Risks 517 - 6 August 2011

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

Union News

Safety report damns London fire brigade

London Fire Brigade bosses must demonstrate a greater commitment to the safety of its firefighters, their union FBU has said. The call came after a damning report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified 'recommendations for improvements' on 13 key safety failings. HSE's probe followed-up on concerns raised after the deaths of two London firefighters, Bill Faust and Adam Meere, at a fire in Bethnal Green in 2004. The HSE report, made public by FBU, found a widespread view among firefighters that training in core firefighting skills had taken a back seat to 'community work'. There were also concerns over the quality and frequency of training in the 'risk critical' area of use of breathing apparatus while tackling fires. Demands by firefighters for better training often went unheeded by bosses, the report said, and officers expected to deliver training often complained they had received insufficient training themselves. A lack of facilities for 'real fire training', which would simulate real-life firefighting scenarios, was also a problem. FBU regional health and safety co-ordinator, Gordon Fielden, said: 'This very disturbing report puts the London Fire Brigade on notice that it must do much more to protect its firefighters from danger while they are at work. We are especially alarmed over the many concerns raised by the HSE over the inadequacy of breathing apparatus training. This is the most critical part of a firefighter's job, and one that can make the difference between lives being lost or saved.' He said the London Fire Brigade had been blinkered to the problems identified by HSE. 'Previously the brigade has audited itself in some of these areas, and not surprisingly those audits produced glowing conclusions and an outpouring of self-congratulation. But it has taken an independent body to show that those audits were a charade.' The union safety co-ordinator added: 'We will be watching the brigade like a hawk. Notices to improve in thirteen areas is a very serious matter, and they had better get started. Our members do a magnificent job, and we will not allow their safety to be jeopardised by poor training or cost-cutting.'

Schools guidance leaves staff at attack risk

Government advice on 'use of reasonable force' by school staff to deal with violent pupils is approaching the problem the wrong way and leaving staff at risk, the union GMB has warned. The union's analysis of Department for Education figures shows in 2009/10 there were 156,320 cases of physical assault or verbal abuse by pupils against adults in schools in England which led to the exclusion of the pupils. The GMB analysis coincides with new advice from the government on the 'Use of Reasonable Force' in schools. Sharon Holder, GMB national officer for school support staff, said: 'These figures for levels of physical assaults and verbal abuse by pupils against adults are appalling and completely unacceptable. School support staffs are attacked as often as teachers. Staff should not fear going into work worrying whether they will get bitten or kicked or verbally abused by pupils.' GMB is seeking talks with the Department of Education and local education authorities in England 'to get them to come forward with proposals to reduce these appalling levels of assaults and abuse.' The union says schools should try to stop assaults rather than allows adults to 'whack' pupils during attacks, the line it says is included in the government advice. 'Training in behaviour management and bespoke restraint training is essential,' said Sharon Holder. 'Additional staff may be needed in the most acute areas and where necessary protective equipment.' But she added: 'GMB members report that all forms of training are falling due to constraints on funding and release time.'



Site bosses must act on skin cancer risk

The construction industry must take decisive action to ensure the risk of construction workers developing skin cancer is dramatically reduced, site union UCATT has said. The call came after a July report published by the Society of Occupational Medicine found that some construction workers were nine times more likely to develop skin cancer than other workers from similar social groups (Risks 515). George Guy, UCATT's acting general secretary, said: 'This study demonstrates the huge risk that construction workers face of developing skin cancer. It is essential that everyone involved in the industry ensures that construction workers are given the full information about the risks they face and the preventive measures they need to take to reduce those dangers.' The SOM report says the risk to site workers can be reduced by applying high factor sun screen, drinking plenty of water, wearing long sleeved loose-fitting tops and regularly checking their skin for changes. UCATT has argued that measure can also be taken to shade work areas, or schedule work to avoid where possible outdoor work at the hottest parts of the day. The union says a dearth of occupational health schemes throughout the construction industry 'means that workers are not receiving potentially lifesaving information on skin cancer and other vital health issues.' George Guy added: 'The vast majority of construction workers have no access to occupational health schemes; this can have massive long term consequences on their health. UCATT are trying to work with employers to promote first class occupational health schemes, but many remain highly reluctant to introduce such schemes.'

Diabetic stands up to AA 'intimidation'

A diabetic AA patrolman was singled out for daily performance reviews and pushed to quit in an act of deliberate discrimination, an employment tribunal has ruled. Roadside recovery worker Paul Bailey won his case against the Automobile Association, after alleging that management subjected him to 'direct disability discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, harassment and failure to make reasonable adjustments' in the course of his work. The GMB member, who had worked for the association for 13 years and is still employed by the company, was diagnosed in 2009 with type one diabetes - at one point suffering three or four hypoglycaemic attacks a week. The tribunal heard Mr Bailey's job performance had been among the top 100 patrolmen before his diagnosis, but by managing his illness his performance had remained average. But in October 2010 Mr Bailey's manager appointed a two-week 'training support patrol' to assess any health and safety risk posed by Mr Bailey's condition. Shortly after, the manager offered Mr Bailey three months' salary as an exit package, an 'improvement plan' or a new contract subject to performance review that could lead to his dismissal. Justice Christopher Carstairs, commenting on the unusually lengthy assessment training support patrol, noted 'it was clear that the only reason the claimant underwent this process was because his performance had dropped following suffering from diabetes.' GMB regional officer Paul Grafton said AA management's behaviour had been 'appalling.' He said the ruling also showed there was an alternative to being 'performance managed out the door.' The union said AA has admitted it intends to use performance management to shed hundreds of staff.

Caretaker overcome by noxious fumes

A caretaker who was exposed to noxious fumes at work passed out, fracturing his ribs. Unite member Desmond Groom, 44, from Cannock in Walsall struck his side on a sink as he collapsed, after starting to use a new cleaning product supplied by his employer, Burrowes Street Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) Ltd. He was using the fungicidal wash produced by Beeline to clean mould off walls, ceilings and bathrooms at one of the firm's properties. Mr Groom arrived to a note telling him to use the substance, which had been decanted into another bottle. There were no instructions on how to use it properly and he had never been trained in its use. He passed out and fell as he was climbing down a step ladder. As well as the fractures to his ribs, he suffered from pain in his eyes, nose and mouth. Mr Groom, who had worked for the TMO for three years before the incident, ended up taking three months off work. It took him six months to recover fully. He received £3,000 in an out-of-court union-backed compensation claim, after the firm admitted liability. Mr Groom, who now works as a gardener, said: 'I was using step ladders and I'm just glad I had got down from them before I fell otherwise my injuries could have been much more severe.' Unite's Peter Clews said: 'Exposure to noxious fumes or hazardous materials at work is a breach of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. Our members are being injured because employers don't think or don't care. As a union we won't accept that.'

Unite seeks justice for growing asbestos toll

Asbestos disease is affecting growing numbers in the North West, figures from the union Unite suggest. Since January 2010, Unite members and their families in the region have received £1.5m asbestos compensation. Lawyers acting for the union have obtained payouts for 14 members and their families, including 10 cases of the fatal asbestos related cancer mesothelioma. In addition, 43 Unite members in the North West have received up to £5,000 each under a pleural plaques compensation scheme. The scheme was created by the government after a campaign backed by Unite, other unions and asbestos disease support groups. In another court battle, Unite is challenging a Court of Appeal decision, known as the trigger test case, which ruled in some cases that employers' liability insurance is triggered not by the exposure to asbestos in the workplace, but by the development of the fatal cancer, mesothelioma, often many decades later when no insurance exists. The case will come before the Supreme Court in December 2011. Diana Fos of union personal injury law firm Thompsons Solicitors commented: 'The outcome of this case could be one of the most important decisions in the history of asbestos litigation.'

Other news

IOSH calls for strong laws and duties on directors

There is 'no scope' for cutting laws but safety could be improved if there were 'positive directors' duties', the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said. The comments came in the IOSH response to the government-commissioned Löfstedt review. IOSH executive director of policy Dr Luise Vassie said while some laws could be simplified, 'We don't see cuts as the answer - previous reviews of health and safety legislation have already weeded out redundant rules. Our research, evidence and member survey all confirm our view that health and safety law itself isn't at fault -it's the way it's sometimes interpreted and applied that's the problem.' IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: 'The central principles at the heart of our legal system need to stay.' He added: 'In the long term, we think the solution to the perceived 'burden' of health and safety is education and the creation of a 'risk intelligent' society. That means giving businesses - especially smaller firms - simpler, more definitive guidance and access to good advice. It also means delivering better risk education. This needs to start in our schools and run through to colleges, universities and into the workplace.' The IOSH submission to the Löfstedt review also calls for work-related road traffic accidents to be reported under RIDDOR, for positive directors' duties to be made explicit in terms of their responsibility to protect staff, and for GPs' fit notes to include reminders to encourage employers to report work accidents.

Dad-to-be's death exposes safety flaws

A Sheffield crane driver died from massive crush injuries just weeks before he was due to become a father, a court has been told. Alan Winters, 28, was killed when he and colleagues attempted to unload a four-ton crate from a shipping container at the DavyMarkham Ltd factory in Sheffield, on 15 July 2008. Sheffield Crown Court was told Mr Winters was one of a group of workers who had already tried several ways to move the crate from the container. In a final attempt, Mr Winters climbed on the back of a forklift truck to unhook a chain from a corner of the container but the forklift reversed too far and tilted up over the lip of the container, trapping him against the roof. Mr Winters' partner, Laurie Swift, was nearly eight months' pregnant at the time and gave birth to their son, Alan Jr, only six weeks later. She and Alan had recently moved into a new home in Sheffield's Littledale estate with Laurie's daughter Leah, then seven. The incident prompted a full investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and led to the prosecution of DavyMarkham Ltd for a major criminal breach of safety legislation. HSE inspector Carol Downes said: 'This was a terrible tragedy. Mr Winters' death had the most devastating impact on his partner, Laurie, and his parents, Kim and Alan. His son will also never meet his dad.' She added: 'It was also utterly preventable if proper assessment and planning had been carried out before unloading was attempted. None of the managers or supervisors thought to stop the work until a risk assessment was done or safe procedure found.' Mr Winters' partner, Laurie Swift, features in a 'Want to know about burdens?' poster produced by the union-backed We Didn't Vote to Die at Work campaign.

Firm pays £30,000 for three fingers

A St Helens napkin and tablecloth manufacturer has been fined £30,000 after a worker lost three fingers when her hand was crushed between two printer rollers. Emboss (Europe) Ltd, which produces paper tablecloths, napkins and placemats was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident on 7 January 2009. Liverpool Crown Court heard 43-year-old mother-of-three Cheryl Bridge was cleaning the rollers while they were still operating. Her cloth caught between the rollers and her hand was pulled in as she tried to retrieve it. She suffered serious injuries to her right hand which resulted in her little finger being cut off, and her first and third fingers being severed below the second joint. The court was told that the machine had been installed in May 2008 but the guard, designed to fit between the rollers, was not used and was left hanging down the side of the machine. The HSE investigation discovered the rollers were nearly always cleaned while the machine was still operating at full speed, rather than being stopped in stages as was meant to happen. Emboss (Europe) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £30,000 plus £12,549 costs. Cheryl Bridge said: 'My life has completely changed since the incident. Not only can I not work, but I also can't do everyday things that people take for granted, like cooking, cleaning, writing and even picking things up. If it wasn't for the support of my family, who do most things for me now, I would be relying on the support of carers for the rest of my life.' She added: 'It's just not worth companies being lax about health and safety. People think health and safety is about officials going over the top and trying to make things difficult, but its importance cannot be over-estimated. If you don't get it right, you can ruin someone's life.'

Worker was dragged through CD-sized gap

A South Yorkshire engineering firm and a German machine supplier have been sentenced for safety failings after a worker sustained horrific injuries but miraculously escaped with his life after being dragged through a gap no wider than a CD case. Compass Engineering Ltd and Kaltenbach Ltd were jointly prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at the Compass Engineering factory in Barnsley, on 19 December 2008. Employee Matthew Lowe got caught on a computer controlled conveyer system for moving heavy steel beams after peering into an outlet point to check a line of work. He was forced though an opening just 125mm wide between a moving measuring head and a wall, suffering devastating physical and psychological injuries (Risks 509). An HSE investigation found there was no guarding in place to protect him from dangerous moving parts - a serious safety failing for both Compass and Kaltenbach. The machine ultimately belonged to Compass Engineering after it was bought from new, but Kaltenbach installed and signed-off the equipment as being fit and ready for use. HSE investigators also established that Matthew, then aged 23, was inexperienced in operating the machinery after being moved from a different line at the factory because of a lull in his regular workload. However, it was the lack of guarding that was deemed the decisive factor. Compass Engineering Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £45,000 plus £24,000 costs. Kaltenbach Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £30,000 with costs of £16,000. After the case, Matthew Lowe said: 'I hope my case highlights the dangers posed by not following health and safety regulations. It still won't be able to put my life back to how it was before the accident but at least then it might prevent others from suffering in the future.' He added: 'Too many people are needlessly killed and injured in accidents at work. If hearing my story makes them think twice about safety and about the daily risks they face in the workplace, then I'll be happy. I know more than most why that is so important - and I really hope that message gets through.'

Letwin wants more deadly job insecurity

The government's policy chief has revealed the government's determination to instil a real 'fear' of job losses in public sector workers. The comments from Oliver Letwin, architect of the coalition's plans to reform public services, came as new research highlights the deadly consequences of job insecurity. Letwin told a meeting at the offices of leading consultancy firm KPMG: 'You can't have room for innovation and the pressure for excellence without having some real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers that things may go wrong if they don't live up to the aims that society as a whole is demanding of them.' He added: 'Some will not survive. It is an inevitable and intended consequence of what we are talking about.' Mark Serwotka, general secretary the civil service union PCS, described the minister's comments as 'nonsense.' He said: 'Public sector workers are already working in fear - fear of cuts to their job, pension, living standards and of privatisation. Far from improving productivity, the cuts are creating chaos in vital public services.' Research on the impact of job insecurity, published in the August 2011 edition of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concluded 'perceived job insecurity can lead to adverse health effects in both permanent and temporary employees. Policies should aim to improve work-related well-being by reducing job insecurity. Efforts towards 'flexicurity' are important, but it is equally important to remember that a significant proportion of employees with a permanent contract experience job insecurity.'

Government inciting 'hatred' of disabled

Over 50 charities have condemned the government for "contributing to hatred towards disabled people" by portraying them as work-shy scroungers. The Disability Benefits Consortium said the government is using 'dangerously misleading' statistics to fuel claims that high numbers of benefits claimants are faking. Department for Work and Pensions released figures last week suggested that only 7 per cent of claimants for employment support allowance, the new benefit that replacing incapacity benefits, were unable to do any sort of work. This led to press reports that the majority of sickness benefits claimants are 'faking'. TUC responded by saying the government, which has introduced much tougher and much criticised disability tests, was more interested in saving money than helping the sick or those with disabilities (Risks 516). Disability Alliance spokesperson Neil Coyle, echoing the TUC comments, said: 'The government must ensure appropriate support is available to disabled people to get and keep work. It is very worrying that some support has dropped in the last year. Sadly, the language to describe disabled people needing support has become more offensive and this also contributes to barriers to work as employers suspect genuinely disabled people of faking or being 'work-shy'.' Disability Benefits Consortium spokesperson Hayley Jordan condemned the "irresponsible and inaccurate portrayal of benefits claimants... Disabled people are very disappointed that the government is refusing to ensure accurate reporting and may be contributing to stigmatisation, victimisation and exclusion.'

Labourer fell off unguarded stair

A building labourer broke two ribs after falling off the edge of a temporary staircase after a guardrail was removed. David Tourish, 38, was working for Walker Group (Scotland) Ltd on a house build in Edinburgh, when he and a colleague were asked to carry some doors upstairs to keep them out of the way during building work. A guard rail on the temporary staircase had been removed by a joiner to allow him to fix plasterboard to the wall, and then not replaced. Mr Tourish stepped off the edge of a half landing, falling nearly three metres to the landing below. He was taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed with bruised kidneys and two fractured ribs. Mr Tourish was off work for three months while his injuries healed and needed physiotherapy after he went back to work. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the work had not been planned properly as an adequate risk assessment had not taken place; that the site manager was aware the guardrail had been removed and should have known there was a risk to his team, and that the work was not carried out in a safe manner. HSE inspector Alastair Brown said: 'This incident highlights the risk posed by unplanned work at height, particularly on small domestic sites when the right equipment needs to be chosen to address risks posed by design features like staircases. Had Walker Group carried out a proper risk assessment it would have identified the unusual design feature of the staircase and ensured it remained a safe working area throughout the build process.' At Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Walker Group (Scotland) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £8,000.

Lorry reversed into worker's head

Tufnells Parcels Express Ltd has been fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £19,000 in court costs after an employee was seriously injured when his skull was crushed by a reversing lorry at the company's depot. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), prosecuting, told Chelmsford Crown Court that in the early hours of 23 March 2010, Simon Mason, 22, was working the nightshift as a warehouse porter. An articulated 45ft HGV trailer was being reversed into an open loading bay while Mr Mason waited to unload it. Mr Mason noticed the trailer was not positioned straight in the bay, so thinking it had stopped moving, he put his head around the back of the trailer to shout instructions to the driver. Just as he did so, the trailer came back further, crushing his head against the brick bay wall. Mr Mason received severe head injuries requiring constant care for months and had to undergo several operations. He returned to work in February 2011 but is still suffering some long term effects. HSE's investigation found Tufnells had not assessed, controlled, or properly managed the risks arising from vehicle and equipment movements at its West Horndon depot. It had also failed to provide a safe system of work for its employees. After the hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court, HSE inspector Glyn Davies said: 'Working with moving vehicles is a high risk activity which causes significant numbers of major and fatal injuries every year in this country. Tufnells is well aware of these risks and this horrific incident in which a young man could have lost his life would have been avoided had the company's senior management ensured such risks were properly managed in all of its depots.'

Massive factory blaze put lives at risk

Two firms held criminally responsible for a huge fire which ripped through a factory putting lives at risk have been ordered to pay a total of £224,530 in fines and costs. At its height, the fire at the Greenaway Environmental site in Crewe spread to more than 10,000 square metres - nearly one and a half times the size of a Premiership football pitch. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Crewe-based waste recycling company, Greenway Environmental Ltd and Preston-based waste shredder manufacturer, Pakawaste Ltd, following an investigation into the explosion and fire at Aztec Aerosols on 4 June 2007. Chester Crown Court heard the fire was caused by an explosion in an aerosol-shredding unit and more than 100 firefighters and 25 fire engines were involved in putting it out. The unit had been designed, manufactured and supplied by Pakawaste, and was being used on Greenway's premises. Many of the aerosols shot into the air and onto nearby roads after setting alight, and neighbouring buildings were damaged. Sentencing, Judge Thomas Teague said it was 'remarkable' no-one was injured in the explosion or fire. He said when the shredder was made, communication between the two companies was 'poor' and not enough information was provided or asked for to make a safe machine. He added 'it was the incompetence of Pakawaste which created the hazard.' The judge fined Pakawaste £50,000 plus £87,030 costs, while Greenway was fined £37,500 and £50,000 costs. The HSE investigation found the machine had not been designed to safely shred waste containers containing residues of flammable liquids and gases, with unsafe operating procedures in place. It also concluded that it should have been operated in a segregated area away from where flammable substances were being stored. Gill Chambers, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'There was obviously a fault in Pakawaste's design and manufacturing process which resulted in the shredding unit exploding. Greenway should also have had better procedures and arrangements in place to protect its workers and prevent the fire from spreading.' Cheshire's chief fire officer, Paul Hancock, added: 'It is extremely fortunate that there were no injuries to members of the public or firefighters.'

Site firms fined £300,000 for motorway death

Birse and Serco have been fined a total of £300,000 after a roadworker died as a result of a 12 metres fall while working over the M5 motorway. Cecil Grant, 42, was repairing CCTV cameras used to monitor one lane of the motorway near Clevedon during the night of 24 January 2006, when he fell off a wall into bushes below, suffering serious injuries. He was taken to hospital and died of his injuries ten days later. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Mr Grant's employer, Serco Ltd, and principal contractor, Birse Civils Ltd, for failing to protect Mr Grant. Bristol Crown Court heard Serco Ltd did not plan, manage and monitor the work properly, meaning Mr Grant was not warned about the drop. Both companies failed to cooperate with each other to make sure workers at the site were not put in danger. HSE inspector, Steve Frain, said: 'There were major failings in the way this work was planned which sadly resulted in Mr Grant's tragic death. When employees are working at height, proper plans must be put in place and workers made aware of possible risks.' He added: 'In this case, Mr Grant had not been made aware of the dangerous drop where he was working. If he had been, a tragic incident could easily have been avoided.' Serco Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £200,000 plus costs of £36,186. Birse Civils Ltd, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £100,000 with costs of £180,093.

International News

Japan: Fukushima radiation discovered at lethal levels

Pockets of lethal levels of radiation have been detected at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in a fresh reminder of the risks faced by workers battling to contain the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) reported on 1 August that radiation exceeding 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts) per hour was found at the bottom of a ventilation stack standing between two reactors. On 2 August, Tepco said it found another spot on the ventilation stack itself where radiation exceeded 10 sieverts per hour, a level that could lead to incapacitation or death after just several seconds of exposure. 'Radiation leakage at the plant may have been contained or slowed but it has not been sealed off completely. The utility is likely to continue finding these spots of high radiation,' said Kenji Sumita, a professor at Osaka University who specialises in nuclear engineering. 'Considering this, recovery work at the plant should not be rushed to meet schedules and goals as that could put workers in harm's way. We are past the immediate crisis phase and some delays should be permissible.' Workers at Daiichi are only allowed to be exposed to 250 millisieverts of radiation per year. The last reports come weeks after reports in the last two months that hundreds of inexperienced contractors were working in searing heat and high radiation levels at the plant for as little as 10,000 yen (£80) a day.

Thailand: 'Disbelief' at labour court safety ruling

Unions worldwide have responded with 'shock and disbelief' to a Thai Labour Court decision to allow the dismissal of seven leaders of the SRUT railway workers' trade union for their part in safety-related industrial action two years ago. The court also imposed a THB15 million fine (£308,000). Global transport union federation ITF said the union officials are being punished by the management of the State Railways of Thailand (SRT) for their part in the October 2009 industrial action 'to publicise the deplorable safety failings on the network which led to two derailments and one fatal accident in four days that month. The accident killed seven and injured many others.' ITF said the driver only had one rest day in the previous 30 days and the 'deadman's handle' system in his cab was not working. The union body says only 20 per cent of SRT locomotives are even equipped with this 'fundamental' piece of equipment. ITF general secretary David Cockroft said: 'The ITF is calling into question the independence and fairness of the court in reaching this decision. We are concerned by the judge's statement that basic safety devices found worldwide on trains are nothing more than 'supplementary devices'. We are similarly sceptical about his having ignored the fact that a recent civil court case, involving a mother who lost her daughter in a railway crash that led to the industrial action, found against the management of SRT, to the tune of THB1 million' (£20,500). The union will appeal the decision. ITF said it 'strongly cautions the SRT not to try and sack the men before the appeal can be lodged.' Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said: 'We are deeply troubled by the court's decision and fully support the trade union's appeal.' In the UK, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The decision of the Thai Labour Court is a politically motivated attack on a rail union that has done nothing other than fight for safety on their rail network.'

USA: OSHA plans to protect whistleblowers

Workplace safety whistleblowers will have greater protection from victimisation, the US government safety watchdog OSHA has said. It says new measures will improve investigator training and avoid long delays in completing investigations. Recent official reviews have been strongly critical of the existing system to protect whistleblowers, include a serious lack of whistleblower investigators. As part of the measures announced this week, OSHA will hold a mandatory training conference in September to be attended by all whistleblower investigators as well as by Labor Department lawyers who work on whistleblower cases. 'The ability of workers to speak out and exercise their legal rights without fear of retaliation is crucial,' OSHA chief David Michaels said. 'The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA's enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering.' Other changes include having the programme report directly to the OSHA chief, rather than to the enforcement division, which handles safety inspections and has been accused of neglecting whistleblower protection. OSHA said it is also issuing a revised investigations manual and will strengthen audits 'to ensure that complaints are properly handled on a timely basis.' A Government Accountability Office review found that nearly 40 per cent of whistleblower investigators had not taken or even registered for a required basic training course on the statutes they are supposed to enforce. In the UK, OSHA's equivalent, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), has repeated refused to intervene in safety victimisation cases, saying it is a matter for employment tribunals.

USA: Hyatt hotel tries to fry workers

Late in July, when hotel workers at the Park Hyatt Chicago hotel went on strike after nearly two years of fruitless negotiations, they set up a picket line at the front entrance. That's when management turned the heat on, literally, by firing up 10 heat lamps in the awning above the entrance - on a day when the National Weather Service had issued an excessive heat warning for temperatures above 100 degrees. The hotel workers' union, UNITEHERE! Local 1, responded with a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. According to the complaint: 'The employer assaulted the employees and tried to fry them by shining heat lamps on them in the middle of what was already a hot, humid day.' The heat lamps were turned off shortly after reports about them surfaced in the press, the union reported. Hyatt released a public statement the following day, admitting that a manager was responsible for turning heat lamps on striking workers. Linda Long, a cook at the Park Hyatt, commented: 'They put the heat lamps on us, like we were nothing. If the heat didn't kill us, the heat lamps would.' UNITEHERE! says the Hyatt chain is abusing housekeepers by cutting jobs, replacing experienced employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposing dangerous workloads on the remaining housekeepers. According to the union, housekeepers at some Hyatt hotels clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double what is typically required at union hotels. This leaves room attendants as little as 15 minutes to clean a room, resulting in fewer jobs and more dangerous working conditions. The union has accused the Hyatt Corporation of having the worst safety record in the hotel industry. It cites a peer-reviewed academic study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that places Hyatt dead last among the 50 hotels studied (Risks 484).

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