Risks 540 - 28 January 2012

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

Union News

Obeying safety rules is a responsibility, not a burden

Health and safety regulation is not the burden on business the prime minister suggests (Risks 538), but something any responsible business should embrace, the TUC has asserted. 'Regulation should not be seen as a burden on business,' a TUC briefing confirms. 'It is a responsibility, just as paying taxes is a responsibility, and no business should be able to operate unless it can do so safety.' The briefing, the first in a series of TUC bulletins to be issued in the run up to Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April, adds 'there is no evidence that, despite all the complaints, health and safety regulations impose even a minimal hardship on businesses.' TUC says David Cameron's claim that businesses are burdened by a tide of risk assessment forms every year 'is nonsense. The vast majority of employers never carry out any kind of written risk assessments, and for those that do, there is easy-to-understand advice available from the Health and Safety Executive on how to do them.' It adds the government's 'attack on health and safety laws destroys the consensus that has existed around health and safety for the last 40 years. It will make it harder to get the laws we need in areas where there are new risks and could lead to Britain having some of the lowest levels of protection in Europe.' This threat has led the union body to declare 28 April this year 'a Day of Action to defend health and safety.' TUC adds: 'Join any events in your area on that day and demonstrate that we will not give up our right to a safe workplace.'

Enforcement works, non-enforcement kills

A drastic cut in the UK's already under par workplace safety enforcement activity will lead to more death and injuries, the TUC has warned. The union body believes that the government's instruction to enforcement agencies to slash workplace inspections, cutting unannounced inspections by a third, 'will simply mean more deaths, injuries and illness. The biggest increases will be seen in those sectors where the HSE is withdrawing from pro-active inspections.' These include supposedly 'low risk' workplaces - a designation TUC describes as 'a myth' because they often have high risks of violence, occupational disease and other serious problems - and notoriously hazardous sectors including agriculture and quarrying. In a second information bulletin published ahead of a 28 April 'Day of action to defend health and safety', TUC notes the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has stated 'the expected 'lower level of enforcement' would mean a consequent decrease in health and safety standards throughout Great Britain, with ensuing costs to society.' TUC warns the UK's enforcement coverage is already below par. 'The International Labour Organisation says that it is a matter of concern if the number of inspectors in an industrialised country is less than 1 per 10,000 workers. In Britain it is one for every 15,615.' The briefing explains research has demonstrated that proper regulation and enforcement deliver safety improvements. 'Good employers have always supported both regulation and enforcement because it means that their competitors cannot take short-cuts with people's safety and undercut them,' TUC concludes. 'It is only unscrupulous or incompetent employers who fear consistent and fair regulation of health and safety.'

Girl's mauling shows need for new dogs law

The arrest this week of the owner of a dangerous dog that attacked a six-year-old girl has been welcomed by the Communications Workers' Union (CWU). Gary Hindley, 56, was held and subsequently charged after part of the girl's ear was severed in the attack on 21 January. He has admitted allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in a north-east London park. Commenting after the serious mauling, CWU, which says postal workers alone are the victims of 6,000 dog attacks each year, repeated its call on the government to change 'outdated' dogs laws. It added that if the attack had happened on private land, the chance of a prosecution would have been slim. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: 'How many more attacks will take place before the government acts? Yet again we hear the tragic news of another child victim of a dangerous dog attack caused by an irresponsible owner. Unless legislation and enforcement is toughened up, our streets and public parks are not safe from the menace of dangerous dogs and there will be more attacks like this one.' The union leader added: 'Thousands of dog attack victims are currently not protected by the law including many of our members who have to work on private property to deliver the mail or install broadband lines.' CWU health and safety officer Dave Joyce commented: 'We want Westminster to stop shilly-shallying and act now. David Cameron keeps talking about the 'monster of health and safety' [Risks 537] when he ought to start talking about the 'monster dangerous dogs' blighting our society with no effective safety for workers, children and the public.'

Union urges investigation before cruiseship blame

Serious safety failings could be obscured in the rush to blame the captain and crew for the Costa Concordia cruiseship sinking (Risks 539), the union Nautilus International has warned. Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said his union was 'extremely disturbed to see the rush to judgment over the action of the crew.' He added 'there is a danger that just blaming individuals will obscure the serious and profound safety lessons that may need to be learned, as well as the matter of justice and a right to a fair trial.' Nautilus believes the investigation must look beyond the immediate cause of the tragedy, and 'should also focus on how cruise ships are designed, managed, regulated and run.' Nautilus senior national secretary, Allan Graveson, said: 'We should not just look at narrowness of human error, but do a full scientific investigation and apply any lessons to future ship building and operation.' The union said it 'had been expressing concern for a number of years about the operation, construction and design of cruise ships - some of which have doubled in size in the last ten years. The technology of evacuation likewise needs looking at because of the acknowledged shortcomings of lifeboats and liferafts.' The union's concerns about a rush to blame individuals are shared by the prosecutor overseeing the case. Beniamino Deidda, the chief prosecutor of Tuscany, said in an interview carried by several Italian newspapers: 'For the moment, attention is generally concentrated on the responsibility of the captain, who showed himself to be tragically inadequate. But who chooses the captain?' He said investigators needed to lift their gaze to the decisions taken by 'the employer; that is to say, the ship's owner.' Deidda, who has spent a large part of his career dealing with health and safety cases, said the focus should also be on 'lifeboats that did not come down, crew who did not know what to do [and] scant preparation in crisis management.'

Union nips in to get finger payout

A Unite member who suffered permanent damage to his fingers at work and waited almost three years before he claimed compensation has received a payout of more than £8,000. The 65-year-old from Isleworth in Middlesex, whose name has not been released, suffered from tendon damage to his little and ring fingers after using an unsafe drill whilst working for Field Systems Design. The two fingers are permanently bent as a result of the injury, which occurred when his work glove became snagged in the drill bit causing his fingers to twist. He needed surgery on his fingers and had to take several days off work before returning on light duties. The injured man was worried about his employer's reaction if he claimed compensation. He was finally persuaded to take action after receiving a letter from Unite about the union's free legal services alerting him to the need to act - and fast. With just 12 days left before the three year deadline for submitting a claim, speedy union lawyers prepared the paperwork and secured £8,224 in compensation after Field Systems Design admitted liability. Gwen Wylie from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by Unite to act for the injured man, said: 'Many solicitors would have turned down his claim because so little time was left to collate a case but Thompsons, through Unite's support, was able to give the case the full attention it deserved.'

Honda ignored grate warning

Car manufacturer Honda ignored a worker's warning about a hazardous grate, which subsequently caused the concerned employee to suffer serious knee injuries that 'destroyed' his life. Unite member Patrick Scanlon, 47, had warned his bosses at the Honda factory in Swindon that a raised grate on the factory floor was an accident waiting to happen but nothing was done to fix it. Weeks later, he tripped on the grate, landing heavily on his knees. He sustained significant nerve damage to both knees which now need knee replacement surgery. He also suffered scrapes to his hands and jaw. Mr Scanlon, who worked for Honda for eight years, has not been able to return to work since the incident and subsequently lost his job. The former shopfitter is too unfit to return to manual work. Medical experts brought in by Unite's legal advisers said the incident had brought forward osteoarthritic problems with Mr Scanlon's knees by five to ten years. Honda admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. Mr Scanlon, who has three children and a grandson, said: 'This accident has destroyed my life. I feel angry that I had warned my bosses about this grate and in the end it was me who ended up out of work because of it. I've always been in work since I left school and it is soul destroying that I'm no longer fit enough to earn a living.' Jim D'Avila, regional coordinating officer at Unite, said: 'It's unforgivable that this grate had been reported to the employers but the warnings were ignored. Had it been repaired quickly Mr Scanlon would be in work today.'

Other news

Government is 'peddling myths' and misusing Löfstedt

The expert who carried a government commissioned review of workplace safety regulation has raised concerns about his report being 'misused' for political purposes. Professor Ragnar Löfstedt told a forum in London on 17 January he was not in favour of 'radical' reform, contradicting David Cameron's attack earlier this month on the 'monster' of health and safety (Risks 537). The prime minister referenced Löfstedt's 2011 report (Risks 534), as he blamed the 'albatross' of health and safety legislation for holding back British businesses. But the professor, speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum, insisted he had never called for significant changes to legal policy. At the 17 January meeting, Löfstedt was asked by Mike Clancy, deputy general secretary of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors' and specialists' union, whether he had concerns about the government's treatment of his review. The professor replied: 'I am concerned about it. I am concerned my review could be misused.' The first health and safety regulations lined up for the chop were made public this week, with seven largely archaic and redundant laws covering topics from anthrax to pottery metrication identified. However, the government is proposing to go way beyond Professor Löfstedt's recommendation to consolidate rather than remove regulation. Employment minister Chris Grayling told the House of Commons on 23 January: 'The Löfstedt report, which we published in November, recommends significant changes to our regulatory regime. We accepted the recommendations and, with other planned changes, we aim to reduce the total number of health and safety regulations by 50 per cent by 2014.' He said while Britain has the 'best safety record in Europe' it also 'has the worst record for unnecessary red tape.' Addressing the minister, Labour MP Kate Clark, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Health and Safety Group, said: 'Given that the Löfstedt report does not say that our health and safety legislation is either excessive or wrong, will the Minister also say that and stop peddling the myths on health and safety legislation - the Löfstedt report says that they are myths - that some of his colleagues keep peddling?' The minister responded: 'The hon. Lady misunderstands the challenge we face.'

HSE 'challenge panel' to target safety myths

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to invite the public to tell it about claims and decisions that bring health and safety into disrepute, so that a new dedicated challenge panel can quickly disprove them. Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP), the magazine of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), says the new panel comes hot on the heels of the 'Independent Regulatory Challenge Panel', imposed on HSE by the government as a means for businesses to challenge decisions by safety regulators. SHP says the creation by HSE of a second myth busting panel was revealed by the HSE chair Judith Hackitt while giving evidence to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee. She told the committee the second challenge panel, which Hackitt herself is expected to chair, 'will be up and running very soon... so that people can identify silly stories of a non-regulatory nature and for us very quickly to rebut them and make that a very public process.' While it is going to become significantly easier to challenge HSE decisions or to tell it about myths, unions and campaigners are concerned that it is become increasingly difficult for workers to raise actual health and safety concerns with the watchdog. Hazards magazine has warned the 'shrivelled official workplace safety enforcer... has even banished the word 'contact' from its website. Instead, the rather less inviting term 'notify; has appeared, behind which the committed can worm out details of the new slow-mo alternative to an HSE contact telephone number.' John Bamford, health and safety officer with the lecturers' union UCU, said it took him half a day to track down telephone numbers for HSE's local offices after they were removed by HSE from its website. The problem of contacting HSE was amplified by the closure last year of its telephone Infoline and a block on the reporting by phone of all but fatal or major workplace injuries (Risks 538). Bamford advises that union reps should make sure they are acquainted with the HSE inspectors covering their workplace 'otherwise you will be sent all around the houses as I have been. Avoid all this by ensuring you are in touch with your local inspector - contact them, get their card with a direct line and email address, build a working relationship so they know you don't raise matters with them unless you really need to. It really does work.'

Law fails blacklisted agency worker

The construction giant Carillion has admitted a construction worker was blacklisted because of his trade union activities and efforts to improve site safety, but has escaped responsibility because he was an agency worker. The revelation came during an employment tribunal last week brought against the firm by engineer and former UCATT safety rep Dave Smith. It ruled the construction firm could not be held liable because agency workers do not enjoy the same legal protection as directly employed staff. Earlier, the tribunal had heard an admission by Carillion (previously John Mowlem), subsidiary Schal International and forerunner Tarmac that the qualified engineer was blacklisted. The tribunal heard that between 1999 and 2004 Mowlem paid £20,444 to The Consulting Association, which ran the blacklist. The Central London Employment Tribunal found Dave Smith had been blacklisted by the respondents Carillion (JM) Limited and Schal International Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Carillion) because he raised concerns about asbestos on building sites and because of his trade union activities. The firm had accepted that Dave Smith had been blacklisted but denied responsibility, arguing that it bought two subsidiaries after they were involved in the practice. The tribunal ruled Carillion could not be held liable as the former engineer, who was forced to leave the industry as a result of the blacklist, was not directly employed by the firm. Commenting outside the court, Dave Smith said: 'The blacklisting conspiracy is a deliberate breach of human rights by big business. Human rights are supposed to apply to everyone but Carillion and their subsidiaries have got away with systematic abuse of power simply because I was an agency worker. If the British justice system does not protect workers' rights, then we will be taking our case direct to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.'

Employers must track three day-plus injuries

Proposed changes to the official injury reporting system will not exempt employers from a legal requirement to record most injuries sustained at work. The Health and Safety Executive says from 6 April 2012, subject to parliamentary approval, the legal requirement to report to the authorities injuries requiring more than there days off work will change. It MPs agree, the trigger point will increase from 'over three days' to 'over seven days' incapacitation, not counting the day on which the accident happened. HSE says the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) definition of 'incapacitation' means the worker is absent or is unable to do work that they would reasonably be expected to do as part of their normal work. But that doesn't mean employers do not have to track these three day-plus injuries, the watchdog says. 'Employers and others with responsibilities under RIDDOR must still keep a record of all over three day injuries,' adding 'if the employer has to keep an accident book, then this record will be enough.' Under the intended changes, the deadline by which the over seven day injury must be reported will increase to 15 days from the day of the accident. The changes prompted a Unite safety rep alert. 'Even if the law on reporting changes from 'over 3 days' to 'over 7 days' incapacitation, employers must still record 'over 3 day' injuries,' the alert advises. 'Safety reps need to be alert to this and ensure that ALL injuries and incidents are reported to their employer, and as a minimum their employer keeps records in accordance with the continuing requirements of RIDDOR.'

London Olympics facing sweatshop allegations

The London 2012 Organising Committee (Locog) is probing claims over poor pay and working conditions at a Chinese factory where toy Games mascots are being made. Telford firm Golden Bear was awarded the contract to supply toy versions of the mascots Mandeville, Wenlock and Pride the Lion in August 2010. But press reports have claimed workers in China making the toys have faced excessive hours and other serious employment abuses. A report in The Sun said workers at the Yancheng Rainbow Arts and Crafts Company are forced to 'slave' for up to 11½ hours a day for just 26p an hour. It added the Mandeville and Wenlock mascots they make sell for up to £20. Golden Bear and Locog said they were taking the allegations 'seriously.' A London 2012 spokesperson said: 'We have asked our independent monitor to carry out a comprehensive investigation and review of these allegations. The outcome of this investigation will be made public as soon as it is concluded. We have contacted all of our licensees to reiterate to them the importance we place on the sustainable sourcing code they have each signed up to.' But Hong Kong-based campaign Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) accused Locog of an 'empty promise' to respect labour rights. It added: 'The rampant labour rights violations in the Rainbow factory demonstrate that, at present, the sustainable and ethical sourcing codes are nothing more than pieces of paper.'

Woman blows up factory that killed her dad

A woman whose father was scalded to death at a Norfolk soup factory said she had gained 'closure' after being given the opportunity to blow it up. Sarah Griffiths, 41, triggered the demolition of the former Campbell's factory tower in King's Lynn on 15 January. She said: 'The tower is a constant reminder that I have been robbed of my dad.' Her father, Mike Locke, died in 1995 of severe scalding from a blast of steam. Ms Griffiths, a mother of two, won the chance to trigger the tower explosion in a local newspaper. She said: 'It's overwhelming to think I've been given this opportunity to bring down this building. There must be other people who have these issues and never get this type of closure I've sought for 16-and-a-half years. I'm thrilled for me and my family that I'll never have to look at it again.' The tower was demolished to make way for a new £40m complex, including a hotel, leisure facilities, restaurants, a car showroom a new supermarket. Ms Griffiths commented: 'It'll be lovely to drive past and think of the work that's going on here and the jobs it's going to create for local people. I want to see the positive side, as my dad would have done, from this building and that tragic day.' Hundreds of people turned out to watch the tower fall. The Campbell's site employed thousands of workers in King's Lynn before it closed in 2007.

Assaults at work increased last year

Physical assaults at work increased last year but threats of violence fell, official statistics have revealed. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report, based on British Crime Survey (BCS) and RIDDOR reports, reveals there were an estimated 341,000 physical assaults to British workers during the 12 months prior to the interviews, up 10 per cent from the previous year. The BCS statistics for 2010/11 used by HSE also reveal there were an estimated 313,000 threats of violence to British workers during the 12 months prior to the interviews, down 15 per cent from the previous year. Almost half of those affected (43 per cent) were repeat victims. A total of 6,078 injuries resulted from violence in the workplace, RIDDOR statistics showed. Those working in protective services, such as security guards, police and prison officers, were most at risk. But HSE notes care assistants, home care workers, teachers, nurses and drivers were also at a significantly increased risk. HSE points to BCS figures that suggest in over a third of assaults at work (35 per cent), the victim believed the offender was under the influence of alcohol and in a quarter of cases (25 per cent) under the influence of drugs. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of assaults on workers were perpetrated by a stranger, with the next highest grouping being clients or members of the public known through work (21 per cent). The BCS returned higher figures than RIDDOR for a number of reasons, says HSE, in part because not all injuries are reportable under RIDDOR and because of under-reporting by employers. HSE adds: 'Only physical injuries resulting from acts of violence suffered by people at work are included as reportable under RIDDOR. Therefore cases where a worker suffered shock from witnessing an act of threatening behaviour would not need to be reported.'

  • Violence at work: Violence at work statistics from the 2010/11 British Crime Survey & RIDDOR, HSE, January 2012 [pdf].

Driver left in a coma after digger horror

A worker suffered severe injuries when his excavator struck a bridge on the M1 motorway in the East Midlands. Simon Foulke, a maintenance fitter with engineering contractor Van Elle Ltd, was driving a wheeled excavator during widening work on the motorway between Junctions 25 and 28 when its boom hit a bridge. The 39-year-old was not wearing his seatbelt and was thrown over the steering column and through the open front screen, hitting his head on the front excavator blade. He suffered severe head injuries and was in a coma for two weeks. Rehabilitation lasted a further five months and he has since returned to the company though he has been left with reduced function in his left arm and leg for which he receives ongoing physiotherapy. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident on 22 September 2009 found the driver had not received adequate training in use of the excavator and was standing in for a regular driver on the motorway construction site. Mansfield magistrates were told he was driving through the site with the excavator boom at an unsafe height. The manufacturer's guidance states the boom must not be more than four metres high while travelling but in this case the machine was being driven with the boom elevated to more than six metres. After the hearing, HSE inspector Kevin Wilson said: 'This worker was extremely lucky to escape with his life. As it is he has been left with life-changing injuries. These injuries were wholly preventable had the company ensured the driver had adequate training in safe travel positions for manoeuvring the excavator on the construction project.' Van Elle Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £12,750 and ordered to pay costs of £29,660.

Molten metal sprayed on a second worker

An aluminium casting company has been fined £6,000 after a man was burned by molten metal at its Worcester factory in a repeat of an earlier incident. Asim Qureshi, 41, was operating a die cast machine at JVM Castings Ltd when molten metal sprayed from the back of the machine on 27 July 2010. Worcester Magistrates' Court heard the 650 degrees celsius molten material burned through Mr Qureshi's clothing after landing on him. He suffered serious burns to his right arm, shoulder, leg and face and was unable to work for two months. He has been left with scarring on his hand and leg and is still receiving treatment for his burned skin. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the rear of the machine was unguarded and, while personal protective equipment is not a substitute for effective guarding, the operators' overalls and eye protection were unsuitable for the amount of molten metal spray. The court heard there had been three similar previous incidents of molten aluminium blow backs at the factory, one of which caused serious injuries to another employee seven months before the incident involving Mr Qureshi. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Tariq Khan said: 'Despite three previous incidents, one of which caused serious injuries to another worker, JVM Castings failed to learn from them and did not follow the recommendations of its own investigation.' He added: 'The company's risk assessment had identified blow backs as a danger but did not include any measures to remove or reduce the risk. As a result of the company's failings, a man has suffered serious injuries which could easily have been avoided.' JVM Castings (Worcester) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,000 and £4,000 costs.

Severed finger rap for bubble wrap giant

A multinational manufacturer has been prosecuted after a worker lost three fingers in a bubble wrap making machine. Milton Keynes Magistrates' Court heard Daniel Winters, 29, was cleaning debris from the machine at Sansetsu (UK) Limited's Milton Keynes factory, when his right hand became caught on an 'in-running nip' and was trapped between two powered rollers. The machine was running and the plastic material inside was at more than 200 degrees celsius. As a result, Mr Winters suffered severe injuries, including losing the majority of three fingers on his right hand. He has returned to work but in a different capacity due to his injury. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was no guarding to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machine. The company was issued with an improvement notice after the 18 May 2011 incident. After the hearing, HSE's inspector Karl Howes said: 'Running nips are a common hazard in many industries and all machines should be guarded to prevent human contact with the dangerous parts. When machines are used with very hot plastics, these can be very dangerous.' He added: 'Employers using this sort of equipment need to make sure there is adequate guarding and if Sansetsu (UK) Limited had taken the simple and inexpensive step of installing one, then this incident would never have happened.' The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,742.

Miscarriages in nurses linked to work exposures

Nurses who worked with chemotherapy drugs or sterilising chemicals were twice as likely to have a miscarriage as their colleagues who didn't handle these materials, a US study has found. Lead author Christina Lawson, a researcher at the US government's National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), said because chemotherapy drugs typically target rapidly dividing cells, such as those in a tumour - or a fetus - they have been a concern for pregnant women who come into contact with them. Lawson and colleagues from NIOSH and the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed nearly 7,500 nurses who had a pregnancy between 1993 and 2002.The nurses were asked to remember how often they worked with certain chemicals or equipment, such as x-rays, anaesthetics, anti-cancer drugs and disinfectants, during each trimester. One out of every 10 nurses ended up losing her pregnancy before the half-way point, 20 weeks, similar to the rate of miscarriages in the general population. However, among nurses who handled chemotherapy drugs for more than an hour a day, that rate was double - about two out of every 10 nurses lost her pregnancy. Nurses who gave patients x-rays had a slightly elevated risk of miscarriage too, about 30 per cent higher than nurses who didn't work with x-rays. And nurses who handled sterilising agents, such as ethylene oxide or formaldehyde, more than an hour a day also had a doubled risk of miscarriage, but only during the second trimester. The findings were published online last month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

International News

Global: Union seeks improvements at ArcelorMittal

A global safety system involving unions and management has delivered fewer injuries at ArcelorMittal plants worldwide, but is still falling short of its 'zero fatalities' goal. The Joint Global Health and Safety Committee (JGHSC) in ArcelorMittal met last week in Spain to review the company's health and safety performance for 2011. According to Rob Johnston, executive director at the global union federation IMF, efforts would be made to secure further improvements in 2012. 'Fatality prevention in the company is improving, but we still have a long way to go,' he said. 'We have proven that cooperation with trade unions does have a positive effect on safety performance. If more companies came forward and accepted a similar approach we could save many more workers' lives.' IMF and major steel unions signed a global health and safety agreement with ArcelorMittal in 2008 (Risks 359). It was countersigned by ArcelorMittal chair and chief executive Lakshmi Mittal.

USA: Study reveals massive costs of bad work

The cost of workplace injuries and illnesses is soaring in the US, and now runs to US$250 billion (£160bn) a year, a study has found. The total, which outstrips the direct and indirect costs of all cancers, coronary heart disease and diabetes, demonstrates the need for a greater emphasis on prevention, according to author J Paul Leigh. The University of California Davis professor reports the inflation adjusted costs of work-related injury and ill-health have risen by more than $33 billion since a 1992 analysis. Leigh commented: 'Some of these costs are borne directly by employers through workers' compensation premiums. But because workers' compensation benefits cover less than 25 per cent of these costs, all members of society must share them.' Leigh explained: 'Taxpayers pay through Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance. Employers and individuals pay through high premiums for non-workers' compensation insurance carriers, which absorb some of the excess medical costs. Injured workers and their families pay through out-of-pocket medical costs as well as lost wages, fringe benefits, and home production.' According to Leigh, prevention should have a greater priority as 'most Americans between the ages of 22 to 65 spend 40 to 50 per cent of their waking hours at work.' The study is based on Leigh's evaluation of more than 40 datasets from sources that track work-related injuries and illnesses as well as their direct medical and indirect productivity costs. The study, which was funded by the US government's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), did not include non-economic costs, including pain and suffering of victims, which have been translated into monetary values in recent UK estimates (Risks 495). The US cost figure would increase dramatically if this adjustment was made.

  • JP Leigh. Economic burden of occupational injury and illness in the United States, Milbank Quarterly, volume 89, number 4, pages 728-772, December 2011 [pdf].
  • The Pump Handle. EHS Today.

USA: Union demands action on refinery safety


Workers at US oil refineries took their campaign for safer refineries to the streets on 21 January. A United Steelworkers (USW) union National Day of Action for Safe Refineries and Good Jobs saw members in refinery communities visit petrol stations and distribute leaflets to drivers highlighting the importance of refinery safety. The union says across the country, health and safety is a major issue on the bargaining table in the current contract negotiations. It adds that in 2009 the union proposed significant changes to health and safety contract language at the bargaining table, but the industry rebuffed the demands. The union says this year health and safety is a primary issue in the negotiations. 'Since the last time we sat down to bargain with the oil industry three years ago, 18 oil workers have died on the job,' said Gary Beevers, the Steelworkers' international vice president for oil bargaining. 'That's unacceptable. This time around we expect to see some real, enforceable improvements on health and safety.'

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