Risks 512 - 2 July 2011

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards Magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy

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

Union News

TUC concern over sharp rise in deaths at work

There has been a dramatic upturn in the number of workplace fatalities, new official statistics show. Figures published this week by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal the number of workers killed in Britain in 2010/11 was over 16 per cent up on the previous year. The provisional data for the year April 2010 to March 2011 shows 171 workers died, compared to the record low of 147 in 2009/10. The fatality rate increased from 0.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers to 0.6/100,000. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber expressed concern at the reversal in the recent downward trend in workplace fatalities and stressed the need for official inspections and enforcement. 'The responsibility for the increase in deaths this year must be placed at the door of negligent employers, but more needs to be done to ensure that all employers protect their workers from harm,' he said. 'The government's recent decision to reduce workplace inspections and the budget cuts for both the HSE and local authorities make it more far less likely that problems will be identified before something goes wrong. Traditionally injury rates increase as we come out of a recession. If we are going to stop this year's increase becoming a long-term trend we need more inspections in the workplace - not less.'

Cuts mean there could be worse to come

The sharp increase in workplace fatalities show the government must reverse it attack on workplace regulation and enforcement, unions have said. Prospect, whose members include staff in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said the government must now rethink plans to cut the safety body's budget by 35 per cent. Prospect negotiator Mike Macdonald said: 'The increase revealed by these figures is even more alarming given that economic output has remained stagnant over the past 12 months. We fear that as the economy recovers and the workforce grows the number of workplace deaths and serious accident rates will rise even further.' He added: 'Not only does HSE's work save lives and reduce the misery felt by friends and family following the death of a loved one, it saves industry and the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in lost working days and medical bills. Therefore we have to question how appropriate it is for the government to make cuts of 35 per cent which will result in fewer frontline inspectors.' Macdonald said members were particularly concerned by the withdrawal of up to 11,000 'proactive inspections' normally undertaken by HSE but axed in a bid to meet budgetary restrictions. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey also expressed concern. He said: 'The reality is that 171 people went to work and did not come home again. From Potters Bar to Piper Alpha the lesson to be learned is that strong and effective enforcement of health and safety legislation is vital, not the cuts and deregulatory agenda being pursued by the government.' He added: 'The only way to stop deaths at work is more inspections, more enforcement and no cuts.'

Unions denounce safety red tape 'sham'

The increasingly desperate tone and tactics employed by the government in its attempts to justify the removal of safety protection at work have been described by unions as a 'sham' bordering on 'reality TV show' banality. In a news release issued this week by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employment minister said the government's Red Tape Challenge on health and safety regulations, which will run from 30 June to 21 July, 'is the opportunity that every beleaguered business leader, incredulous community group or outraged newspaper reader has been waiting for - a chance to directly change the laws underpinning Britain's health and safety culture.' In a statement, the TUC was highly critical of the government approach. 'The government is, once again, spreading the myth that health and safety regulation is 'red tape'. We do not believe that government policy should be made on the basis of who shouts loudest, and do not think that the safety and health of workers should be determined by the outcome of a web-based discussion forum,' the statement said. 'The need to protect your workers is not a burden, it is a responsibility and, at times like this we should be trying to ensure that employers do obey the law and do not cut corners. Instead we have seen a retreat away from enforcement, two reviews of health and safety regulation and now this. What is to be next - a TV reality show to decide what piece of legislation gets ditched?' TUC added that the approach is 'a flawed process which undermines the existing decision-making process on health and safety which seeks to regulate on the basis of consensus and evidence.' Unite general secretary Len McCluskey dismissed the red tape challenge as an 'insult' and 'a sham.' He added: 'It is not an appropriate way to determine government policy on health and safety at work - and it is an insult to workers everywhere, particularly those who have been injured themselves or for those families who have lost a loved one.'

Expert slams government's safe jobs 'fantasy'

Cuts to safety enforcement, regulation and budgets are being justified with government 'lies', UNISON members have been told. Addressing 150 concerned workers at a fringe meeting of the union's annual conference last week, Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer ripped into the cut price, cut back health and safety strategy which will see most workers in 'low risk' workplaces shunted off the official enforcement radar (Risks 507). 'The government claims that offices shops and schools - the kind of places where UNISON members work - are non-hazardous. This is wrong. You are actually quite likely to die of stress-related illnesses,' she said. She added that people who work with computers or in call centres are more likely to suffer from muscle and joint disorders. Employment minister Chris Grayling 'hated health and safety' and wanted to throw the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on the 'bonfire of the quangos,' she said. The minister has fronted a government assault on health and safety that has seen HSE inspector numbers slashed, preventive safety inspections cut back by 11,000 a year and an attack of safety regulations based on an unfounded claim they inhibit enterprise and are bad for business, she said (Risks 499). 'There is an acceptance that proactive inspections work,' Palmer added. 'But they are not taking place in agriculture, which kills more workers per 100,000 than any other industry, manufacturing and the whole of the public sector. The idea that work is safe is a lie.' The Hazards Campaign is leading a 'We didn't vote to die at work' campaign, to challenge the government's safety strategy (Risks 508).

'Massive campaign' to protect rail services

Rail union RMT will run a 'massive national campaign' in a bid to head of what it says is a dangerous assault on UK railways. The union's annual meeting this week endorsed the campaign strategy, which includes a cross-industry strike ballot 'if necessary.' It says if the government implements the job cutting recommendations of the McNulty rail review (Risks 507), rail services, safety and employment conditions for rail workers would all suffer. A report backed by conference delegates notes: 'Any attempts to attack the jobs, pay, conditions and safety of our members or free collective bargaining in the industry will be met by a ballot for industrial action.' RMT has also vowed to work with other unions, passenger groups, politicians and local communities 'to build a mass campaign of national resistance to McNulty.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'McNulty would leave no rail worker and no section of our industry unscathed whether they work for the train operators, Network Rail or one of the many sub-contractors.' He added the union 'will be building a mass, national campaign against this all-out assault on our railways that will leave no stone unturned in the fight to stop us being dragged back to the days of Railtrack (Risks 506), Hatfield (Risks 495) and Potters Bar (Risks 506) while the private companies are locked in to gold-plated deals that leave them laughing all the way to the bank.'

Ford forced to up rotting flesh payout

A Ford worker who was offered just £2,000 after developing occupational dermatitis which left his flesh 'rotting' has received £24,000 with the help of union lawyers. The 41-year-old Unite member, whose name has been withheld, developed the painful skin condition after he was exposed to a rubber lubricant used while building engines at the Ford plant in Dagenham. He has been left with a life-long condition, which leaves his hands red, itchy and blistered. The irritant must not come into contact with skin and must be handled with specialist gloves, but the Unite member was never warned about the dangers. He first noticed problems with his hands in December 2006 but it took Ford's occupational health department more than eighteen months to give the employee a patch test to discover the cause. By the time he was diagnosed his hands were covered in blisters and his flesh was rotting. He still works for the car company but is now limited in the jobs that he can do because he needs to avoid contact with the lubricant. Unite brought in lawyers to negotiate a compensation payout. Ford quickly admitted liability but offered just £2,000. Unite regional secretary Steve Hart commented: 'This member has been let down by Ford and now has real concerns about his working future. The final settlement sum in this case proves how important specialist legal help can be - he got 12 times more compensation than Ford initially tried to short change him with.'

Council job caused deafness

A council driver was made deaf by exposure to dangerous levels of noise at work. GMB member David Carr, 65, from Rotherham has received £6,000 in damages after suffering from noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus. His hearing became damaged while working for Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council during the 1960s and 1970s. He worked as a roadworker, JCB driver, HGV driver and mower for the council. As a roadworker, he was exposed to unsafe levels of noise from tools like jackhammers, drills and vibrator rollers for up to five hours a day. He was exposed to engine noise for just as long when working as a driver on JCBs, HGVs and lawnmowers. Mr Carr was diagnosed with deafness and tinnitus after a check up in the workplace in August 2009. Facing a union-backed compensation claim, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council admitted liability and agreed the £6,000 payout. Mr Carr, who is now retired, said: 'We were never warned about the dangers at the time. We just got on with our work and never imagined what damage it was doing to our hearing. All these years later I'm now left hard of hearing. It can leave you feeling isolated and I now wish we had been given the correct protection for our ears to have avoided this happening.' Paul McCarthy, GMB North West regional secretary, said: 'Industrial deafness is usually a condition associated with factory workers and those using pneumatic drills. As Mr Carr's case shows employers who have staff driving heavy machinery must also be aware of their responsibility to provide suitable hearing protection.'

Other news

Waste and recycling up to 15 times more deadly

New official statistics show the number of workers killed in Britain's waste and recycling industry last year has sharply increased and now has a fatality rate nearly 15 times the average for all workers. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provisional data for the year April 2010 to March 2011 shows nine workers killed in the sector, compared to three deaths in 2009/10. The 2010/11 waste and recycling fatality rate of 8.7 deaths per 100,000 workers compares to 0.6/100,000 for all workers. HSE's head of waste and recycling, Peter Woolgar, said: 'The increase in number of workers killed last year in the waste and recycling industry is disappointing and remains a serious cause for concern. The fact that nine people failed to come home safe and well from their jobs last year is a stark reminder to the industry that it still has a long way to go.' He added: 'The rate of injuries in the sector has consistently fallen in recent years but we need to see this improvement transferred to fatal injuries and sustained. Waste and recycling must learn from other higher-risk industries and not fall behind in managing workplace risks.'

Agriculture deaths still over 13 times higher

The number of workers killed in the agricultural industry last year decreased slightly, but the overall fatality rate remains over 13 times the average for all workplaces. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provisional data for the year April 2010 to March 2011 reveals 34 workers were killed - a decrease on the previous year when 39 died. HSE board member Sandy Blair commented: 'The number of workers killed each year in the agricultural industry remains stubbornly consistent.' He added: 'This slight decrease is obviously welcome and should give some encouragement to the industry to keep seeking improvement: a step in the right direction but one that will only continue to save lives if the effort is maintained.' The rate of fatal injury in the agricultural sector in 2010/11 fell to 8.0 per 100,000 workers. By comparison, the death rate for all workers is 0.6/100,000 for all workers. The agriculture average rate over the last five years has been 9.6 per 100,000, consistently over 10 times the all industry average. The 2010/11 death total of 34 compares to an average over this period of 35 deaths each year. Prospect negotiator Mike Macdonald warned government cut backs will mean an end to preventive HSE inspections in the sector this year, making a hazardous industry more dangerous still. He said: 'Agriculture is one of the key areas to see a withdrawal of proactive inspection despite the excessive number of fatal injuries. Enforcement and the prosecution of people who break health and safety law is important - but so is HSE's intervention to reduce the risks of hazardous situations in the first place.'

Construction deaths up by 22 per cent

Site fatalities have risen by 22 per cent, ending a four-year period of declining deaths in the construction industry. The latest provisional figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal the number of construction deaths rose to 50 last year, up from 41 the year before. The construction death toll equates to a rate of 2.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to a rate of 1.9 recorded in 2009/10. The latest figures reveal a death rate in construction four times the all industry average. The bad news prompted construction union UCATT to call on the government to 'urgently rethink' its safety strategy, which has seen HSE's resources slashed. George Guy, the union's acting general secretary, said: 'These latest figures must serve as an urgent wake up call for the government and their policy of cutting safety laws and legislation. This rise in deaths occurred before the government's cuts kicked in. By slashing the HSE's budget and the organisation's effectiveness the government are in reality giving a green light to business to avoid taking safety laws seriously.' Pointing to the government's Red Tape Challenge, which will highlight health and safety for three weeks from 30 June, he said: 'The government's constant attacks on safety laws are sickening. The simple fact is that in dangerous industries like construction, there aren't too many regulations. There isn't too high a level of enforcement. There simply isn't enough. Every single day workers are facing unnecessary dangers as basic safety laws are ignored.'

Warning on deadly 'asbestos protection crisis'

There is an 'asbestos protection crisis' throughout the UK as a result of government cut backs on safety campaigns, enforcement and resources, a victims' advocacy group has said. The warning came on 1 July as hundreds of sufferers of the aggressive and deadly cancer mesothelioma and their families gathered to mark Action Mesothelioma Day. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups' Forum (AVSGF) says the crisis stems from a government policy that has seen the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) halt its award-winning 'Hidden Killer' asbestos campaign, an end to preventive health and safety inspections in state schools and from plans to allow tenants to undertake repairs on their frequently asbestos riddled homes. The forum says government policy means that people will continue to die from mesothelioma, including from low levels of exposure to asbestos in social housing and in schools. Cancer sufferer Carole Hagedon commented: 'I was diagnosed with mesothelioma after a 35 year career in teaching. Needless to say, I had not imagined teaching to have such deadly potential. It is shameful that some schools are still failing to protect the children and staff in them. We must campaign for proper controls.' Forum chair Tony Whitston added: 'Government policy is putting maintenance workers, tenants and school staff and children at risk. It is unforgivable for government to repeat the policy mistakes of the past which have caused so many deaths. The Hidden Killer campaign should be reinstated and action taken urgently to protect tenants, school staff and children.'

Boring jobs can cause burnout

Boring, 'under-challenging', administrative and service jobs can lead to exhaustion and burnout, new research has found. A survey of 400 university employees found undertaking 'monotonous and unstimulating' tasks can lead to disenchantment and high stress levels. Researchers at the University of Zaragoza in Spain found a distinct category of 'underchallenged' employees who end up finding they can take no more of the 'monotonous and unstimulating' tasks they are expected to perform. They 'have to cope with the disenchantment caused by feeling trapped in an occupational activity to which they are indifferent, which bores them and produces no gratification,' concluded lead author Jesús Montero-Marín. Writing in the journal BMC Psychiatry, the research team described two other types of burn-out: 'frenetic', in which the employee works 'increasingly harder to the point of exhaustion'; and 'worn-out', where workers 'give up when faced with stress or lack of gratification.' Longer-serving employees were more likely to be "worn-out", with those clocking-up more than 16 years' service most at risk.

'The longer the service, the greater the likelihood of having this burn-out,' the study found.

  • Jesús Montero-Marín and others. Sociodemographic and occupational risk factors associated with the development of different burnout types: the cross-sectional University of Zaragoza study, BMC Psychiatry, volume 11, number 49, 2011 [abstract and full text]. The Telegraph. The Guardian.

Marine company put diver's life at risk

The owner of a Cornish marine company has been fined £10,000 plus costs of £2,000 for safety breaches which put a diver's life at serious risk. Kenneth Dunstan, owner of Mylor Marine Maintenance of Marlowe Bridge, pleaded guilty to breaching four diving safety regulations. Truro Magistrates' Court heard Mr Dunstan used incorrect equipment and an unqualified diver. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the breaches on 5 May 2010. The court heard one of Mr Dunstan's employees had been working underwater on moorings in the estuary near St Mawes. Inspectors said they found the diver, Benjamin Taffinder, was using one tank of breathing gas with a mouthpiece. They said a full face mask and a secondary supply should by law have been used. The court heard there was no standby diver or a lifeline and the employee did not have the proper qualifications. There was also no diving plan for the work being carried out, which should have included a risk assessment and a project plan, the court heard. In addition, Mr Taffinder was only qualified to carry out recreational dives, not commercial ones. The inspectors used a prohibition notice to stop the dive and issued three additional improvement notices to the firm. In 2004, Dunstan had been issued a prohibition notice for diving safety offences. Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Bill Chilton said: 'Working underwater can be unforgiving should anything go wrong. Therefore, diving projects need to be planned, the equipment needs to be suitable for the task and the divers and their support team need to be competent.' He said Mr Dunstan 'fell far below the standard required of a diving contractor,' adding: 'He had been made aware of these important standards in 2004, but six years later he was still not adhering to them; in fact, he was so far below the benchmarks that we had no choice but to prosecute.'

Fines after worker left with brain damage

A construction worker was left fighting for his life after he was hit on the head by a 7lb piece of scaffold tube that fell 18 floors, a court has heard. Bristol Crown Court fined main contractor Miller Construction £40,000 and £17,232 costs and specialist lift company Hoistway Ltd £70,000 and £14,616 costs for criminal safety breaches. Both firms had previously pleaded guilty to failing to protect the health and safety of site worker Richard Chodkiewicz. The 53-year-old father of five, who was wearing a hard hat, was left suffering serious brain injuries, in need of emergency surgery, unable to return to work and facing months of painful rehabilitation after the incident in July 2008. Richard's wife Karen Chodkiewicz said as well as being relieved at seeing the guilty firms brought to justice she was 'pleased to hear that as a result of what happened, the companies have since implemented new safety systems to hopefully ensure similar tragedies are avoided in the future.' She added: 'Richard's life has been turned upside down as a result of what happened that day. His life will never be the same and he now has to live with the consequences of the terrible mistakes which happened on site that day.' During the criminal prosecution, brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it was revealed that the 7lb section of scaffold tube had been tied to a piano wire plumb line and was being used as a makeshift 'plumb bob'. This came loose as it was being winched 18 storeys up inside a lift shaft and fell to the base of the shaft, striking Mr Chodkiewicz who was working below. Deborah Bigwood from the law firm Irwin Mitchell, who is representing the family in a civil compensation case, commented: 'This particularly horrific workplace accident highlights the importance of the health and safety regulations which exist to protect workers.' She added: 'Sadly, Richard will never be able to live independently or return to work. Whilst no amount of money will ever turn back the clock, it is important that we now secure justice for Richard and his family so that he has a care package that will provide rehabilitation and financial security for the rest of his life.'

Two firms guilty over Legionella risk

Fines and costs totalling nearly £250,000 have been imposed on two firms after workers and members of the public were put at risk of exposure to the potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted multinational automotive parts manufacturer Eaton Ltd and water treatment services provider Aegis Ltd after an investigation in 2006. Wolverhampton Crown Court heard HSE inspectors found Eaton Ltd had failed to properly manage the water cooling systems used in manufacturing processes at its plant in Brierley Hill. Aegis Ltd, now trading as Aegis Water Treatment Ltd, was also found to have failed significantly in its duties. There was no comprehensive and up-to-date risk assessment in place and neither company had taken reasonable steps to control the potential spread of Legionella by assessing the risk or properly cleaning and maintaining the water cooling system. Employees had not been properly supervised. The management failings by both companies were present over a prolonged period of time. Eaton Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £45,000 costs. Aegis Ltd was found guilty at a trial in May and was fined £40,000 with £80,000 costs. After the hearing, HSE principal inspector Paul Billinger said: 'Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia, which can affect anyone coming into contact with it. Neither Eaton Ltd nor Aegis Ltd, which was specifically contracted to manage the water system, took the Legionella risk seriously. They failed to deal with their own risk assessment and service agreement in respect of cleaning the system. These were persistent and systemic failures, which put people's health at risk.'

Managing presenteeism pays off

Employers can save money and improve the health of their staff if they manage presenteeism alongside sickness absence, according to a discussion paper produced by Business in the Community (BITC) and Centre for Mental Health. 'Managing Presenteeism' examines how employers can deal with reduced productivity among people who come to work and are not fully engaged or perform at lower levels as a result of ill-health. The paper says simple, low-cost measures that can cut the costs of presenteeism include training for line managers in recognising the signs of mental ill-health, creating an open atmosphere for staff to talk about health issues, and recording presenteeism through staff surveys. BITC's Workwell Director Louise Aston said managing presenteeism effectively 'not only saves money in both the short and longer term, but also contributes to the development of an engaged and productive workforce. Progressive employers are increasingly recognising the need to actively manage presenteeism.' Centre for Mental Health joint chief executive Professor Bob Grove said: 'Presenteeism from mental ill-health costs the UK economy £15 billion a year. This is almost double the cost of sickness absence due to mental ill-health. And presenteeism is growing as white collar jobs become more common and more people carry on working while unwell.' He added: 'Employers need to manage presenteeism alongside absenteeism. The two are intimately connected and cannot be managed separately. Bearing down on sickness absence, for example, could simply increase the costs of presenteeism, whereas managing absence more flexibly may help to cut the costs of both.' A German study this year found that presenteeism, where the working wounded labour on despite being ill, costs twice as much as sickness related absence from work (Risks 510).

International News

Canada: Unions appalled' at asbestos crassness

Canada's top union leader has said he is 'appalled' the Canadian government has blocked an international effort to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. Ken Georgetti, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), was speaking as Canada stepped in to veto listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention. Listing a substance under the convention is not a ban, it only requires that countries importing it be informed by the exporting country ahead of time what hazards exist. Information on safe handling and proper precautionary measures has to be included and the importer has to sign prior consent. According to CLC's Georgetti, who was speaking last week as it became clear Canada would block listing: 'The science is clear and experts from around the world have said repeatedly that chrysotile asbestos is a dangerous substance that causes cancer. Yet our government continues to pretend that in selling asbestos to developing countries it is exporting a safe product. Canada's government is putting people's lives at stake for what can only be described as crass politics.' The Rotterdam Convention concluded on 24 June, with Canada having stepped in to block listing when it appeared a consensus might be reached on adding the cancer causing fibre to the 'Prior Informed Consent' list. India, the major customer for Canada's asbestos exports, had earlier switched sides to support listing of asbestos. CLC wants Canada's federal government to support a ban on all asbestos production and export, to support a just transition of workers from the industry, and to stop providing financial support to the one mine left in production in Canada. Canada's role in blocking listing at a third successive Rotterdam Convention meeting unleashed a barrage of criticism both at home and abroad.

Korea: Leukaemia linked to semiconductor work

Authorities in Korea have for the first time accepted cancer among workers in the semiconductor industry as an occupational disease. On 23 June, the Seoul Administrative Court ordered Samsung Electronics to compensate the families of two workers, Hwang Yumi and Lee Sookyoung, who died of acute myeloid leukaemia, a white blood cell cancer. Both had worked in the same job on a Samsung production line. This ruling overturned a decision in 2009 by the Korea Workers' Compensation and Welfare Service not to pay compensation and funeral expenses for the deaths and which refused to recognise them as work-related. Handing down their decision, the Administrative Court panel of judges stated: 'Although the cause of the employees' leukaemia has yet to be determined clearly on a scientific basis, it is presumable that their constant exposure to toxic chemicals and ionising radiation had caused or, at least, expedited the illness. It is fit to say there is a link between their leukaemia and their careers.' Campaign group SHARPS had spearheaded the campaign for recognition of these cancers. Its records show that 23 Samsung workers so far have suffered from hematopoietic cancer like leukaemia or lymphoma, at least nine of whom have died. On 1 March 2010, activist groups including the Korean Metalworkers' Union (KMWU) and SHARPS launched a global campaign calling on the Korean government to investigate the link between these cancers and employment in electronics manufacturing. Samsung, which has strongly denied that its production lines pose a cancer risk, refused to accept the Seoul court's ruling. Company spokesperson Park Chun-ho said: 'As the ruling is not final, we will try to clear suspicions through continuing trials.' Samsung said it will announce in July the result of a one-year investigation into possible health risks posed by its facilities and currently being conducted by a group of overseas experts retained by the company.

India: New occupational lung disease identified

A new deadly occupational lung disease caused by inhaling plastic dust may have been discovered. Health experts in India have identified four workers at a single factory developed a serious respiratory disease within a year of starting work. Dr Aruna Dewan, a toxicology expert, said the disease came to light after she examined 27-year-old Naina Gajjar. She was suffering from 'severe fibrosis along with pneumothorax'. After checking up what the factory - Corel Pharma Chem's factory at Kadi, Mehsana ? produced, Dr Dewan got in touch with the Vadodara-based People's Training and Research Centre (PTRC), a grassroots occupational health project. PTRC head Jagdish Patel said they visited Gajjar's home on 3 June 2011 and found her 'bed-ridden, frail.' She had difficulty speaking because she was breathless. The day labourer recalled being required to fill and stack bags of an unidentified powder for between 10 and 12 hours each day. PTRC believes the powder, used to make gel used in beauty and grooming products, is a polyacrylate. It began looking for other workers at the factory suffering from similar symptoms, and found three more. A further worker, Alka Thakor, had reportedly died of lung disease last year. One of the three surviving workers had already been diagnosed with an 'occupational lung disease'. There have been a series of occupational lung diseases unearthed relatively recently. In Spain, an outbreak of deadly Ardystil Syndrome affected textile workers exposed to chemicals. Two conditions have been identified in groups of US workers, 'flock workers' lung' and popcorn workers' lung.

USA: Honeywell lockout a serious safety concern

When union workers were locked out over a year ago at the Honeywell uranium facility in Metropolis, Illinois, they warned that the unskilled replacement workers bussed into the plant did not have the experience to operate the uranium enrichment facility safely (Risks 469). Despite these warnings, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified the workers as suitably qualified, and the plant has continued to operate. Since then, a series of explosions and gas releases have alarmed the community. And now the safety fears raised by the locked out members of the steelworkers' union USW have been confirmed by the official safety watchdog. In June, the federal safety agency OSHA cited Honeywell for 17 separate 'serious violations' that could have resulted in death or serious harm and fined Honeywell $119,000 (£74,300) for the uncontrolled release of HF gas in December. Union workers say the new safety violations are even more evidence that Honeywell needs to settle the lockout. 'The OSHA violations further validate the USW claims that union members are the guardians of safety in the plant, and left to themselves, Honeywell will not ensure a true culture of safety first,' said Darrell Lillie, president of USW Local 7-669. 'The findings rebuke Honeywell for attempts to block the OSHA inspection and send a loud message management has something to hide on unsafe work practices that threaten our community outside the plant. You would think after a full year of locking out our experienced union workforce, Honeywell would negotiate in good faith to quickly settle the dispute that includes safety issues.'

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