Risks 514 - 16 July 2011

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Hazards at Work

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

Union News

Report confirms 'strong' union safety effect

Workplace injuries would be slashed 'at a stroke' if all workplaces had a union health and safety rep, a new TUC report has concluded. According TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, author the 2011 edition of TUC's 'The Union Effect' report, 'the new evidence shows that the union effect is just as strong as ever.' He points to government figures showing 'British industry saved between £181m and £578m each year as a result of lost time reduction from occupational injuries and work-related illnesses of between 286,000 and 616,000 days as a result of trade union representatives.' However, he warns that too many employers are denying union safety reps the time off they need, and only just over a quarter consult automatically with safety reps on a regular basis. The worst problem, however, is in those workplaces that are not unionised, the TUC safety specialist said. 'The facts outlined in this report are indisputable. Trade union health and safety representatives prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries and illnesses every year and, at the same time save employers millions of pounds. Yet the positive effect this band of volunteers has goes almost totally unrecognised by employers and the government.' He added that the new briefing 'shows that the most effective thing that the government could do to protect workers would be to enforce and strengthen the current consultation regulations. If every workplace had a union safety representative we could cut the number of fatalities and injuries at a stroke.'

Call for ministers to put safety before profits

The government must not allow workers to die to boost business profits, civil service union PCS has said. The union, which has hundreds of members in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), made the call in responses to government-initiated reviews of health and safety legislation. It says when coalition politicians talk about 'reducing the burden of health and safety legislation on UK businesses... this demonstrates a lack of care for employees by the UK government.' The union says its members in HSE are fighting a 35 per cent budget cut over four years, which it believes would make it 'very difficult' for them to do their jobs properly, a problem amplified for the government's risky strategy. According to PCS: 'The proposed changes are pro-business. They will increase risk-taking by employers and increase the number of work-related stress cases, near misses, injuries and fatalities.' The union adds that a three-pronged attack on workplace health and safety is currently underway. The government commissioned Löfstedtreview of health and safety has been given a deregulatory brief and is due to report in October (Risks 504). A government initiated sickness absence review is being co-chaired by the head of the strongly anti-safety regulation British Chambers of Commerce (Risks 495). And the government's Red Tape Challenge is highlighting health and safety regulation until 21 July (Risks 512).

Labour rights reminder in M&S flashdance

Shareholders attending the London AGM of high street store M&S were greeted with a song and dance protest at the labour abuses at one of its major suppliers. Unite activists reprised a musical number seen recently in flashmobs at M&S stories, drawing attention to low pay and insecure labour at Thanet Earth (Risks 505). They also spelled out their opposition to exploitation in giant letters made of tomatoes at the 13 July event. Unite has been taking up complaints from the workforce, who pick and pack tomatoes and other salad and fruits, over alleged irregular labour conditions. The alleged offences include hostility to union organisation, bullying, taking bribes by agency supervisors and managers, and denial of holiday entitlement and pay. Unite regional industrial officer Dave Weeks said: 'We want to highlight the rotten working conditions at Thanet Earth. Most workers have no direct contract of employment and can be hired and fired at will. This is a major supplier to M&S which claims to be an ethical retailer. It is time for the supermarket to insist that Thanet Earth cleans up its act.' He said the union was waiting on the outcome of a Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) investigation into its dossier of complaints. 'We want to tell M&S to take its commitments seriously and to use its financial muscle to get Thanet Earth to sit down in a room with Unite and M&S and resolve these serious complaints,' he added.

Union warns 1 in 10 firefighters could go

One in ten firefighter jobs nationwide could go because of savage budget cuts, firefighters' union FBU has said. New research by the union, based on Freedom of Information Act queries, confirms that over 1,000 jobs were lost in the first round of cuts to April 2011. The union is warning that cuts in the central government grants to fire authorities up to 2014 'will lead to the loss of 6,000 firefighters and possibly a great deal more.' FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'Fewer fire crews means it will take longer for the fire engine to arrive in response to a 999 call. There will be ever increasing risk to life, homes, businesses and our cultural and natural heritage as the cuts bite harder year after year.' He added: 'We've faced mass wildfires, terrible floods and freezing winter weather which stretched fire crews for weeks. How does the government expect us to cope with big labour intensive incidents with far fewer frontline fire crews? Claims that fire services can fall back on each other and pool resources don't stand up when the cuts are widespread. The overall pool of resources is being drained away and it will get worse year after year.' The union leader added: 'Cameron's promise not to cut frontline services has proved worthless. You don't get much more frontline than a 999 response and we're being cut to pieces. We're over-stretched now, and frontline crews are making it clear we'll be at breaking point when the cuts really bite over the next two years. The simple fact is that cuts cost lives.'

Tube Olympics volunteers 'may be lethal'

There could be 'lethal consequences' if London Underground (LUL) uses volunteers to guide passengers during the 2012 Olympics, rail union RMT warned. The union said using 'non-trained staff' at busy stations was a 'recipe for disaster.' RMT was speaking out after discovering LUL planned to use 'non-licensed volunteers' to work throughout stations doing 'way finding.' The union says this is a coded term for crowd control and maintains this is 'a skill and task that should only be carried out by experienced competent members of staff.' LUL admits it wants to use volunteers to cover an extra 400-600 Olympic duties per day. RMT general secretary Bob Crow commented: 'Using unqualified, non-professional, non-trained staff at key crowd control pressure points is a recipe for disaster with potentially lethal consequences.' He added: 'RMT senior stations reps have already made it crystal clear to LUL management that we will not accept this dangerous suggestion and we now call on LUL to reverse the 650 jobs cuts and to get back to the safe and sensible policy of having trained operational railway workers carrying out safety-critical operational railway tasks.' Transport for London (TfL) has said the volunteers will only give travel information. It added that all staff carrying out safety critical work on stations during the Olympics will be licensed.

Romec staff to walk out over bully bosses

Workers at engineering and facilities company Romec will walk out for 48 hours this month because they believe managers are refusing to address bullying allegations. The union CWU said that it had given notice for a national strike at Romec starting on 20 July and involving 550 members. The call-out ban which started in May will also be extended for a further six weeks (Risks 508). CWU national official Ray Ellis said: 'We will not allow the situation in Romec to drift further. Our members are suffering daily attacks in the form of withholding pay, changing their hours, suspending annual leave, unacceptable use of surveillance equipment and threats.' He added: 'We're bitterly disappointed with the behaviour of senior management and their failure to take action to resolve this dispute. We want to negotiate a solution to the serious problems facing staff. However, a scheduled meeting was cancelled at short notice last week leaving us with no option other than to set further strike dates. We remain ready and willing to enter meaningful talks with the company but strike action will go ahead unless progress is made.' Romec contracts include Royal Mail delivery offices and mail centres, Tesco and Sainsbury's supermarkets and the British Museum. The engineering and facilities company is owned 51 per cent by Royal Mail and 49 per cent by Balfour Beatty. Balfour Beatty was one of the major names singled out by the Information Commissioner's Office for blacklisting staff for their union and safety activities.

Bullying is 'rife' at problem council

Almost 8 out of every 10 workers at Central Bedfordshire Council have been bullied or harassed at work, a union survey suggests, with the problem linked to an attempt to impose a new contract. GMB, which conducted the survey in response to complaints from members (Risks 510), is calling for an immediate halt to the bullying and 'a completely independent investigation in to the bullying culture by council management and councillors.' GMB branch secretary Martin Foster will present the results of the survey to the council chief executive on 25 July. The research found 79 per cent of respondents reported that they have been harassed, bullied or had experienced discrimination. The top reason workers said they had been bullied was related to the council's bid to impose a new contract, accounting for 41 per cent of the total. This was followed by workers saying they were targeted for the trade union activities (21 per cent). Calling for a 'fully independent investigation', GMB organiser Tony Hughes commented: 'The examples of bullying and harassment are a total indictment of the council as an employer and its complete failure to give even the most basis consideration to its workers.' The union said the council was 'a long way' short of complying with its duty of care to employees. It added: 'GMB is highly experienced in dealing with bullying at work and will take action to protect its members and their health which is so often the first victim of an environment of bullying and harassment.'

Carpenter's family helps local hospice

The family of a carpenter who died of an asbestos related disease has received a 'substantial' sum in compensation and has recovered costs for the hospice that helped him in the final stages of his illness. GMB member Grahame Chiverton from the Isle of Wight died in August 2008, three days before his 50th birthday, after a nine month battle with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. The compensation settlement obtained for the family in a union backed claim also included a payment of £5,000 to Earl Mountbatten Hospice. Grahame was exposed to asbestos while working as a carpenter for Isle of Wight County Council from 1987 until 2008. During that time his employment was transferred from the council to Island Group 90 and Mountjoy Ltd. He was responsible for maintaining the council's properties and this included working on roofs constructed from asbestos. His wife Jane said Grahame contacted his trade union, the GMB, to help him claim compensation because he felt a strong sense of injustice about being diagnosed with a fatal disease caused by his work. The hospice, which had provided care to Grahame free of charge, was reimbursed its costs as part of the settlement. Jane said: 'Everyone at the hospice went out of their way to make sure Grahame was comfortable. By bringing this claim it has helped the hospice recover the costs of the care they provided.' Richard Ascough, regional secretary of GMB's southern region said: 'Tragically this family has been devastated by mesothelioma. The disease often affects men who have worked with asbestos or alongside colleagues using asbestos-based materials. Typically many employers knew the dangers at the time but never did anything to protect their workforce.'

Other news

Court rules work toxins caused Parkinsonism

An RAF corporal who was left with a devastating degenerative neurological condition after he was exposed to dangerous chemicals has won a groundbreaking legal victory at the Court of Appeal. Shaun Wood, 52, was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy-P (MSAP), an incurable condition related to Parkinson's Disease that affects the nervous system, after exposure to organic solvents as a painter and finisher at RAF sites across the world (Risks 500). Last week, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the MoD bringing to an end Mr Wood's 18-year-battle for justice. It ruled that on the evidence presented - which was not rebutted by the MoD - that there was in legal terms a 'probable connection' between heavy solvent exposure and neurological damage. The decision paves the way for other people who develop neurological conditions in similar circumstances to pursue compensation. Mr Wood, who now has to use a wheelchair, said: 'I come from a military family and making the decision to pursue compensation went against my instincts but when I die my wife will be left without an income because my war pension will be taken away and I have always wanted to ensure that she is provided for in the future.' Representing Mr Wood, Andrew McDonald from Thompsons Solicitors said: 'This is the first time there has been any adjudication of the link between organic solvents and this kind of neurological damage. We expect that this decision could be used favourably for other claimants who have developed neurological conditions in similar circumstances.' The case will now be transferred to Middlesbrough High Court where damages will be awarded. Mr Wood's job involved painting aircraft and motor vehicles for sometimes in excess of 12 hours a day at solvent exposure levels up to 20 times the official maximum exposure limit. The solvents included cancer-causing trichloroethylene and dichloromethane, now banned by the European Union for consumer use. He was medically discharged from the RAF in 1995, two years after his Parkinson's was diagnosed.

Stroke payout after firm insists on stressful work

A worker advised by his doctor not to return to stressful work after suffering a stroke has been awarded nearly £400,000 in compensation after his employer indicated stress and long hours were part of the job. Jonathan Jones, a branch manager in Wales for builders' merchant Jewson, was dismissed on the grounds of incapacity five months after he suffered a stroke in April 2009. An August 2010 employment tribunal in Cardiff had accepted that Jewson Ltd discriminated against the 56-year-old, after sacking him from his branch manager position in Cardigan. Prior to the stroke, he was averaging more than 60 hours at work per week and had not taken his full holiday entitlement. Mr Jones' doctor stated that he would need to avoid stress at work in order to return to his employment but Jewson decided that no role at the company would be without stress and so decided to dismiss him. The tribunal found that the dismissal amounted to disability discrimination as the employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments. At an employment tribunal remedy hearing last week, Mr Jones was awarded a £390,870.58 payout from Jewson, part of the global building material giant Saint Gobain. The company had offered just £57,206. Mr Jones' solicitor, Stephen Jackson of Cardiff-based Jackson Osborne employment lawyers, said his client 'had to endure tactics of delay, unfounded allegations and obstruction. He has lost his career after 21 years of service working, as the tribunal accepted, more than 60 hours a week without taking holidays. For a company which is part of a £20bn turnover, the whole affair was handled very badly.'

Suicide rates 'linked' to financial crisis

The financial crisis 'almost certainly' led to an increase in suicides, health experts have concluded. An analysis by US and UK researchers found a rise in suicides was recorded among working age people from 2007 to 2009 in nine of the 10 European nations studied. The increases varied between 5 per cent and 17 per cent for under 65s after a period of falling suicide rates, according to the report in The Lancet. Only Austria saw suicide rates fall. This was put down to the country being less exposed to the financial crisis than the others. Greece had the worst record. The authors note 'we can already see that the countries facing the most severe financial reversals of fortune, such as Greece and Ireland, had greater rises in suicides (17 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively) than did the other countries... Finland, also with strong social protection systems, had an increase in suicides of just over 5 per cent in the same period.' The UK saw a rise of 10 per cent to 6.75 suicides per 100,000 people. Co-author Dr David Stuckler from the University of Cambridge said: 'There was a complete turnaround. Suicides were falling before the recession, then started rising in nearly all European countries studied. Almost certainly these rises are linked to the financial crisis.' He added it was also possible there would be other health consequences from the economic problems as the impact on heart disease and cancer rates was not likely to be seen for many years, something he also predicted in a 2009 paper (Risks 414). Insecure or 'precarious' work has been linked in other studies to higher rates of suicide, sickness, heart disease and injuries (Risks 415).

Car parts giant in court again

A global car components manufacturer has been fined after an agency worker fractured and burned a finger while operating a welding machine. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted ThyssenKrupp Tallent Ltd following the incident at the company's factory in Cannock on 24 August 2010. The 43-year-old agency worker, who does not wish to be named, was using the machine to weld nuts onto car parts when her left hand middle finger became trapped between the electrode and another part of the machine. South Walls Magistrates' Court heard that the woman fractured her finger and suffered a severe electrical burn, which has left her with continuing numbness. She was unable to return to work for four months and was in a great deal of pain during her recovery, needing help with day-to-day tasks including washing, dressing and preparing food. An HSE investigation found that the machine had no jig fitted to hold the work piece in place and was set to single hand operation control. Workers had to hold the work piece in place with their left hand, while using their right hand to press the control button to operate the machine. This meant that the left hand was very close to the unguarded moving parts and could become caught. ThyssenKrupp Tallent Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay £5,972 costs. The court also heard that the company had been fined as a result of a prosecution by HSE in 2009, following a previous incident relating to machine guarding at the Cannock site. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Katherine Blunt said: 'This was an entirely preventable incident in which ThyssenKrupp Tallent failed to follow its own procedures... It is regrettable that the company had not learned the lessons from a previous HSE prosecution a year before this incident happened.' Thyssenkrupp Tallent Ltd is currently awaiting a crown court hearing on criminal charges relating to the crushing death on 8 July 2009 of Paul Clark, 52, at its plant in Aycliffe, County Durham (Risks 504). Earlier this year, ThyssenKrupp's top executive in Italy was jailed for the murder of seven workers in a December 2007 factory fire (Risks 503).

Third fine after construction death

A defunct building company has been fined after a foreman died when an excavator bucket filled with concrete fell on him at a London construction site. Euro Earthworks Ltd general foreman, Gerry Fox, was crushed by an excavator bucket in August 2007 when it fell from the arm of the 12 tonne excavator being driven by a colleague. Principal contractor Euro Earthworks Ltd, which is in administration, was convicted of a criminal safety breach in connection with the tragedy and fined £20,000 plus costs of £13,000. City of London Magistrates' Court was told by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), prosecuting, the firm had failed to adequately plan, manage and monitor the construction work on site. Fellow defendants Hydro Plant Ltd and excavator operator Michael Denis Cunningham were sentenced for separate breaches at a hearing in May 2011 (Risks 507). The prosecutions followed an incident on 28 August 2007, when a 'quick hitch' pin necessary to safely lock the excavator bucket in place was not inserted, causing the bucket to fall on Mr Fox. Magistrates heard HSE issued advice on the safe use of quick hitches on excavators in March 2007. Euro Earthworks Ltd was aware of this advice and had made amendments to its written risk assessment, but still failed to take reasonably practicable steps that would have prevented the incident. HSE inspector Loraine Charles said: 'This tragic incident was entirely preventable. There had already been a significant number of incidents involving buckets becoming detached from quick hitches, in particular semi-automatic quick hitches where operators had failed to insert the safety pin.' Euro Earthworks Ltd was tried in its absence.

Essex school fined over caretaker injury

An Essex school has been prosecuted after one of its staff suffered serious injuries when he fell from height while at work. Caretaker David Springett was recladding the outside of the kitchen at Shenfield High School near Brentwood in Essex on 28 July 2010. The 54-year-old was working with a colleague on an unguarded work platform when he lost his footing and fell 1.9 metres to the ground. He broke two ribs and needed a three-inch metal plate and multiple metal screws inserted into a broken arm. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), prosecuting, told Chelmsford Magistrates' Court that Shenfield High School failed to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent the fall. After the hearing, HSE inspector Corinne Godfrey said: 'As falling from height often results in severe injury or death, the outcome of this incident could have been much worse. However, it could have been avoided altogether if an appropriate work platform had been provided by Mr Springett's employers. The school has a duty to protect its staff and working at height brings with it risks they should be aware of, and protect against.' Shenfield High School pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £6,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,243.85.

Interiors firm fined after two are injured

A Staffordshire-based interior design company has been fined after two workers were injured while carrying out refurbishment work at a TK Maxx outlet in Hounslow. Three men were pouring concrete to fill in an opening in the first floor of the retail unit, left following the removal of stairs and an escalator. The Old Bailey heard that on 21 September 2006 the men had only just begun to pour the concrete when the temporary propping erected to support the underside of the decking, installed within the opening, collapsed. This caused the men to fall more than 4.8 metres to the floor below. All three were taken to hospital. One had a dislocated shoulder and another had a fractured pelvis and elbow. The third worker was unhurt. Bridgford Interiors Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £23,392. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Viv Neaverson commented: 'This prosecution arises as a result of Bridgford's failing in their duty as the company responsible for the temporary work. Whilst they had appointed a structural engineering company to execute the permanent works, they had not appointed a temporary works engineer and, as such, this duty fell to them.'

Coach firm fined over drivers' hours

A Middlesex coach company has been fined £137,500 after being found guilty of abusing drivers' hour's regulations. BM Coach and Rental was found guilty at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court of 131 drivers' hours offences after an investigation by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) in summer 2010. It was also ordered to pay £35,000 in costs. In addition, 27 of the company's drivers pleaded guilty to drivers' hours offences, receiving fines totalling £7,228 plus £2,700 costs. Acting on a tip-off, VOSA officers visited BM's premises in Hayes and seized documents including time sheets, pay records and digital tachograph data. VOSA's analysis of the documents and digital data showed that drivers were not recording all journeys. Time sheets and diary records produced by the company confirmed there had been journeys where no driver's hours were recorded. Alex Fiddes, VOSA's operations director, commented: 'Drivers' hours regulations exist to make sure passengers and other road users are safe and to ensure fair competition between companies. Tired drivers are dangerous drivers and this case demonstrates that those operators who do not make sure that their drivers have had adequate rest could find themselves in court facing substantial fines.'

International News

New Zealand: Unions call for recovery of mine dead

Unions in New Zealand and worldwide have called for the recovery of the bodies of 29 miners killed in a November 2010 methane gas blast at Pike River Coal Ltd's colliery. Local union EPMU, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) of Australia and global mining unions' federation ICEM want the miners' remains returned to families before New Zealand's largest underground mine is sold and reopened. At a press briefing in Greymouth, the trade unionists said it was 'morally irresponsible' for New Zealand's government to allow the trustee of the mine, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to sell the mine and allow production to begin before bodies are recovered. The blast on 19 November last year killed 29 miners, including 11 members of EPMU. It was the worst New Zealand mine disaster in 119 years, killing 24 Kiwi nationals, two Australians, two UK citizens, and one South African. A subsequent explosion occurred on 24 November, after which authorities declared the miners dead, and in the days that followed two further explosions occurred. 'Mine workers have a special bond with one another and we will use our influence globally to assure that production at Pike River does not re-start until the bodies are recovered,' said ICEM general secretary Manfred Warda. EPMU National Secretary Andrew Little said New Zealand's government must be mindful that the Pike River catastrophe had reverberations worldwide, highlighting the nation's lax mine safety regulations.

New Zealand: Expert blames safety deregulation

As a Royal Commission began this week into the Pike River mine tragedy, which last year killed 29 workers in New Zealand, a mine safety expert is pointing to the dilution of mine safety rules as a major contributory factor. This included axing the role of workers' inspectors in mines. Dave Feickert, a mining expert who has worked in the UK, China and New Zealand, said the disaster 'will come to be seen as another market failure,' adding: 'The professional mines inspectorate and the regulatory system that we inherited from the UK, along with Australia, was abolished in the 1990s, along with the worker safety inspectors, elected by the men from among experienced miners. The industry was moved to self-regulation.' He concluded: 'Pike River represents a spectacular failure of self-regulating companies in a high-risk industry. Why we allowed an economic theory of business competition to persuade us that competing companies would co-operate on mine safety is something else I will never fathom. The tragic fact is that the small band of companies involved in mining did not co-operate to replace abolished regulations with voluntary codes of practice. Why we ever expected they would beats me.' A total of 31 miners were caught in the blast. One dragged a colleague to safety, while the other 29 perished and eight months later their bodies are yet to be recovered. Bernie Monk, whose son Michael died in the disaster, said that all the bereaved families want to find out the truth about what went wrong and to make sure it never happens again. He said that the government had not learned from previous mining disasters and condemned it for hacking back health and safety regulations in recent years. 'We are nearly back to a third-world situation with mining here,' he said. 'This is not what New Zealanders want or expect.'


USA: Unions push for safe hospitals

A coalition of California hospital workers' unions is reviving its call for the state to address safety concerns at mental health hospitals. The four unions joined together to form the Safety Now! Coalition after the death of hospital psychiatric technician Donna Gross in October 2010. The group protested in March this year outside the Napa facility where Gross died. Last week, about 120 employees protested outside Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk to call on the state Department of Mental Health to improve safety. Since Donna Gross was strangled by a patient at Napa State Hospital, the rising violence at the state's mental hospitals has come under increased scrutiny. Unions that represent workers formed the statewide coalition to press for major improvements. But the employees who slipped on union T-shirts, hoisted posters and chanted demands say little has happened. The workers said Metropolitan needs more staff,hospital police officers stationed full time on the units, high security housing for the most dangerous patients and an improved alarm system. They said employees are frequently less alert from working double shifts, pulled from patient care for paperwork and assigned to units where they are unfamiliar with the patients. Union leaders met with hospital administrators last month. But Denise Nicks, a rehabilitation therapist and chief steward for one of the unions, said the department's response to safety concerns has been the same for years. 'They keep saying they're going to look into it,' she said. The California Division of Occupational Safety fined Napa State Hospital more than $100,000 for lax safety measures in the wake of Gross' death. The hospital is appealing the fine. Metropolitan State Hospital is appealing a similar fine of nearly $10,000. The citation said 42 hospital workers suffered assaults in the first three months of this year - a rate of about one assault every other day.

USA: 'Model' workplaces escape scrutiny then kill

Since 2000, at least 80 workers have died at 'model workplaces' the USA's official safety watchdog OSHA has designated the nation's safest, and which it exempts from some inspections. This is the conclusion of an eight month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity that found in 47 of these cases, inspectors subsequently found serious safety violations and, sometimes, tragedies that could have been averted. According to the investigation, even within industries so hazardous the government targets them for intensive enforcement, 'model workplaces' under OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program are exempt from these special inspections. This policy has left nearly one in three refineries off limits - with these unpoliced model refineries responsible for at least seven deaths. According to the Center's investigation, even when workers die and inspectors find safety violations, 'model workplaces' often face minimal consequences and keep the special designation. At least 65 per cent of workplaces where a fatal accident occurred remain in the Voluntary Protection Programs. Critics suspect some companies in VPP operate a system of 'cosmetic compliance', demonstrating only that they are good at preparing paperwork. Wade Smith, a former safety official for some of the nation's largest construction contractors who now works for a consulting firm, said contractors in VPP are no safer than those that aren't; they're just better at looking like they're safe. 'They do their little song and dance in front of OSHA,' Smith said. 'It's just paperwork; that's all it is.'

USA: Death highlights behavioural safety dangers

Serious safety failings at a DuPont factory in the US which led to a workplace death highlight the dangers of a 'blame the worker' system of safety management. The report of a US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigation published last week criticised behavioural safety champion DuPont after Carl Fish, 58, died at the company's Belle facility in West Virginia, in January 2010. He was sprayed with the deadly chemical phosgene. CSB said DuPont had used old chemical tubes and relied too much on automated software. The incident happened a day after two other highly dangerous chemicals - methyl chloride and oleum, a type of sulphuric acid - leaked at the same DuPont facility. Rafael Moure-Eraso, CSB chair, said: 'We at the Chemical Safety Board were quite surprised and alarmed to learn that DuPont had not one, but three preventable accidents that occurred over a 33-hour period.' Internal DuPont documents released with the CSB draft report indicate that in the 1980s, company officials considered increasing the safety of the area of the plant where phosgene is handled by enclosing the area and venting the enclosure through a scrubber system to destroy any toxic phosgene gas before it entered the atmosphere. However, the documents show the company calculated the benefit ratio of potential lives saved compared to the cost and decided not to make the safety improvements. DuPont promotes behavioural safety methods throughout the world, principally through its 'STOP' behavioural safety system. Most behavioural safety systems in use are variants of the STOP Programme. UK union Unite last month launched a campaign warning members of the dangers of behavioural safety system (Risks 509). It commented: 'In the US, the United Steel Workers Union (USW) has been critical about DuPont's approach to safety for many years. In 2005 the union published a report illustrating that DuPont's many violations and accidents are not just isolated incidents of worker failure, but establish a clear pattern of denial of corporate responsibility.' It added: 'In conjunction with the USW, Unite has also been very critical of behaviour based safety and has warned its members about the potential dangers of behaviour based safety programmes of the type promoted by DuPont.'

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