients were entitled to. I spoke to about 30 different people in five different practices and what transpired immediately was that some of them had worked with dyes.' The dyes were commonly used in crack testing of metals. Working with urologist James Catto at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, more cases were found where there was history of working with such chemicals and the pair informed the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of their initial 'strong suspicion' that there was a link. 'We were finding there were particular chemicals being used in the steelworks and foundries that kept cropping up in bladder cancer patients,' Simon said. The further research is being backed by Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Yorkshire Cancer Research news release. Sheffield Star.

Foreman fined after trench collapse

A site foreman has been fined after a labourer was killed when a trench collapsed. Graeme Scott, 30, from Dunfermline, was part of a team working for Cameron and Stevenson (Scotland) Ltd, a company that is now in liquidation. He was walking along the side of a 3-metre-deep trench dug to replace a sewer in Cranhill Park, Glasgow, on 3 April 2008 when it collapsed beneath him and he fell into the trench. He began to make his way out but part of the trench wall collapsed on top of him. Mr Scott's colleagues made frantic attempts to dig him out, and when emergency services arrived they continued these efforts. But when Mr Scott was found, there were no signs of life and he was pronounced dead at the scene. A post mortem examination established that he had died of chest injury and probable suffocation. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation established that there had been no edge protection to the trench and the sides of the trench had not been supported to make them safe. HSE inspectors also found that even though trench boxes were available on site to help keep workers safe, they had not been used. HSE concluded that William Parry, as foreman, had put himself and his colleagues at risk by not using the safety measures his employers had told him to use. After the case, HSE inspector Graeme McMinn said: 'Mr Parry was working as the foreman and was properly trained in the right way to do trench work. The team had been told at the beginning of the job to use trench boxes to protect themselves. Although the team's employers should have supervised them more closely, as foreman Mr Parry had a duty to take reasonable care of the safety of his team.' It is the latest in a series of cases where individual workers have been targeted for prosecution, but no action has been taken against company directors, despite HSE finding evidence of negligence on the part of the company (Risks 507).

HSE news release and excavations guide. Construction Enquirer.

Death due to safety failings at textile firm

A West Yorkshire textile firm has been fined £60,015 after its safety failings 'led directly' to a worker being crushed to death in a baling machine. Bradford Crown Court heard that Gary Lee, 40, was cleaning inside the baler at Westwood Yarns, Holmfirth, when it re-started. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) blamed the tragedy, on 3 January 2008, on 'management safety failings'. The company admitted a criminal breach of safety law. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay £20,625 costs. The court heard that Mr Lee, who had worked at the company since he was 18, had received no proper training in how to clean the baling machine but had tackled the task when asked to do the job. A colleague heard shouts minutes after Mr Lee had begun cleaning the machine and rushed over to hit the emergency stop button. He found Mr Lee with severe crush injuries and he was later pronounced dead at the scene. The HSE investigation suggested Mr Lee may have inadvertently obscured an electronic sensor, which re-activated the operation of the baling compressors as the machine had been left in automatic mode. It should instead have been shut down completely. HSE inspectors found a lack of supervision and consistency in work processes at the factory. A lack of equipment also meant some procedures could not be carried out properly. HSE inspector Kirsty Townend, who carried out the investigation, said: 'This was an entirely preventable tragedy. The dangers of baling machines are notorious in the industry but are still all too common. At Westwood Yarns, there was a common misunderstanding that isolation and lock-off at the mains were not required.' She added: 'No one seemed to appreciate fully how the baling machine worked from a safety perspective, so dangerous assumptions were made which led directly to Mr Lee's death.'

HSE news release. BBC News Online.

International News

Germany: Presenteeism costs twice as sickness leave

Presenteeism, where the working wounded labour on despite being ill, costs twice as much as sickness related absence from work, a German study has found. Researchers from the Felix Burda Foundation also estimated the annual cost to the German economy of worker sickness at 225 billion Euro - 9 per cent of the country's GDP. The total sickness-related cost per worker - absenteeism and presenteeism together - they estimated to be about 3,600 Euro per year. The researchers reached their conclusions after undertaking a qualitative survey of businesses and experts. They advocate a preventive approach, tackling in particular psychosocial and organisational issues at the workplace, and health promotion activities.

EU-OSHA news report.

Global: ILO admonishes Canada on asbestos

The Canadian government has been given a sharp warning by the top international standards body about its behaviour on asbestos. The International Labour Organisation has told Canada to adopt better standards to protect workers' health and to review outdated national laws and regulations on asbestos. The issue was raised at the international labour standards organisation by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). ILO's landmark decision on 11 June singled out Canada, noting it had an obligation to 'keep abreast of technical progress and scientific knowledge' because it is one of the world's main producers of the cancer-causing material. The ILO Committee on the Application of Standards instructed the Canadian government to adopt the 'strictest standard limits for the protection of workers' health as regards exposure to asbestos' and to consult with its worker and employer organisations on upgrading its asbestos laws. The Committee told Canada to 'take into account the evolution of scientific studies, knowledge and technology, as well as the findings of the World Health Organisation, the ILO and other recognised organisations concerning the dangers of exposure to asbestos.' Both the WHO and the ILO have since 2006 supported the union line, calling for a ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos. From 20 to 24 June chrysotile asbestos will be high on the agenda of the UN's Rotterdam Convention meeting, which lists those substances which are so hazardous exporters must ensure there is 'prior informed consent' (PIC) by the country receiving the product. This is the third time chrysotile asbestos has been recommended for listing. So far Canada has led a group of asbestos producer nations that have vetoed the addition of the known carcinogen to the list. On 14 June, global union bodies made a renewed 'call on Canada and other asbestos stakeholders... to accept that the time has come to include chrysotile on the PIC list so that developing countries can make informed decisions on a subject of such deadly importance.'

CLC presentation to the ILO meeting. IMF new report. A statement on Chrysotile at the Rotterdam Convention meeting.

Global: Deadly attacks on unions continue

A 'grim record of murder and repression' in Colombia and the Americas means they maintain the lead in a global listing of abuses of trade union rights. The latest 'Annual Survey of violation of trade union rights' from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) includes data from 143 countries and 'paints a picture of people fighting for greater economic rights and freedom to organise, with many governments and businesses responding with repression, sackings, violence, death threats and murder.' The survey reveals that in 2010 there were 90 murders of trade union activists, with 49 in Colombia alone. Another 75 death threats are recorded and at least 2,500 arrests and 5,000 sackings of unionists because of union activities. 'Around the world, workers, communities and populations are trying to claim basic rights to decent work and a decent life, and in many countries these people are being met with sackings, violence and in extreme cases murder by governments and by employers and businesses,' commented ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. The global trends highlighted in the survey include governments not enforcing labour laws, a lack of support for the funding of inspection or protection, the lack of rights and abuse of migrant labour across the world, and the exploitation of the mainly female workforces in the world's export processing zones.

ITUC news release and Annual Survey of violation of trade union rights. AFL-CIO Now blog.

Global: Over 100 million children in dangerous jobs

Over 115 million of the world's children and young teenagers, or more than 7 per cent of the total, are engaged in dangerous and life-threatening jobs, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said. Overall, there are 215 million child labourers worldwide, says the global labour standards body. A new ILO report, 'Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do', cites studies from both industrialised and developing countries indicating that every minute of every day, a child labourer somewhere in the world suffers a work-related injury, illness or psychological trauma. The report also says that although the overall number of children aged 5 to 17 in hazardous work declined between 2004 and 2008, the number aged 15-17 actually increased by 20 per cent during the same period, from 52 million to 62 million. 'Despite important progress over the last decade, the number of children in child labour worldwide - and particularly in hazardous work - remains high,' said ILO director-general Juan Somavia. 'Governments, employers and workers must act together to give strong leadership in shaping and implementing the policies and action that can end child labour. The persistence of child labour is a clear indictment of the prevailing model of growth. Tackling work that jeopardises the safety, health or morals of children must be a common and urgent priority.' The ILO report concludes that while there is a need to strengthen workplace safety and health for all workers, specific safeguards for adolescents between the minimum age of employment and the age of 18 are needed. These measures need to be part of a comprehensive approach in which employer and worker organisations and the labour inspectorate have particularly critical parts to play, says ILO.

ILO news release, slideshow and report, Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do.

Events and Courses

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COURSES FOR APRIL 2011 TO JUNE 2011

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