Risks 536 - 17 December 2011

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

Risks returns on 7 January 2012 * Have a happy, safe and healthy new year!

Union News

Union fears after site deaths upturn

Construction union UCATT has warned that a rise in construction deaths is 'deeply troubling' as it as it has occurred at a time of depressed activity in the industry. There were 50 construction fatalities in 2010/11, a 22 per cent increase on the previous 12 months. According to the union: 'The rise in fatalities was particularly disturbing as the industry remains in the doldrums with workloads relatively low, it is feared that as activity increases, deaths will further rise.' George Guy, the union's acting general secretary, commented: 'The steep rise in construction fatalities is deeply troubling especially given that there has been no obvious recovery in the construction industry. Given the government's policies of cutting back on the funding of the Health and Safety Executive and plans to cut crucial safety regulations, it is likely that deaths will rise.' He added: 'As the industry recovers from recession it is almost certain that without adequate enforcement and inspection regimes the number of deaths will increase.'

Railway worker loses legs and his job

A railway worker who lost both legs and his job after he was run over by a train has received £750,000 in compensation. The ASLEF member from Harlow, whose name has not been released, has been medically retired since the traumatic incident in August 2007. He was on the ground helping a driver shunt a train, as part of his job for EWS at Harlow Hill train yard. His legs came in contact with the train and were severed below the knee. He has since learned to walk again, using prosthetic limbs. Faced with a union backed compensation claim, EWS admitted 65 per cent responsibility for the incident and settled the claim out of court. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers' union ASLEF, said: 'Our member should have been provided with appropriate training which may have prevented this from happening.' Gwen Kirby Dent from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to act in the case, added: 'This member has suffered a horrific accident resulting in the loss of his legs but he has shown bravery and determination in dealing with his injuries. This compensation will enable him to make significant adaptations so he can continue to lead a full life.'


Engineer compensated after fall through roof

A Unite member who lost his job after he seriously damaged his arm when he fell through a roof at work has received more than £164,000 in compensation. The 66-year-old from Shrewsbury, who had to take medical retirement as a result of his injuries, was installing CCTV cameras at Lime Street train station in Liverpool as part of his role as a commissioning engineer with Siemens. To complete the job the worker, whose name has not been released, needed to access a junction box on the station's roof. He was given permission by Network Rail to access the roof via a shop within the station, but as he stepped on the shop's internal roof it collapsed. He landed four feet below on top of a fridge and smashed the ball of his right shoulder in three places. The roof was only an aluminium frame and there were no warning signs. The engineer, who needed emergency surgery, hadn't been given appropriate working at height training by Siemens. He now has restricted movement in his arm and is in constant pain. Following the incident he had to sleep upright for 16 months due to the pain. Siemens admitted liability but blamed Network Rail for the incident. At a joint settlement hearing both firms agreed to a payout of over £164,000. Unite's Mick Stevens commented: 'This member was let down by both his employer and Network Rail. He should have been given the correct training by his employer to make it safe for him to work at height and Network Rail should have advised him that the roof was unstable. A combination of poor communication and sheer negligence has led to a hard working man being forced to take medical retirement.'

Railway worker was traumatised by gun attack

A railway worker who was threatened at gunpoint by a robber suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. The RMT member has now received a £45,550 payout from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for the effects of the terrifying ordeal in August 2006. The 50-year-old, whose name has not been released, was helping a colleague to close the ticket office for the night at a station in Kent when a fake gun was held to his head by serial armed robber Richard Mcdonald. Mcdonald had walked out of an open prison just days earlier and had recruited his cousin Edward Woodbridge, who was armed with a butcher's knife, to help rob the station. Both men were later arrested and pleaded guilty to robbery and possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offence. The RMT member, who was struck across the head during the hold-up, needed months of counselling after suffering from flashbacks and nightmares. He was unable to return to work for several months and is now working in a non-customer facing role in a different department. On the advice of RMT, and with assistance from union lawyers, the worker made a claim to CICA, subsequently receiving the £45,550 payout. An RMT spokesperson commented: 'Our members too often face dangerous situations at work. Our union consistently campaigns for safer workplaces where rail workers are not put at risk of attacks by the public.' He added: 'Our member had to take a long period off work and has returned to a lower salary because of this dreadful experience. It is right that he has received this award to help mitigate his losses.'

Other news

UK still high in the long hours league

UK workers remain among the most overworked in Europe, new official statistics indicate. An analysis published by the Office of National Statistics found the average working time in the UK for April to June 2011 was shorter than the European Union average (36.3 hours a week compared with 37.4) - but this is because the UK has a higher percentage of part-timers, 27 per cent compared with 20 per cent in the EU as a whole. When ONS examined the position for full-timers, people in the UK work longer than the EU average (42.7 hours compared with 41.6), with only people in Austria and Greece working a longer week, both at 43.7 hours a week. The shortest full-time hours were in Denmark at 39.1 hours per week. Commenting on the figures, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'These figures shine a light on the valuable but too often unrewarded extra hours that UK workers put in every week. Employers should do more to recognise the unpaid overtime that their staff do, which contributes £29bn to the UK economy every year. But while average hours are falling across the economy - both as a result of the recession and changes in working practices - UK workers are still doing the third longest shifts in Europe, with only Austrians and Greeks working longer.' The union leader added: 'Smarter working practices and an end to pointless presenteeism would help make staff more productive and get a better work-life balance.' The TUC estimates that a record 5.26 million people worked unpaid overtime last year, worth £28.9bn to the UK economy.

Report's focus on 'lifestyle' cancers criticised

A report that concluded nearly half of cancers diagnosed in the UK each year - over 130,000 in total - are caused by avoidable lifestyle 'choices' including smoking, drinking and eating the wrong things, has been criticised for downplaying occupational and environmental cancer risks and the social class effects that consign many workers and their families to multiple risks. The report published last week in the British Journal of Cancer claims to be the most comprehensive analysis to date on the subject. Lead author Professor Max Parkin said: 'Looking at all the evidence, it's clear that around 40 per cent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change.' The report concluded one in 25 (4.9 per cent) of cancers is linked to a person's job, an estimate based on but significantly lower than that identified in an analysis conducted for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Research by Lesley Rushton for HSE made a 'conservative' estimate of 1-in-19 cancers (5.3 per cent) related to work. The Alliance for Cancer Prevention, which includes unions and safety and environmental campaign organisations, said that 'while in the report consideration is given to a small number of the confounding environmental and occupational risk factors, they are narrowly defined, inadequately addressed and their impact sorely underestimated.' Professor Richard Clapp, a cancer expert from the Boston University School of Public Health, commented the section on 'cancers attributable to occupational exposures' read 'like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma... with lots of uncertainties about the effect of multiple exposures, lack of information, etc.' He added: 'Nevertheless, despite all the limitations and probable underestimates, the author lists occupation fifth, with 11,494 cases in 2010. This strikes me as a massive annual burden on working people in the UK and well worth all reasonable efforts to reduce it.' A TUC spokesperson commented: 'The prevention of workplace cancers is one of the top priorities for unions. We know that many thousands of people are dying unnecessarily because of the failure of employers to protect workers. We need, not only strong regulation, but also enforcement of existing regulation. Unfortunately that is now less likely given the current government's decision to cut the number of workplace inspections that are done.'



HSE asbestos campaign is resurrected

The Health and Safety Executive's award-winning 'Hidden Killer' asbestos campaign is to recommence, after being put on hold for over a year on government instruction. The campaign, which was launched by the HSE in 2008 and which is due to restart in 2012, warned construction workers, particularly those involved in maintenance and refurbishment work, of the dangers of asbestos. A phase of the campaign due to start in October 2010 was abandoned when the government introduced a blanket freeze on government-funded campaigns. Construction union UCATT says in January this year it became aware of HSE documents that admitted 'there is no intention to run the Hidden Killer campaign again,' prompting a concerted lobbying campaign to get the campaign reinstated (Risks 492). At HSE's Board meeting earlier this month it was announced HSE has been given government clearance to recommence the campaign. A new phase will be launched in 2012. Labour MP Natascha Engel, who raised the cancellation of the campaign in parliament, commented: 'It is good news that the Hidden Killer campaign is being reinstated, it should never have been frozen in the first place. Far too many people every year die from asbestos diseases, the vast majority of these deaths could easily have been prevented.' George Guy, acting general secretary of construction union UCATT, said: 'It is vital that despite the HSE's financial constraints this is a fully funded information campaign which reaches its target audience.' The campaign previously had a seven figure budget.

'Ticking timebomb' of bladder cancer cases

Lawyers are warning of a 'ticking timebomb' as workers exposed to carcinogenic chemicals from the 1950s to the 1970s develop potentially fatal cancers. Pauline Chandler from the law firm Pannone says she is noticing a 'small but highly significant' rise in bladder cancer cases being referred to her. According to the industrial disease legal expert, 'my fear is that workers in a number of industries, including; the chemicals sector, paint production, rubber manufacture and pigments and dyestuffs production, will develop cancers and be unaware that they are related to their past employment.' One recent bladder cancer case concluded by Chandler involved David Pechey. The 62-year-old worked as a chemist in the laboratories at Ciba-Geigy in Paisley, Scotland, from 1975 to 1982, before moving down to the company's Clayton Aniline site in Manchester. Mr Pechey, who eventually went on to hold senior marketing roles with the firm, received a 'substantial' five figure settlement. The Paisley plant manufactured pigments for colouring paints, inks and plastics, exposing Mr Pechey to cancer-linked chemicals including dichlorobenzidine, dimethoxybenzidine and nitro-biphenyl. He commented: 'Workers in the plant had routine urine cytology tests to check for cancer but lab personnel were not given such tests whilst I was there.' After having a diagnosis of bladder cancer confirmed in 2007, he underwent three years of treatment before being given the all clear by medics. He said his decision to take legal action was 'borne out of the desire to highlight the problem of those who, like me, found themselves exposed to carcinogenic chemicals through no fault of their own.' His lawyer, Pauline Chandler, commented: 'Sadly we are seeing an increasing number of bladder cancer cases arising from people's negligent exposure to cancer causing chemicals.' A clause in the compensation agreement allows Mr Pechey to claim again if the cancer returns. 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 (Risks 529).

UK Coal fined for four separate fatalities

UK Coal Mining Ltd has been fined after its safety failings cost the lives of four mineworkers in separate incidents at two collieries. The company was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court this week for seven criminal safety breaches in connection to the deaths of Trevor Steeples, Paul Hunt, Anthony Garrigan and Paul Milner. Mr Steeples, Mr Hunt and Mr Garrigan died in separate incidents at Daw Mill Colliery, near Coventry, in 2006 and 2007. Mr Milner died following an incident at the now-closed Welbeck Colliery in Nottinghamshire in 2007. UK Coal pleaded guilty to all seven breaches at an earlier hearing in proceedings brought by the Health and Safety Executive (Risks 528). UK Coal was ordered to pay a fine of £112,500 and £187,500 costs for each fatality, totalling £1.2m. After the hearing, HSE Mines inspector Bob Leeming commented: 'Fewer than 4,000 people are employed in the UK mining sector, which makes four deaths within 18 months even more stark. These tragic incidents followed a four and a half year period where there were no deaths in the whole UK mining industry. It is even more shocking that these preventable deaths were the fault of one company - UK Coal. All it would have taken to prevent these deaths was better management and proper hazard control by UK Coal.' He added: 'UK Coal need to demonstrate that they have learned - and will act upon - the lessons from these deaths.' A 'Safety in the pits' report last week from Hazards magazine warned the UK coal mine fatality rate has hit a 50 year high (Risks 535). It points out that in total seven miners have died in UK Coal mines in the last four years.

Safety concerns raised ahead of Swanland sinking

A cargo ship which sank in the Irish Sea off Gwynedd with the loss of six crew had been at the centre of repeated safety concerns. An analysis of safety inspection records for the Swanland reveals a high number of failings. Members of the crew told a BBC investigation the vessel was vulnerable in rough seas because of a history of unsafe loading. Maritime union RMT said these and other 'serious concerns' had been raised by locals prior to the 27 November sinking, which claimed the lives of six of the eight Russian crew (Risks 534). The 34-year-old British-managed ship had a history of defects, according to safety inspections by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Over the past five years, 85 faults were highlighted - including cracks in the ship's decks and defective life-saving equipment identified in May this year. The ship's Grimsby-based operator, Torbulk Shipping, said in a statement that it understood the vessel was loaded in accordance with good practice, adding: 'Any working sea-going cargo vessel... will be inspected on a regular basis and may incur minor deficiencies. These deficiencies are required to be promptly rectified or the vessel would not be permitted to trade.' The vessel, which was British-owned, was flagged to the tiny Cook Islands in the Pacific. The islands have a higher number of ships with safety problems, and the international shipping authorities regard their flag as inferior to those from European maritime regulators. The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch is currently carrying out an investigation into the cause of the incident.

Firms fined over forklift death

Two companies have been fined a total of £100,000 following the death of a maintenance worker who fell from the forks of a forklift truck at a Macclesfield factory. Martin Denton, 60, was being lifted in a metal container, known as a stillage, on 10 June 2006 when it slipped off and he fell approximately four metres to the concrete floor below. The father-of-three from Rotherham died in hospital later that day from head injuries. Millennium Rubber International Ltd and United Crane Services Ltd were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at Millennium Rubber's factory at Nab Works, Pott Shrigley. Chester Crown Court was told United Crane Services had been hired to repair an overhead crane at the factory but had allowed employee Mr Denton to be lifted in a container designed for materials rather than people. The HSE investigation found that it had been standard practice for Millennium Rubber to use containers and pallets on forklift trucks to lift workers, despite neither being designed, nor safe, for that purpose. Mr Denton's widow, Kitty, said the tragedy had left a 'massive hole in not only my life, but that of his three grown-up children and eight grandchildren, and the rest of our family and friends.' She added: 'We feel really let down by the companies he was working for. The accident should never have happened and we wouldn't want anyone else to go through what we are going through.' Millennium Rubber, which produces rubber surfaces for running tracks and children's playgrounds, pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £21,411 in prosecution costs in a sentencing hearing at Warrington Crown Court on 9 December 2011. United Crane Services pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £10,000 with costs of £5,000.

Director banned after worker falls from balcony

A Welsh construction company has been fined and its director banned after a labourer suffered serious injuries on a construction site. Karl Kraus, 31, was employed by Preseli Construction & Maintenance Ltd, and was working on the build of a large domestic property. Haverfordwest Magistrates' Court heard that on 25 March 2010, Mr Kraus was instructed to remove a concrete block that had been placed across a doorway. As he proceeded to throw the block, he fell backwards on to the balcony and then seven metres to the ground below. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the three-storey house was being built without scaffold or any form of fall prevention. Preseli Construction & Maintenance Ltd and its director, Christopher Newell, had failed to ensure that work at height was properly planned and supervised. They also failed to ensure that it was carried out in a safe manner. Mr Kraus spent six days in Morriston Hospital in Swansea where he underwent surgery to pin the bone in his left heel and was in a plaster cast for approximately ten months. Still in constant pain and unable to walk on uneven ground without risking a fall, he is due to undergo further surgery to prevent any further damage to his foot. His career in the construction industry is over. Preseli Construction & Maintenance Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. It was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,376.25. Company director Christopher Newell pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £4,000, with costs of £2,376.25. He was also disqualified from acting as a company director, managing or in any way controlling a company for at least two years.

Workers burned as drill vaporises

A company and its manager have been fined after two workers were engulfed in a fireball when they cut through a live 1,000 volt electrical cable at an industrial unit in Telford. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Birmingham firm RVB Investments UK Ltd and manager Clifford Leigh following the incident on 10 August 2010. Telford Magistrates' Court heard RVB Investments' employees Eamonn Osborne, 53, and David Rawlins, 46, had been told to find an underground water leak at an empty industrial unit. Mr Leigh instructed them to dig at a spot outside the unit. Using an electrical drill, they drilled nearly 40cm into the ground until they hit a live 1,000 volt cable. They were engulfed in a fireball and suffered burns to their hands, arms and faces. Both were airlifted to hospital and Mr Osborne was so seriously injured that for the first few days, doctors believed he might not survive. The heat was so intense that part of the electrical breaker's metal tool was vaporised and a 500 amp fuse was blown in a nearby electrical substation. HSE's investigation found that RVB Investments had not assessed the risks involved, devised a safe system of work or obtained site plans of the area, checked whether there were any electrical cables underground or used safe digging methods. The two men had received no training about the dangers from underground services. Manager Clifford Leigh failed to ensure that proper precautions had been taken before telling them to start work. RVB Investments UK Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £10,000 plus £4,420 costs. Clifford Leigh also pleaded guilty and was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £1,000 costs.

Bus crush apprentice needed plastic surgery

One of South Yorkshire's main bus operators has been fined after a teenage apprentice was trapped under a 14 tonne bus when its air suspension failed. Ben Burgin, who was 17 at the time, needed restorative plastic surgery to his nose and eye socket following the incident at Stagecoach Yorkshire's garage in Wakefield Road, Barnsley, on 7 September 2009. Barnsley Magistrates' Court heard Mr Burgin was working alongside an experienced fitter to correct a braking fault on a bus fitted with an air suspension system. Rather than moving the bus over an inspection pit, they attempted to fix the fault with the bus still on the garage floor. Mr Burgin slid beneath the bus near the front passenger wheel and was making adjustments when the air suspension failed suddenly and the bus dropped on him, badly injuring his face. He was freed when another worker rushed to help and they were able to raise the bus sufficiently to get him out. The operator's owners, Yorkshire Traction Company Ltd, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined a total of £15,000 and ordered to pay £8,473 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector Steve Kay commented: 'Thankfully Ben has been able to return to work but he had a painful recovery after suffering a totally needless ordeal.' He added: 'When employing young people, it is crucial that firms take particular account of their obvious lack of experience and lack of awareness of risks... Young people are more vulnerable. The purpose of assessing the risks they may encounter is not to produce paperwork but to protect them as best you are able.' Last month, business secretary Vince Cable announced he was going to relax safety controls covering apprentices at work (Risks 534).

Companies fined after worker breaks back

Anson Packaging Ltd and Cambs Compressor Engineering Ltd have fined after a 24-year-old worker broke his back in a fall from a roof void. Anthony Strong, a pipe fitter employed by subcontractor Cambs Compressor Engineering Ltd at the time, was tasked to install pipe work required for the installation of a moulding machine at Anson Packaging's premises on 29 October 2008. Part of the pipe work installation was taking place in the roof void above a suspended ceiling, a distance of 6.5 metres to the factory floor, and required that Mr Strong and a co-worker use a crawl board to travel from the protected walkways in the roof to the place where the pipe work was to be installed. Both men had harnesses but they were unable to use them effectively due to a lack of suitable attachment points in the roof void. At times both men had to detach themselves completely to move across the void to the work position. Mr Strong was using the crawl board between beams in the roof void to traverse to his working position when he fell to the floor, suffering fractures to his spine, skull and ribs. At Cambridge Crown Court, both firms admitted criminal safety offences. Anson Packaging was fined £50,015 with £29,291.09 costs, while Cambs Compressor Engineering was fined £18,015 with £8,452.63 costs. HSE inspector Gavin Bull said: 'Although some work equipment was provided to the two workers to enable them to undertake the work at height it was not suitable for the particular roof space and the workers were not trained in its correct use.'

Council fined for lost fingers

Warwickshire County Council has been fined after a self-employed heating contractor lost most of two fingers in poorly guarded machinery. John Shields, 64, who traded as Shieldson Heating, was checking a heating pump in a basement plant room on 4 October 2009 when his hand was pulled into the running belts of a hot water pump. Two of his fingers were amputated below the first knuckle as a result, leaving him with a permanent tingling and stinging sensation in his hand. He still needs to take medication for the pain, which is exacerbated by cold weather. He has been unable to return to work and has difficulty carrying out some everyday tasks. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the back of the machine was not adequately guarded, exposing dangerous moving parts. Nuneaton Magistrates' Court heard that Mr Shields, whom the council had employed as the main heating contractor for the building for more than a decade before the incident, believed the pump was not running. Warwickshire County Council pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The council was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay £5,235 costs. HSE inspector Paul Thompson commented: 'Anyone, being an employer or in control of work equipment, must ensure that dangerous parts of machinery are adequately guarded and it is unacceptable that Warwickshire County Council failed to do this. As a result, Mr Shields has unfortunately suffered serious injuries which have had a permanent effect on him - in an incident that should have been easily avoided if the necessary steps had been taken by the council.'

International News

Canada: Warning on China-owned mining firms

Authorities in British Columbia, Canada, must conduct a full inquiry into the safety standards of Chinese-owned coal mining companies before allowing them to operate in the province, the United Steelworkers (USW) union has said. Among initiatives announced following BC Premier Christy Clark's recent trip to China was a proposed Can$1.36-billion (£850m) investment by Chinese-owned companies to develop two new coal mines in northeast BC. However, China's 'horrific' record of coal mine disasters warrants a full-scale review of the safety records and practices of any Chinese-owned coal-mining companies seeking to invest in BC, said Stephen Hunt, the USW's Western Canada director. 'Chinese-owned coal mines have the worst safety record in the industry,' Hunt said. 'Anyone who takes even a brief look at China's record of mine explosions, cave-ins, floods and other disasters is alarmed to learn that we're now inviting Chinese-owned companies to run mines in this province.' The union leader added: 'Before we allow any new projects to proceed, we need to carefully review the principals and investors to see whether they have a good track record and to be sure they actually bring something of value to the table.'

Europe: Crisis exposes need for new safety strategy

Unions across Europe are calling for a new European Union health and safety strategy and have reaffirmed their resistance to an official proposal to weaken workplace safeguards. The call came at a meeting in Poland of over 100 trade unionists from European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) affiliated unions. Commenting on proposals to exempt smaller businesses from some legal workplace safety rules (Risks 535), ETUC general secretary Bernadette Segol told the Cracow conference: 'All workers have a right to working conditions respecting their health, safety and dignity regardless of the size of company they work for.' She added: 'The ETUC will not accept a reversal of the burden of proof for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on the need for risk assessment when we know that workers are often more at risk in smaller workplaces.' On 7-8 December, the ETUC Executive Committee adopted a resolution on a new European health and safety strategy. The ETUC has launched a series of demands for the official EU strategy for 2013-2020, currently under discussion. The union demands include reinforcing preventive structures, worker participation and addressing the long-term impact on health from chemicals and hazardous substances, musculoskeletal disorders and psychosocial risks. 'The increased pressure on workers in the crisis and the rise in precarious work demands a new EU strategy, the current strategy is not adequate,' stated Judith Kirton-Darling ETUC confederal secretary.

Global: OECD warning on rising mental problems

Mental illness is a growing problem in society and is increasingly affecting productivity and well-being in the workplace, according to a new OECD report. 'Sick on the job? Myths and realities about mental health at work' says that one in five workers suffer from a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, and many are struggling to cope. According to the OECD report, three in four workers with a mental disorder report reduced productivity at work, compared to one in four workers without a mental disorder. Work absences are also much more frequent for workers with mental illness, and about 30-50 per cent of all new disability benefit claims in OECD countries are now attributed to mental ill-health. The report challenges some of the myths around mental health and concludes that policymakers need to look for new solutions. Most people with a mental disorder are in work, with employment rates of between 55 per cent to 70 per cent, about 10 to 15 percentage points lower than for people without a disorder. Increasing job insecurity and pressure in today's workplaces could drive a rise in mental health problems in the years ahead, warns OECD. It says the proportion of workers exposed to work-related stress or job strain, has increased in the past decade all across the OECD nations. And in the current economic climate, more and more people are worried about their job security.

USA: Warning on extra risks in green construction

Construction workers involved in environmentally friendly, 'green' building projects can face additional traditional and novel hazards, researchers have found. Problems identified in the study identify a greater risk of falls and new, high risk tasks. Certain tasks mean they are also more at risks of lacerations, strains and sprains (up 36 per cent from handling recycled materials), eye strain (up 19 per cent from installing reflective membranes) and exposure to hazardous chemicals (up 14 per cent from installing wastewater technologies), according to the report. The University of Colorado study, publishing in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, examined construction projects built to achieve the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. 'It doesn't have to be this way,' noted Peter Stafford, executive director of CPWR - the Center for Construction Research and Training, which supported the study. 'With proper layout of the worksite, recyclables can be sorted safely and efficiently. With properly scheduled breaks for hydration, a reflective roof doesn't have to mean trips to the hospital. And with proper fall protection solar panels can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels without risking workers' lives and limbs.' Contractors and designers interviewed for the study said measures to reduce injuries and better protect workers could include incorporating prefabrication, more effective site layout and use of alternative products. Using low-emission materials also could reduce occupational health risks for workers in enclosed environments.

  • Katherine S Dewlaney, Matthew R Hallowell, and Bernard R Fortunato, Safety risk quantification for high performance sustainable building construction, Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, published online ahead of print, 2011 [abstract]. EHS Today.

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