Risks 529 - 29 October 2011

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

Union News

TUC warning on Clegg's call for inspection cuts

A new system of regulation which could cap the number of workplace inspections of small businesses has been criticised by the TUC as dangerous and unwanted. Commenting on an announcement by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg this week that the government is set to cap workplace inspections for small companies to just two a year to cut back on 'red tape', TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This is another example of the government putting the right to make a fast buck before our health and safety and our lives - although at least the deputy prime minister acknowledges the dangers of the 'scrap it all' line peddled by the Tory diehards.' He added: 'Regulation is there to protect us all from businesses that rip us off, trash our environment, and risk our health - or even our lives. However, it is only of use if it is enforced. Enforcement should not be seen as a burden on business, but instead a way of ensuring that good businesses are not undercut by cowboys who disregard the law and cut corners, whether it is on paying VAT or not polluting our rivers. Cuts in enforcement will put even more of us at risk of damaged health or injury or death in our workplaces.' He added that the government was responding to the shrill calls of business lobby groups who were not representing the real concerns of small firms. 'A brand new survey of small and medium-sized enterprises published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), shows that employment law and health and safety regulation do not even feature in their list of concerns,' he said. 'It would appear that employer organisations are pursuing a fanatical right wing agenda that does not actually reflect the concerns of their members.'

Campaign and safety groups back TUC line

Concerns about the latest government move to reduce workplace inspections and enforcement activity have been echoed by safety groups and campaigners. Speaking to business groups this week, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the job of enforcement agencies including HMRC, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive 'is to make your life easier, not harder. So there will be a major shake up of business inspection - going through the regulators, asking 'are they still necessary?'; 'Should they still exist?'; making sure that, yes, they intervene when necessary, they offer advice and support, but otherwise they let you get on with it.' Mr Clegg added enforcement agencies including HSE, which polices criminal breaches of workplace safety law, 'will have to make sure they aren't breathing down your necks. Why, for example, should regulators be able to turn up at your door whenever they want and as often as they want? Why can't we limit the number of inspections to, say, two a year, ensuring these bodies coordinate amongst themselves to stick within that limit?' The union-backed Hazards Campaign accused the deputy prime minister of talking 'utter cobblers'. A spokesperson added: 'Not only is it cobblers, it is dangerous, toxic, life threatening cobblers.' Safety inspections have already fallen to a rate of once in a working lifetime, the campaign said. It noted that even before a recent government demand for pro-active HSE inspections to fall by a third, only 1-in-every-19 major injuries reported to HSE was even investigated. Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at the safety professionals' organisation IOSH, was also critical of the Clegg line. 'Good health and safety isn't 'red tape' - it saves lives, supports enterprise and sustains the economy. The government must ensure standards of public and worker protection will be maintained, before considering further cuts to health and safety inspections.' He added: 'It's important to remember that, sometimes, health and safety inspectors may need to make unannounced visits following serious complaints, concerns, or incidents in order to ensure people's safety is not being put at risk. This must not, under any circumstances, be impeded.'

Unions and good jobs delivered Olympic safety

Construction union UCATT has said an official report on safety lessons from the London 2012 construction project has ignored the critical safety factors - the role played by unions and direct employment in delivering an unprecedented safety record. Launching the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) 'Leadership and worker involvement on the Olympic Park' report, Stephen Williams, the safety watchdog's director for London 2012, said: 'The report shows how strong leadership and worker involvement are key to a safer working environment. The ODA's [Olympic Delivery Authority] creation of a no scapegoating culture allowed workers to raise issues without fear of reprisal, learning lessons to apply across the site and reducing the risk in hazardous activities.' But UCATT believes the telling factor was an agreement reached in 2007 between unions and ODA that only directly employed workers should be employed on the Olympic Park. The union said this ensured that workers, supported by union representatives, had the confidence to raise safety concerns without the fear of being sacked. It points to the significantly higher injury rate on the adjacent and far less demanding Olympic Village site, which was not covered by the agreement. UCATT acting general secretary George Guy commented: 'It is vital to understand why the Olympic Park achieved a very low accident rate. If the construction industry really wants to learn the lessons from the Olympics it is that sites where workers are directly employed are far safer, especially when this is combined with strong union involvement from an early stage.' UCATT regional secretary Jerry Swain added: 'The difference between the accident rates on the Olympic Village and the Olympic Park is stark. Direct employment allied with full-time union representation created the environment in which worker involvement could be achieved.'

Proposals would leave pilots drunk on fatigue

Proposed European Union flying hours limits would see pilots working with levels of fatigue-related incapacity equivalent to four times the legal alcohol limit for flying, BALPA has warned. This new evidence, presented to MPs by the pilots' union this week, is calculated using the Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) own computer programme called SAFE. Dr Rob Hunter, BALPA's head of flight safety and security, said: 'Alcohol and lack of sleep affect our abilities in similar ways. Using the CAA's own scientific model for calculating fatigue the proposed EU regulations would see pilots landing their aircraft with the equivalent performance detriment of being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.' He added: 'The limit on pilots' blood alcohol is rightly set down in law. The government cannot say on the one hand that flying while over the alcohol limit is unsafe - which it is - and at the same time do nothing to oppose regulations which would allow pilots to be flying equivalent to four times that same limit.' BALPA chair Captain Mark Searle said ministers must 'call a halt' to the EU's flying hours plans. 'We must have safe, scientific flight time limitations for pilots which don't allow pilots to be flying over built up areas on approach to airports with the equivalent of five cans of lager in them,' he said.

Union recipe for a safe journey to work

Retail workers are concerned about the threat to their safety on the journey to and from work, a survey by the union Usdaw has found. After quizzing more than 2,500 union reps and members, the union has found 'many of our members, particularly women, can feel unsafe on their journey to work. Dark car parks, missing the last bus home at the end of a shift and isolated staff entrances can all be a source of worry.' Usdaw said the survey 'gave us a clear picture of the problems members are having travelling to and from work. Now we know more about the problems, we'd like to help develop solutions so that more of our members feel safer on their journey to work.' The union has developed campaign materials to highlight the problem and to encourage members to turn to the union for help. In addition to posters and advice leaflets, the union is providing union reps with a short survey form so they can identify problems in their own workplace.

University condemned for safety 'nuisance' claims

The University of Sheffield has come under fire after labelling a union's call for adherence to health and safety regulations as a 'nuisance'. Lecturers' union UCU had told its members, who are working to rule as part of a pensions dispute, to be extra vigilant and 'to undertake no duties in breach of health and safety policies,' including refusing to use equipment that has not been safety-checked. But guidance issued by university managers says: 'Members of staff are encouraged to consider the implications of participating in such 'nuisance' activities both in terms of damaging the reputation and potential future success of the university, and in relation to areas such as health and safety regulations.' UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, commented: 'I find it extraordinary, even during a dispute, that an employer should describe health and safety as a nuisance. We will be writing to the Health and Safety Executive and asking them to take the matter up.' She added: 'This kind of macho strategy is all too typical and I urge the university to withdraw its briefing. Rather than down playing health and safety the university should be joining with us to get the national negotiations back on track so we can resolve this dispute as swiftly as possible.'

UCATT drives safety improvements at Kier

Construction union UCATT this week surveyed over 5,000 workers at housing maintenance specialist Kier's about their safety concerns. The activity on 26 October - National Inspection Day - is part of a long running campaign by the union. Following pressure from UCATT, Kier last week held the inaugural meeting of its national safety committee. The union's campaign was given additional impetus after the death in December 2009 of UCATT member Raymond Jessop, who worked for Kier's in Hull. He died after falling from a ladder while painting the outside of a house. As part of this week's survey, Kier workers were asked to identify the worst and best safety practice in their workplace and to suggest how safety could be improved. Steve Murphy, UCATT's Yorkshire regional secretary, said: 'This is a vitally important initiative, UCATT are ensuring that workers at Kier are fully involved in ensuring that their workplaces are safe.' He added: 'Where bad and dangerous practices are identified UCATT will swiftly ensure that workers safety is no longer put in danger.'

Occupational dermatitis led to lower paid job

A manual worker who developed a painful skin condition after being exposed to skin allergens at work has received £75,000 in compensation. Unite member Gary Rigby, 50, has had to move into a much lower paid job after being exposed to hexamine, a type of resin coated sand, in his job at pipe fitting manufacturer St Gobain PAM UK. The foundry worker's exposures occurred when he worked in the core shop of the Telford plant. Within three weeks his hands began to blister and soon the itchy and painful rash spread to his arms, chest, neck and feet. The 34-year veteran was provided with leather gloves and boots to wear in the foundry, but they failed to protect him from the irritant. His GP diagnosed work related dermatitis and he had to take two weeks off work. When he returned he was moved to another department until his skin cleared up. Six weeks later he was again exposed to the resin and had an allergic reaction, which led to him taking another two weeks off. Eventually the firm found him a warehouse job as a picker, which meant he was no longer exposed to the irritant. He is now stuck in a low paid job with no prospects of earning more. Solicitors brought in by Unite to pursue a compensation claim argued St Gobain should have undertaken a risk assessment which would have highlighted the need for proper protective equipment. The company settled the claim out of court. Stefan Blasczyk from Unite said: 'With fit for purpose gloves and footwear Mr Rigby would never have developed this skin condition. Now his years of experience on the factory floor are wasted, and the company has an overqualified warehouse picker.'

RMT to take action over Tube train safety

Tube train drivers are to refuse to follow what the union RMT considers to be 'cost-led' and dangerous new instructions from London Underground Limited (LUL). The decision came when members voted by a margin of four to one for industrial action over train safety. From 28 October, RMT train operators and instructors will not co-operate with the 'unsafe' and 'reckless' aspects of LUL's 'Operational Effectiveness Programme'. Instead the union 'will continue to use the proven safe procedures for reversing trains and carrying passengers over shunt signals.' The union says members will also refuse to follow an instruction to over-ride 'sensitive-edge' equipment that prevents trains on the 'sub-surface' lines moving off if a passenger or object is caught in the doors. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'London Underground is attempting to impose dangerous operational changes that are cost-led, will undermine established safety procedures and will put our members and the travelling public in potential danger. It is nothing short of reckless to expect drivers to over-ride door failsafe systems after a potentially fatal incident in which a passenger jumped from a moving train and another was caught in its open doors.' He added: 'These unsafe procedures are being bulldozed through in a dash for cuts, and to cover up the impact of reductions in station staff - and LUL has the gall to call it 'operational effectiveness'. We have tried to make LUL see sense, but it has continued to put cash and job cuts ahead of passenger safety and imposed these dangerous changes without agreement. But it is our members who have to deal with the consequences and they have voted by a huge majority for action that will keep maintain safety standards. LUL should pull back from the brink and start talking.'

Tube blueprint for 'safety carnage'

A leaked London Underground report is 'a blueprint for jobs and safety carnage,' the rail union RMT has said. The union said the confidential 'Operational Strategy' paper spells out cuts-led proposals that include the axing of more than 1,500 jobs and the introduction of automated, driverless trains. All ticket offices would close under the proposals, with just 30 stations having all-purpose 'travel centres'. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This document tells us everything we need to know about the operational strategy of London Underground - massive increase in fares alongside an unprecedented attack on jobs and safety. Every single ticket office would be closed, stations left unstaffed and drivers would be thrown out of their cabs without a single thought for passenger safety.' He added: 'In recent months we have seen from an escalation in cuts-led breakdowns just why the train and platform staff are so critical to safety on the system. This ill-conceived and finance-led document ignores reality in favour of austerity and would impact on every single staff member on London Underground. It would leave passengers stranded in tunnels with no means of evacuation and would turn the platforms and stations into a muggers and vandals paradise. RMT will work with our sister tube unions and passenger groups on a campaign to ensure that this document and its proposals are consigned to the dustbin of history.'

Save our railways campaign goes to parliament

Rail unions, passenger groups and community supporters descended on parliament on 25 October as part of a national campaign to stop the government from implementing the cost- and job-cutting recommendations of the McNulty Rail Review (Risks 528). A government response to the proposals, which would lead to dramatic job losses unions say will compromise both services and safety across the rail network, is thought to be imminent. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Staff and passengers have a common interest in resisting an attack that would wipe out safety-critical jobs, de-staff trains and stations and jack up fares in the name of private profit. We all have a stake in stopping this carve-up dead in its tracks.' He told a rally McNulty's report seeks to create a 'humanless' railway with stations and platforms set to be staffed by fewer and in some cases no staff at all. Manuel Cortes, TSSA assistant general secretary, said the proposals 'make no sense and are driven by political dogma.' Frances O'Grady, TUC deputy general secretary, also opposed the McNulty reforms. 'The choice is simple,' she said. 'We urge the government to put the interests of taxpayers and passengers first and put an end to the disastrous privatisation experiment on our railways.'

Other news

Bladder cancer strikes 30 years after exposure ends

A man from Yorkshire developed occupational bladder cancer three decades after being exposed to dangerous chemicals at work. The 57-year-old from Leeds, whose name has not been released, was exposed to harmful chemicals whilst working for Hickson and Welsh, a chemical manufacturer in Castleford. Starting at the firm aged 15, he trained and then worked as a mechanical engineer from 1969 to 1978 and was exposed to dangerous fumes on a daily basis. He was never provided with a face mask nor warned of the health risks of working with dangerous chemicals. The firm is known to have used chemicals linked to bladder cancer, including methylene bis orthochloroaniline (MbOCA). He left the firm in 1978 to work for British Coal. In April 2008 he began to notice blood in his urine and was subsequently diagnosed with bladder cancer. He has since received chemotherapy but has been told he has a 50 per cent chance of the cancer reoccurring. He said: 'Over the years many of my former colleagues have suffered from bladder cancer as a result of their work and though it had been hanging over me it was still a shock when I was diagnosed. I feel let down and angry that we were allowed to be exposed without any protection to chemicals that were dangerous enough to cause us ill-health.' Law firm Thompsons secured an undisclosed provisional settlement out of court which allows him to make a further claim if his cancer comes back. Solicitor Marion Voss said: 'Exposure to certain chemicals can increase the chances of bladder cancer and workers at Hickson and Welsh during the same time as our client are in the group at risk.' She added: 'The provisional settlement means he can make a further claim for compensation to recognise the very serious consequences for him if the cancer does return.' The Health and Safety Executive's 'conservative' estimates indicate that over 500 people develop occupational bladder cancer each year, and around 250 people die of the work-related condition.

Vital clues sought in PVC cancer death

A widow is appealing for her late husband's former work colleagues to come forward and help with an investigation after he died of a cancer linked to exposure to chemicals used when making PVC. Geoffrey Osborne died on 1 August 2010 after a battle with angiosarcoma of the liver, aged 58. Although angiosarcoma is an uncommon disease, it is seen in people who work with PVC plastic - especially if they have been exposed to vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), the raw material for the manufacture of PVC. The family's lawyers believe it is possible that Mr Osborne was exposed to VCM while working at Rotherham bath manufacturer William Heaton & Co Ltd. Mr Osborne worked at the company for two years as a labourer from 1967-1968. Janet Osborne, who lived with her husband in Rawmarsh near Rotherham, said: 'It's devastating to think his death may have been caused by nothing more than carrying out his daily duties at work. During his time at the company Geoff worked as a labourer on the construction of baths, and this included filling bath moulds and clearing up. It is likely that the baths were made from PVC, and it is possible that he was exposed to VCM.' Denis O'Gorman, an industrial illness expert at Irwin Mitchell, the law firm representing the family, said: 'Angiosarcoma of the liver is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. PVC is a widely produced plastic which is used extensively to manufacture household goods, and it is concerning to think how many other people may suffer as a result of exposure to VMC.'

Seven years after Morecambe Bay, cocklers still at risk

Cocklers have had to be rescued from the Ribble estuary in Lancashire 23 times since its cocklebeds were opened in September. RNLI lifeboat crews had to tow a boat with five cocklers on board back to shore on Wednesday this week after the vessel's engine failed in bad weather. Two days earlier, two helicopters, four lifeboats and two coastguard crews were used to save three boats. There have been fears among locals of a repeat of the Morecambe Bay tragedy. Twenty-three Chinese cocklers drowned in the bay in February 2004, a tragedy that prompted the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and that led to a gangmaster receiving a 14-year jail term for manslaughter (Risks 250). Fylde Conservative MP Mark Menzies this week called for cockling in the estuary to be banned unless greater controls are introduced. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the North Western Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority (NWIFCA) limited the number of cocklers in the estuary and all permit holders had to be fully trained in health and safety. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority is investigating whether gangmasters were involved in the recent incidents. The cockle bed at Foulnaze near Lytham, attracts about 300 cocklers a day. Their hauls can fetch up to £1,200 a tonne at fish markets.

Bad bosses are bad for business

Employers that neglect concerns about trust in senior leaders, stress in the workplace or job satisfaction risk losing key staff, new research has concluded. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD) quarterly Employee Outlook survey has found that employees are much more likely to be among the 22 per cent currently looking for a new employer if they express low trust in their senior managers, are dissatisfied with their job or are under excessive pressure every day. Only 8 per cent of employees that are satisfied with their job are looking for a new employer, compared to 57 per cent of dissatisfied employees. People who face excessive pressure in their jobs on a daily basis are almost twice as likely to be looking for a new job (39 per cent) than those who only experience excessive pressure once or twice a month (21 per cent). CIPD's Claire McCartney commented: 'Trust forms a key part of the employment relationship and if employees feel there is a gap between what directors say and do, or that there is a lack of transparency or fairness in terms of how people are recognised and rewarded, they are likely to feel disenchanted. The openness, quality and frequency of communication from the top is also critical to trust, as is the extent to which any consultation is meaningful and happens before decisions are taken.'

Firm failed to protect workers from asthma risk

A South Tyneside company has been prosecuted for putting workers' health at risk by exposing them to a potent cause of occupational asthma. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation at Variable Message Signs Limited after an inspector visited the company's premises in Hebburn and identified serious failings in the way the company was controlling the risk of employees developing occupational asthma during soldering work. South Tyneside Magistrates' Court heard soldering was carried out by test engineers carrying out repairs using rosin based solder flux, the fumes of which are known to be a significant cause of occupational asthma. Workers soldered for up to four hours a day with no extraction system in place, despite previous advice from HSE. Magistrates were told the company had failed to consider whether an alternative, less hazardous solder could be used and the control measures needed when using rosin based solder flux. The company has since moved to the use of rosin-free solder. The company also failed to provide appropriate health surveillance, a legal requirement when employees are exposed to substances capable of causing occupational asthma. Variable Message Signs Ltd pleaded guilty to three criminal breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and was fined £5,500 and ordered to pay £4,291.25 in costs.

TV stonemason is done for dust

A stonemasonry business has been fined for exposing workers to potentially deadly stone dust after a viewer spotted its dangerous practices on a BBC television programme. Atelier 109 Limited featured in March 2010 in the BBC2 series Mastercrafts, presented by Monty Don. After the programme, a viewer contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to express concern over inadequate precautions to protect Atelier workers from dust that can cause serious lung diseases. HSE inspectors visited the company's workshop in May 2010 and served an improvement notice compelling Atelier to take action immediately to cut exposure to stonemasonry dust to within the legal limit. When a further check was made, it was clear that, although improvements had been made, the ventilation system still had not been thoroughly examined and tested, so a second improvement notice was served on 12 February 2011. A third HSE visit on 16 June this year found that the action recommended had still not been carried out, despite earlier tests revealing that dust levels for employees were up to three times the official limit. Atelier pleaded guilty at Peterborough Magistrates' Court to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,400.10. After the hearing, HSE inspector Alison Ashworth said: 'We understand the pressure that small businesses are under and this company was given ample opportunity on a number of occasions to make the necessary improvements. HSE only brought this prosecution when it became clear that the company was dragging its heels and failing to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserved.'

Chicken firm's safety bypass led to injuries

A major European food business producing raw and prepared chicken products has been fined £230,000 after two incidents at its Suffolk factory, one of which led to an employee losing his right hand. Night shift supervisor Shaun Alexander, 42, was helping a member of his team to clean equipment at the 2 Sisters Food Group's plant at Flixton in December 2009 when his hand was pulled into two rotating cogs and crushed. He lost four fingers, part of his thumb and some of the palm of his right hand. A month later, in January 2010, forklift driver Malcolm Raven, 54, was left in charge of a pre-slaughter area for chickens. He entered an enclosure to clear a blockage and his arm was trapped and broken. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found a safety guard had been removed from equipment Mr Alexander was cleaning when his hand was injured. HSE inspectors also found a device had been fitted to override a safety control in the system Mr Raven was clearing when he was injured. At Norwich Crown Court, 2 Sisters Food Group admitted two criminal safety offences and was fined £230,000 and ordered to pay costs of £24,350. After the hearing, HSE inspector Julie Jarvey said: 'Both these incidents were wholly avoidable. Shaun Alexander was failed by the company's lack of proper training, inadequate assessment of risks, absence of safe working practices and effective measures stopping access to dangerous equipment. He will have to live with the consequences of someone else's mistakes for the rest of his life.' She added: 'Malcolm Raven's injuries could have been much more serious. Similar failings were shown up in his case, made worse by the fact that he hadn't been properly trained for a task that was outside his normal working duties.'

Food worker injured in unguarded machine

A food processing firm has been sentenced after one of its employees suffered serious injuries in a machine that had gone unguarded for more than a decade. The worker, who has asked not to be named, needed a metal plate in her left arm after it became caught in a potato blanching machine at the Bakkavor Foods Ltd plant in Ince, where the multinational packages salads and fresh vegetables for major supermarket chains. Trafford Magistrates' Court heard the 22-year-old hygiene worker dislocated her elbow and broke three bones in her arm after it became caught between a conveyor belt and rollers on 28 June 2010. She was off work for eight months. The HSE investigation found that the machine had been used without a guard for more than a decade, and that the rollers were regularly cleaned while they were still spinning. Bakkavor Foods Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,026 in prosecution costs. Helen Mansfield, the investigating inspector at HSE, commented: 'A young worker has suffered a life-long injury that could easily have been prevented if Bakkavor had put more thought into the safety of its employees. Sadly the machine had been operated without a guard for more than ten years, making it almost inevitable that someone would be injured if they came into contact with the dangerous moving parts. The company has now installed a simple mesh guard over the rollers which means they can be cleaned without the risk of workers' arms being dragged in.'

Knee-kicker damaged carpet fitter's knee

A carpet fitter has had to give up his job after suffering an occupational knee injury. The worker, whose name has not been released, required surgery on his right knee as a result of using a 'knee-kicker', a standard piece of equipment used to stretch and fit carpets. His solicitors argued he had not been provided equipment that could be used safely. He was required to use the top of his right knee to forcefully strike the pad on the knee-kicker in order to stretch the carpet. This caused or contributed to the development of pre-patellar tendonitis, with the injury subsequently requiring surgery. His lawyers argued the employer had failed to comply with requirements of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and failed to consider the risks of the work. He was unable to return to work as a carpet fitter, but has since found alternative full time employment. Simpson Millar personal injury lawyer Emma Roberts commented: 'Liability was denied throughout and the medical evidence on this case was complicated and establishing causation was difficult, but we met with our client and the expert to address these issues and work out a way forward. We stayed strong even when his employer tried to diminish our client's credibility which was unfounded.' He was awarded £6,250 in compensation for his injuries.

International News

New Zealand: Global backing for safe fishing regulation

A call for a complete overhaul of the way the fishing industry is regulated in New Zealand and beyond is being backed by the global transport workers' union federation ITF. Unions in the country have been pushing for action following the case of the Oyang 75, a Korean fishing vessel abandoned in Lyttleton, New Zealand, with the Indonesian crew claiming underpayment and physical and verbal abuse. Twenty six charges against Korean officers have resulted from an investigation by the New Zealand ministry of fisheries into the case. Reports say the ship was chartered by Christchurch based Southern Storm Fishing, the same company who chartered the Oyang 70 which sank off the coast of New Zealand in 2010, killing six crew members. An official inquiry into the foreign charter of vessels in the New Zealand fishing industry began on 17 October. The Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) is using the opportunity to call for the phasing out of foreign charter vessels, which it says are often hotbeds for sweatshop conditions and safety contraventions. Jon Whitlow, ITF seafarers' section secretary, commented: 'We support our New Zealand affiliates in their efforts to bring about a change in fisheries regulations. But we believe it is not just New Zealand authorities that need to act. The authorities of other countries with sizeable fishing fleets should also take appropriate action to improve working and living conditions on board fishing vessels, including through full consideration and implementation of the recently adopted International Labour Organisation (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention No 188, 2007.' The convention calls for workers in the sector to have access to occupational health and safety and medical care and to have protection from excessive working hours.

USA: Union accuses mine firm of 'industrial homicide'

The US mine workers' union UMWA has accused Massey Energy Co and its managers of 'industrial homicide' for creating the conditions behind the 5 April 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at a southern West Virginia coal mine. The union says there were many factors that led up to the deadly blast, but the union's scathing 'Industrial Homicide' report concludes 'there is only one source for all of them' - a 'rogue corporation' that established conditions 'that can only be described as a bomb waiting to go off.' The union charges that the company established a working environment where, operating through subterfuge, fear and intimidation, management prevented any opportunity for the workers to know the full range of dangerous conditions in the mine, or to effectively protest about them even if they did know. The report concludes that Massey Energy 'must be held accountable for the death of each of the 29 miners.' It adds: 'Theirs is not a guilt of omission, but rather, based on the facts publicly available. The union believes that Massey Energy and its management were on notice of and recklessly tolerated mining conditions so egregious that the resulting disaster constituted a massive slaughter in the nature of an industrial homicide.'

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