Risks 531 - 12 November 2011

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

Union News

UCU survey find stress is getting worse

Stress levels in further and higher education are on the rise, according to a new report published by the union UCU. A survey of UCU members found four-fifths (81 per cent) of those working in universities reported their job was job stressful in 2010 compared to threequarters (74 per cent) in 2008. For college staff, 84 per cent found their job stressful in 2010 compared to 80 per cent in 2008. In universities, staff said a lack of time to undertake research and excessive workloads were the main reasons behind the increase in anxiety. College staff said excessive workloads was the top problem, with two-fifths (39 per cent) reporting they were often or always set unachievable deadlines. UCU's report, 'The growing epidemic: Work-related stress in post-16 education', found that the well-being of staff was considerably lower than recommendations from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in a number of key areas, including support from managers. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said it was 'not acceptable' that at least four-fifths of university and college staff found their jobs stressful. Universities and colleges 'are getting a reputation as stressful places to work and this report reveals that the problem is getting worse,' she said.

ASLEF dismisses driverless trains 'fantasy'

Train drivers' union ASLEF has said the Transport for London (TfL) board is 'living in a fantasy world' if it believes it can introduce driverless Tube trains in the next eight years. The union's general secretary Keith Norman said: 'They say that trains will be able to do without drivers because of the technological advances in signalling. Have they never been on a Tube station in their lives?', he questioned. 'Every time you go to catch a train there are announcements of delays somewhere on the network because of signalling failures. To put the safety of millions of passengers a year in the tender hands of a system that doesn't work would be folly of titanic proportions.' One suggestion being considered by the TfL board is the replacement of Tube train drivers by 'train captains'. 'More like Titanic captains,' snapped the union leader. 'I'd like to invite the Board back to planet Earth. I'd like to see them talking about present day problems that affect millions of London passengers today - and not waste time considering an implausible future with make-believe signalling systems.' He added that passengers would 'simply not accept' an underground transport system where their safety was reliant on signals that fail every day, without the fail-safe of a human being at the front of the cab ready to react to emergencies. 'Our Tube drivers are often the difference between a safe journey and a disaster. On their return to this planet, I hope Transport for London's Board will remember that.' RMT warned last week that a 'lethal combination' of cuts and automation similar to that being pushed through on the Tube led to a deadly crash on the Washington DC Metro system (Risks 530). Driverless trains were ditched in DC after nine people died in the two-train smash.

RMT demands an end to 'dangerous' Tube plan

London Underground (LUL) plans to halve the frequency of maintenance checks on Metropolitan line Tube trains to once every two months, the union RMT has discovered. It says the company wants to press ahead with the move despite a manufacturer's report that warned the safety implications of doing so had not been considered. RMT says this 'latest evidence of dangerous LUL cost-cutting' comes on the heels of the revelation that the inspections of the 'tripcock' fail-safe equipment on the same trains would be slashed from daily to every 60 days (Risks 528). The union, which is demanding the plans are dropped, says it was cuts to inspections and a dash for automation that led to the deaths of nine people in 2009 on the Washington DC Metro (Risks 530).The union adds that a study of maintenance on the new S8 stock by the manufacturer Bombardier 'flatly contradicts LUL's assertion that the trains were designed for a 60-day maintenance cycle and that a 30-day cycle was an interim measure.' The September 2011 study noted the more frequent checks developed and agreed with LUL were intended 'to mitigate identified safety risks.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This is yet more damning evidence of LUL's increasingly cavalier attitude towards the safety of passengers and staff in its blind determination to cut costs on all fronts. RMT has already warned that it was the poisonous cocktail of cuts and automation that led to the nine deaths on the Washington DC Metro in 2009 and that we will fight any dilution of Tube safety in London to the hilt.' He added: 'LUL told our fleet safety reps that these trains were designed for a 60-day maintenance regime, yet the trains' makers say quite clearly that that has not even been considered.'

FBU wants hybrid vehicles taken out of service

South Yorkshire fire crews have asked for controversial new vehicles to be taken out of service until a full investigation into serious safety failures has been completed. The union says there are 'a host of safety concerns' with the vehicles, known as CARPs - Combined Aerial Rescue Pump. They are a cross between a traditional fire engine and a high reach rescue platform. The union says they have been dogged by problems since they came into use in the UK and they are too heavy for use on UK roads (Risks 527). FBU issued a 'safety critical notice' on 3 November to South Yorkshire fire service. Crews in the region are now refusing to use the rescue platform on the hybrid vehicle 'until such a time as they are deemed safe'. The union has called for the vehicles to be taken out of use until a full investigation into the failures is complete. Sarah Eratt, South Yorkshire FBU brigade chair, said: 'There are three other vehicles we can use for high reach rescues. But fire crews have been warned if these are used the fire service will remove a standard fire engine from use. This is a reckless approach. Fire crews have genuine health and safety concerns in using these appliances and fear that the problems experienced could put the crews, and members of the public, in grave danger.'

Video displays drop on office worker

A fire service control worker who suffered multiple injuries when four wall-mounted video display panels fell on her has received compensation. The 46-year-old GMB member, whose name has not been released, was injured in the London Fire Service Control Room in June 2008.The panels were behind her and fell off without warning, landing on her head, shoulders and ankles. She was left with a deep cut to her left ankle which has resulted in a two inch scar. She also suffered injuries to her head, neck and shoulders and she had to take three weeks off work. She still suffers from pain in her neck and shoulders requiring strong painkillers and physiotherapy. Lawyers brought in by GMB to act in the case discovered the screens had never been properly fixed to the wall because of access problems. They secured an undisclosed sum in compensation. GMB regional secretary Paul Hayes commented: 'A job was left half done because it appeared too difficult to complete it properly. This was a fundamental failure of health and safety procedures.'

Cancer strikes 66 years after first exposure

A former union official who was first exposed to asbestos when he was just 16 years old has received 'substantial compensation' after developing mesothelioma. Dennis Jones, 82, was exposed to asbestos whilst working as an apprentice for Crewe Locomotive Works from 1945. Mr Jones, went on to become a full-time union official for Amicus, now part of Unite. He was diagnosed with the asbestos cancer in July this year after attending his GP complaining of breathlessness. He said: 'I was shocked and devastated when I was given the news. Many of my former workmates have passed away from asbestos related disease. As a retired trade union official I thought of the union first when deciding where to turn for advice. I decided to claim compensation so that my wife is provided for in the future.' Unite regional secretary Paul Finegan commented: 'Unite stepped in immediately to help this long-standing member and former official in his time of need. Sadly too many of our members suffer as a result of their negligent exposure to asbestos in the workplace. The union's free legal service is available to all our current and retired members who develop asbestos related illness.'

Other news

Grayrigg tragedy exposes rail's profit-led system

A Network Rail management system more concerned with bonuses and profits and where maintenance took a back seat have been clearly exposed by the Grayrigg tragedy, unions have said. Speaking out after an inquest jury found poorly-maintained points were to blame for causing the death of an elderly woman in the train crash in Cumbria, the union RMT called for a public inquiry into the management and operations of Network Rail. Margaret Masson, 84, from Glasgow, died after the Virgin train derailed on the West Coast Main Line, in February 2007. The train went over a 'degraded' set of points at 92 mph and careered down an embankment, leaving 88 people injured. RMT general secretary Bob Crow commented: 'It is now crystal clear that too many political careers and financial incentives for senior management depended on meeting deadlines regardless of safety considerations. Pressure for faster and more frequent trains, and the financial penalties for Network Rail and its executives' pay of any delays, led to unacceptable pressure on staff.' He added: 'There remain systemic problems which have failed to be addressed since this derailment. We cannot wait for another derailment and another inquest to deal with these issues and now need an urgent public inquiry.'' TSSA deputy general secretary Manuel Cortes said: 'We have been warning ministers and the media for some five years now about the bully boy style of management that our members have been working under at Network Rail. It directly created the conditions which allowed this tragedy to unfold at Grayrigg. Cost cutting, staff under resourced and under pressure, all so the bosses could collect their huge annual bonuses.'

Scottish business lobby has concerns for HSE

Scotland's business lobby is facing a quandary about health and safety, torn between concern about the rapidly diminishing support provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and its more traditional opposition to regulatory controls. In evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) said it was concerned by the prospect of an 'increasing disconnect' between the HSE and businesses operating in lower or medium-risk sectors. Giving evidence to the Committee on 26 October, the SCC's head of policy and public affairs, Garry Clark, told MPs that larger companies often have good and long-standing relationships with the HSE, and are backed by teams of dedicated health and safety staff; by contrast, smaller firms rarely have such support. SHP Online, produced by safety professionals' body IOSH, reports Clark told the committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the health and safety system in Scotland, a reduced HSE profile 'will make businesses more likely to have false perceptions of the weight of health and safety legislation and what impact it could have on their business.' According to SHP Online: 'This suggestion that curbs on regulatory inspections could actually cloud the legislative landscape for lower-risk firms and smaller businesses, rather than freeing them to expand and take on staff, would seem to blow a big hole in the government's policy on reducing so-called health and safety red tape.' Both SCC and the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) had worries about HSE's new charging regime, due to take effect next year. CIA's Phil Scott told the committee: 'There will be less clarity about when an inspector will come, what they will be looking at, and whether or not there will be a charge at the end. Most small to medium-sized businesses will not have a budget for this, so they will be faced with charges at a month's notice, on a month's invoice. They could be paying quite significant sums of money.'

Dad still angry 10 years after son's death

The father of a steelworker killed in an explosion 10 years ago says he is still angry nobody has ever been brought to justice. Michael Hutin's 20-year-old son Andrew was one of three workers who died at the Corus plant in Port Talbot on 8 November 2001. Corus paid £3m in fines and costs for breaching health and safety laws (Risks 288) but Mr Hutin, a member of the campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), said no individuals were ever held accountable (Risks 232). The blast victims were Andrew Hutin, 20, Stephen Galsworthy, 25 and Len Radford, 53. Twelve men were also injured at the Corus plant, which was taken over by Indian firm Tata Steel in 2007.

Speaking this week ahead of a memorial service to mark the tenth anniversary of the deaths, Michael Hutin, who now works in the safety department at the steelworks, said he was still angry and frustrated that no individual was ever prosecuted. 'We haven't had justice,' he said. 'Ultimately I always expected that the persons who made the decisions - it wasn't Tata who made the decisions or Corus, as it was - it was the individuals working for the company. I expected those individuals to pay for the wrongdoings.'

Safety fears lead to cockle beds closures

Cockle beds off the Lancashire and Wirral coast have closed after authorities passed an emergency byelaw. The emergency services have been called out at least 26 times since the Ribble Estuary bed opened on 1 September (Risks 529). Fishing regulators ordered the closure to take effect from 7 November to avoid further emergencies. The Wirral beds have been closed to prevent displacement of fishers from the Ribble and to protect the remaining stock in the area. The North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority said it was responding to advice from Fylde Council, Lancashire police, the coastguard and other regulatory bodies. Following the closure, it is a criminal offence to fish or attempt to fish for cockles in either bed. Anyone doing so risks a fine of £50,000. There have been fears among local residents, the police and the coastguard agency of a repeat of the Morecambe Bay disaster. Twenty-three Chinese cockle pickers drowned in the bay in 2004.

NWIFCA letter of notification to cocklers [pdf] and emergency byelaw [pdf]. BBC News Online.

Industrial waste firm caused permanent injuries

A firm that treats industrial waste has been fined after one of its employees suffered life-threatening injuries when he was hit by a forklift truck. Collier Industrial Waste Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the 35-tonne vehicle reversed into a worker at its plant in Trafford Park on 14 January 2010. The 60-year-old from Wirral suffered severe injuries in the incident, including damage to internal organs and multiple broken bones. He was in hospital for several months and has suffered some permanent injuries. An HSE investigation found the company did not have sufficient systems in place to protect workers from reversing vehicles on the site. Collier Industrial Waste Ltd admitted a breach of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 by failing to make sure pedestrians and vehicles could work safely. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £9,410 in prosecution costs at Trafford Magistrates' Court in Sale on 4 November 2011. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Daniel Longdon said: 'This was an entirely preventable incident which could have cost one of Collier's employees his life. There were several systems the company could have introduced to make sure workers were not put at risk by moving vehicles. Most of these would have been simple and inexpensive. If another worker had stood on the ground to guide the forklift truck as it reversed then this incident could have been avoided.'

Labourer burnt in football ground fireball

A labourer was badly burned in a gas explosion at Macclesfield Town's training ground. Local Stephen Rowley, 43, suffered burns to his face, neck and both arms at Egerton Youth Club in Knutsford on 18 September 2009. His employer, Paul Leonard, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation into the cause of the explosion. Macclesfield Magistrates' Court heard Mr Leonard had been hired to repair a septic tank, and had arranged for a trench to be dug out to gain access. Mr Rowley was using a power tool in the trench to remove damaged pipework from the tank, when the digger operator struck an underground pipe containing liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Sparks from the power tool set alight the leaking gas and created a fireball in the trench. Mr Rowley's clothes were set on fire and he had to struggle out of the trench and then roll in the grass to put out the flames. The court was told Mr Leonard had left the workers unsupervised when the gas pipe was struck. Paul Leonard was found guilty of a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 after he failed to plan, manage and monitor the construction work safely. He was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £3,500 in prosecution costs. HSE investigating inspector Catherine Willars commented: 'Stephen Rowley could easily have been killed in the gas explosion. Luckily he has now been able to return to work, following lengthy treatment as a result of his injuries.'

Community service for 'frightening' roofers

Two roofers have received suspended sentences after a Derbyshire office worker was injured when a roll of roofing felt crashed through the ceiling of her office. Kathleen Philipson was sitting at her desk when the metre-long, 37kg roll fell through a roof light and came through the ceiling, hitting her on the shoulder. She was taken to hospital with injuries to her head, shoulder and left arm and was off work for two weeks following the incident on 22 September 2010. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found contractor Jason Lunt allowed re-felting work to start on the flat roof before adequate protection had been installed. It meant that as Gregory Wright, a self-employed roofer contracted by Mr Lunt, moved one of around six rolls of roof felt that were stood up on the roof, another one toppled over and fell through an unguarded roof light. Jason Lunt, 41, and Gregory Wright, also 41, pleaded guilty at Derby Magistrates' Court to criminal safety offences. They both received sentences of 18 weeks, suspended for 12 months on the condition that they complete 280 hours of community service. In addition they were each ordered to pay £2,114 costs. HSE inspector Lee Greatorex said: 'Mrs Philipson was extremely lucky not to have suffered more severe injuries. This was a frightening experience for her, but it could have been easily prevented had greater care been taken.'

Firm fined for not insuring itself

A kitchen and bedroom furniture manufacturer from Corby has been fined for failing to insure the company against liability for employee injury or disease. When Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors visited Alina Trade Limited's premises in the town on 2 March 2011, the company was unable to produce a certificate of Employers' Liability Compulsory Insurance (ELCI). Employers are required to hold this insurance by law. Corby magistrates heard that despite letters, and issuing a formal 'notice to produce' the ELCI certificate, Alina Trade did not provide the legally-required documentation. HSE visited the company for a second time on 8 June, and again it was unable to produce a certificate. The company pleaded guilty to contravening the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 and was fined £2,000 with £1,567 in costs. Following the hearing, HSE inspector Sally Harris said: 'Alina Trade Limited had many opportunities to produce a valid insurance certificate, so many in fact the firm appeared to be deliberately flouting the law. Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees when they are at work. While the law expects active steps to be taken to protect workers, if an employee does suffer harm then Employers' Liability Compulsory Insurance ensures that any justifiable civil claim by an employee can be met.'

Vehicle recovery firm fined for taking no notice

A vehicle recovery business has been fined for using an unsafe forklift truck after being served with an official prohibition notice barring its use. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted John Lang, sole trader of J Lang 24HR Recovery, over the illegal use of the forklift truck, which took place at 3.20pm on Wednesday 19 January 2011. City of London Magistrates' Court heard that HSE inspectors witnessed Mr Lang driving the forklift truck, having served at notice at 10.45am on 19 January because the lifting equipment had not been thoroughly examined by a competent person. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Gavin Pugh said: 'Prohibition notices are issued when HSE inspectors consider there to be a risk of serious personal injury arising from any work activity. The breach of a prohibition notice is one of the most serious matters in health and safety law.' Offenders can be jailed. John Lang pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,500.

International News

Global: Dock operator must live up to fine words

One of the 'big four' global network terminal (GNT) dockside operators has been urged to prove its public corporate responsibility commitment by improving dock health and safety. The company DP World has won a string of accolades, including a Lloyd's List corporate responsibility award in September. In an open letter to DP World on 28 October, Frank Leys, the dockers' section secretary of the global transport unions' federation ITF, congratulated the company on winning the awards and reminded DP World of its duty of care to its own workers. He said: 'Having heard DP World management speak about their pride at being honoured with, not only the Lloyd's List award, but also more recently the Seatrade Middle East and Indian subcontinent container terminal operator award, the ITF is confident that the company will be eager to continue its work to improve health and safety in ports in all regions, in consultation with union representatives.' He added: 'The ITF takes great encouragement from DP World's strong and public display of commitment to external corporate responsibility and is now calling on the company to apply the same standards within the terminals it operates.' In response, the company reaffirmed its commitment to implementing safe working practices. The ITF's GNT campaign is pushing for the world's 'big four' GNT operators to put into practice a set of global standards on health and safety in all ports.

USA: DuPont victimised safety whistleblower

Chemical giant DuPont Co victimised a worker who raised concerns about potentially deadly safety problems in a chemical reactor. A New Jersey Superior Court ruled this week in favour of John 'Jack' Seddon, and a $500,000 (£312,000) punitive damage settlement awarded by a lower court in a whistleblower lawsuit. The former chemical plant operator sued the chemical conglomerate, alleging he faced retaliation after he raised concerns with the official safety watchdog OSHA in 2003 about what he believed was a potential public safety hazard in a phosgene reactor. 'DuPont should be ashamed of itself,' said Seddon's attorney Neil Mullin. 'They should apologise to Mr Seddon and the surrounding community.' Mullin claimed that if the reactor had blown up there would have been a great loss of life. From 2003 to 2005, Seddon alleged that DuPont retaliated against him for making an OSHA complaint by cutting his overtime, reducing his work hours, changing his shifts, and giving him poor performance evaluations. The company, which is a major promoter of the behavioural safety approach that has been strongly criticised by unions, said it was 'extremely disappointed' with the decision. DuPont spokesperson Daniel Turner added: 'The respect, safety and health of our employees, our neighbours and our community continues to be our most important priority. We look forward to putting this matter behind us.' In July this year, DuPont's serious safety failing were highlighted in a report by the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) following an investigation into the death of Carl Fish, 58, who was sprayed with phosgene at the company's Belle facility in West Virginia (Risks 514). UK union Unite this year launched a campaign warning members of the dangers of behavioural safety systems (Risks 509).

USA: Mine safety crackdown hasn't hurt growth

An official safety crackdown in the US mining sector has not impeded the industry's growth or harmed profits, a top official with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has said. MSHA director Joe Main said from April 2010 to June 2011, the number of underground mining employees grew by about 11 per cent. There was also an eight per cent increase in the number of new mining units, meaning either new operations or expansions of existing mines, in the past fiscal year. Main, a former mining union safety specialist, said the industry's expansion demonstrates that strategic, targeted safety initiatives can work. 'We've applied tools that are effective on safety but also don't deter growth,' he said. In his two years at the head of MSHA, Main has stepped up inspections of mines with a history of problems and creating criteria for identifying, listing and delisting violators. He has also bolstered the number and the training of inspectors, expanded worker safety programmes and put resources into the prevention of miners' lung, or black lung disease. 'We're not in a perfect world,' he said, 'but I'm saying that all these things, in totality, have to be helping. The programmes that we've implemented, the actions that we have taken have served to improve the safety in this country. Are we where we need to be? No. Is every mine at the same level? No.'

Zambia: Persistent safety abuses at Chinese-owned mines

Chinese-run copper mines in Zambia are dangerously unsafe and owners routinely flout the rights of workers, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report, 'You'll be fired if you refuse,' highlights 'persistent abuses' in the Chinese state-owned mines. HRW found miners had to work 12-hour shifts often in fume-filled tunnels, with the working day sometimes extended to 18 hours. The report said that despite improvements in recent years, safety and labour conditions at Chinese mines were worse than at other foreign-owned mines. The state-owned China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNM) runs four copper mines in Zambia. 'China's significant investment in Zambia's copper mining industry can benefit both Chinese and Zambians,' said Daniel Bekele, the Africa director at Human Rights Watch. 'But the miners in Chinese-run companies have been subject to abusive health, safety and labour conditions and long-time government indifference.' The report is based on interviews with 170 copper miners, more than half of whom worked for the Chinese companies. The workers said they often had to buy their own safety equipment. 'Sometimes when you find yourself in a dangerous position, they tell you to go ahead with the work,' one miner told Human Rights Watch. 'They just consider production, not safety. If someone dies, he can be replaced tomorrow. And if you report the problem, you'll lose your job.' HRW says Zambia's newly elected president, Michael Sata, a long-time critic of the Chinese labour practices, should act on his campaign promises to end the abuse and improve government regulation of the mining industry to ensure that all companies respect Zambia's labour laws.

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