Risks 542 - 11 February 2012

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

Union News

Work cancer kills two an hour round the clock

Cancers caused by the jobs we do kill once person in the UK every 30 minutes around the clock, a TUC report has revealed. 'Occupational cancer - a workplace guide' says the prevention of workplace cancer has a much lower profile in the workplace than preventing injuries, 'despite the fact that only 220 to 250 workers die each year as a result of an immediate injury as opposed to the 15,000 to 18,000 that die from cancer.' TUC is calling for greater efforts to prevent cancers, through removing the cause from the workplace, better standards and enforcement and greater union involvement in finding solutions. The guide notes: 'Trade unions have been at the forefront of the campaign against the use of carcinogens in the workplace. Many substances that employers once claimed were safe have only been recognised as dangerous because unions highlighted the fact that workers were dying as a result of exposure, or because unions have campaigned for their ban or control.' According to TUC: 'Following pressure from unions, a large number of employers have managed to substitute cancer-causing chemicals with safer ones. Examples include trichloroethylene as a cleaner for metal, cancer-causing inks in printing, and formaldehyde and insulating foams in furniture.' In an accompanying guide to the number of occupational cancers, TUC warns that a failure by the authorities to show the same sort of resolve will have tragic consequences, and warns that government safety cuts will kill. 'What we do today will have a major impact, but it will not be seen for perhaps 20 or even 40 years,' the statistics guide notes. 'By cutting regulation and enforcement it is not only fatalities from injuries that will go up, it is also future deaths from cancer.'

Prison workers face smoking dangers

While other workers benefit from lower cancer and heart disease risks resulting from the workplace smoking ban, workers in prisons do not, their union has said. POA says prisoners' cells are classed as a 'home' and so are exempt from the legislation. The union has presented evidence to the Ministry of Justice showing prison staff are 'exposed to considerable quantities of secondhand smoke during their work time.' A pilot study found that in one prison non-smoking prison officers' levels of cotinine- a nicotine metabolite - were close to the levels measured in bar workers before the smoking ban legislation. The union notes: 'Further data collection is urgently required to provide accurate estimates of secondhand smoke exposure for prison officers, taking into account the smoking patterns of prisoners and work patterns of prison officers'. POA said it was calling on the government 'to protect staff and prisoners against the effects of secondhand smoke. The POA also reiterate their call for a complete ban on smoking in prisons.'


Bill targets deadly 'phoenix firms'

Construction union UCATT has welcomed a parliamentary Bill designed to stop negligent bosses dodging punishment when their workers are killed or maimed. Liverpool MP and UCATT member Luciana Berger presented her 10 minute rule Bill demanding new powers to stop guilty companies avoiding punishment by going into administration. She said: 'Companies whose actions result in the death of a worker must be forced to take responsibility. If passed, my Bill will ensure that companies can't become phoenix firms to escape justice.' The proposed amendment to the Health and Safety at Work Act would give inspectors the power to seek a court order to freeze the assets of a company under investigation following the death or serious injury of a worker. Ms Berger named and shamed two "phoenix firms", Bryn Thomas Crane Hire Ltd and Foxtel Ltd, which had avoided large fines by going into administration and then setting up under slightly different names. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: 'This is a vital first step in the parliamentary campaign to stop companies who kill workers avoiding justice. If MPs are serious about protecting the safety of workers it is vital that this Bill becomes law.' The Bill, which is due to have its second reading on April 27, is will require the government to all parliamentary time if it is to have any chance of success. In a Westminster meeting held two days prior to the presentation of the Bill, Tamika Corbin told MPs of her brother Noel's death in 2008 while installing a satellite dish (Risks 519). 'The judge at the Old Bailey said he would fine Foxtel Ltd the maximum penalty, but due to the fact that this would simply go to the creditors, this was reduced to £1,' she said. 'The owners of Foxtel continued to trade under a new name. This is not justice.' Mark Thornton died after a mobile crane supplied by Bryn Thomas Crane Hire Ltd toppled over and crushed him (Risks 502). In January 2011, prior to the case reaching the courts in April 2011, Bryn Thomas Crane Hire Ltd went into administration. Directors Dylan and Janus Thomas set up under the slightly revised name of Bryn Thomas Cranes Limited in November 2010. As a result of being in administration, despite being found guilty of serious health and safety failings which contributed to Mr Thornton's death, Bryn Thomas Crane Hire Ltd was fined just £4,500.

Network Rail bonus decision 'too late'

Rail union TSSA has said a decision by Network Rail bosses to donate their six figure annual bonuses to improving safety at level crossings is welcome but comes too late for some victims of the company's negligence. TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: 'We said last week that it beggared belief that Network Rail could be talking about a multimillion long term bonus scheme within days of admitting criminal behaviour over the deaths of two school girls at Elsenham six years ago [Risks 541]. That tragedy only happened because it refused to spend £2 million on a new bridge at the level crossing despite an internal safety report demanding such action.' He added: 'This decision is sadly too little, too late for the parents of the girls who tragically died. But we welcome it as the first step in the direction of the executive directors starting to put safety and the passengers ahead of their own handsome rewards.' TSSA was instrumental in securing the criminal prosecution of Network Rail on health and safety charges. The legal case brought by the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) came after a November 2011 decision to reopen its investigation into the incident following pressure from the girls' families and TSSA. Network Rail has said it will plead guilty and has apologised to the families. Magistrates in Basildon last week committed the company for sentencing at Chelmsford crown court on 15 March.

Unions campaign against exploitation at sea

Seafarers from across Europe descended on Aberdeen this week to pay their respects to fallen colleagues and to demand an end to the exploitation of crews servicing oil and gas fields in the North Sea. Maritime union members from Britain, Norway and Denmark joined a sombre ceremony at the city's seafarers memorial before touring the harbour to talk to workers. The unions say local workers are being refused jobs, with crew members instead recruited from countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Philippines. These workers are employed on low pay, working long hours in unsafe conditions, undermining hard won standards across the industry. RMT national secretary Steve Todd said 'companies appear to be practicing 'under the table discrimination' by refusing applications for jobs from experienced British seafarers' while employing low cost workers from outside instead.' Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: 'The only way to prevent social dumping in the North Sea is to demand internationally acceptable wage and working conditions for all seafarers onboard vessels operating on the North Sea Continental Shelf, regardless of nationality.'

Other news

Manslaughter probe over Chevron refinery deaths

Police investigating the devastating Pembroke Refinery explosion that killed four people last year are considering bringing manslaughter charges and have interviewed two refinery employees under caution. The move follows a painstaking investigation by Dyfed Powys Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the 2 June 2011 blast that ripped through a storage tank at the then Chevron refinery (Risks 509), now operated by Valero Energy Limited. The explosion killed Julie Schmitz, Andrew Jenkins, Dennis Riley, and Robert Broome, and seriously injured another worker. This week Dyfed Powys Police confirmed two employees of Valero Energy Limited had been interviewed under caution at Haverfordwest Police Station in connection with the explosion. The interviews were 'in relation to potential offences of manslaughter by gross negligence', a police statement said. 'These developments are very much part of the continuing joint police and Health and Safety Executive investigation which is of an extremely complex nature, and no conclusions should be drawn from it at this stage. This is part of the due process of law and designed to protect the rights of all persons involved in the enquiry.' In a comment to the Western Telegraph, a Valero spokesperson said: 'As this refers to an ongoing investigation by the Health and Safety Executive and Dyfed Powys Police, Valero Energy Ltd can offer no further comment on the explosion at Pembroke Refinery on 2 June 2011, when it was owned and operated by Chevron Limited. Both Valero and Chevron continue to provide their full co-operation to the police and HSE in their investigation.' The sale to Valero was underway when the tragedy occurred.

Blacklisting firm held file on oil industry academic

A secret blacklisting file opened on an academic who researched health and safety following the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster claims the offshore oil industry threatened to cut funding to his university if he 'continued to cause problems'. Investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain, writing in his 'Taking out the trash' blog, reveals that Professor Charles Woolfson had published extensively on safety regimes in the North Sea while he was industrial relations professor at the University of Glasgow and wrote a well-regarded book, Paying The Piper. However, having his work reported in the media led to him having a file opened on him in 1995 by The Consulting Association. The organisation was shut down by the Information Commissioner's Office in 2009 and its records seized. Ian Kerr, the man paid to run the Association, was later fined £5,000 for breaching data protection laws. 'This is frankly an unwelcome surprise,' Prof Woolfson said in an interview with Chamberlain. 'There is a clear intent to do me professional harm. This organisation and the industry obviously felt sufficiently threatened by critical academic research on safety to put me on a blacklist.' The file was opened in 1995 when the professor was a high profile critic of oil industry safety standards. Six months later the file reports: 'Funding from oil industry to Glasgow University may be cut if above activities continue, or there may be a reduction in his activities to prevent this happening.' Jake Molloy from RMT's offshore branch told Chamberlain 'it is appalling that anybody should be targeted because they are talking about health and safety.' But he added: 'I am aware of an incident where a journalist from a global journal became aware that a major oil company had contacted his employer and they were considering pulling all their adverts because of what he was writing. This is the nature of the business you are dealing with. The oil and gas industry is renowned for putting pressure on anybody who challenges or questions them.'

'Disgusted' fiancée expected jail for site death

A grieving woman has said she is 'disgusted' no-one is facing a jail term after her partner was killed on a London construction site. Craig Page died in what the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) described as an 'entirely avoidable' incident where a crane carrying three times its maximum load toppled over, smashing its boom into the father-of-one. The 26-year-old left behind fiancée Michelle O'Donoghue and four-year-old daughter Shannon. Last week, Harris-Calnan Construction Ltd and its director Neil Harris pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety offences relating to the March 2009 fatality. The company was fined £80,000 plus £66,000 costs. Neil Harris was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs. Ms O'Donoghue, 31, had been expecting a prison sentence for Mr Harris and hoped he would be banned from running a company. She told her local paper: 'I'm disgusted. To just get a fine of £150,000 for two charges is just insulting and heartbreaking. We have been waiting for years to see justice served and to get a result like this is a massive kick in the teeth.' She is considering appealing against the sentence. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Dominic Ellis said: 'From the start of this project, the defendants failed to control even the most basic of risks on the construction site. These failings ultimately resulted in the tragic and entirely avoidable death of Mr Page.'



Alert electrician spots asbestos blunder

Workers and residents were put at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres until an alert electrician raised the alarm. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told Chippenham Magistrates' Court that DB Construction (West Wilts) Ltd carried out unsafe work while refurbishing a house in Bradford-on-Avon between 29 November and 10 December 2010. An asbestos insulation board ceiling was removed in an uncontrolled manner, which put employees, subcontractors and the homeowners and their young children at risk of asbestos exposure. The court heard an electrician on site raised concerns the ceiling boards being removed from could contain asbestos and he arranged for the material to be analysed before beginning work. HSE later confirmed the ceiling boards contained both white and brown asbestos. The watchdog found that DB Construction had failed to investigate whether asbestos was present in the building before work started. When removing the ceiling boards, the firm's employees and subcontractors failed to identify the material and broke up the boards releasing airborne asbestos fibres. The boards and debris were then removed in open bags and left in the garden in a breach of safety rules. DB Construction (West Wilts) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and was fined £7,000 with £3,617.50 in costs.

Tour bus crushed a mechanic

A major London tour bus operator has been fined after a mechanic suffered serious injuries while working underneath one of its vehicles. Westminster Magistrates' Court heard the 58-year-old employee of The Original London Sightseeing Tour Limited was working underneath the vehicle at a bus depot in Rainham on 21 October 2009. The open top bus had been raised approximately two feet off the ground and was supported on its axles by wooden blocks and column vehicle lifts. The court was told the man, who does not want to be named, was being assisted by a colleague who was raising and lowering the bus using the vehicle lift control on his instruction. However, one of the wooden blocks broke and the axle dropped onto the mechanic breaking his pelvis and several ribs. He was hospitalised for two weeks, could not work for six months, and still suffers from pain. The HSE investigation found risk assessments for the site had not been properly reviewed, nor were site engineers involved in the risk assessment process. Had this been done, HSE said, the company could have used another set of vehicle lifts available at the time of the incident or taken the tri-axle buses to another depot where there were numerous vehicle pits. Following the hearing, HSE inspector Jane Wolfenden said: 'The use of wooden blocks in this way could easily have resulted in a fatality. It was foreseeable that the blocks were likely to give way, putting the lives of employees at risk. Had the company carried out an effective risk assessment that involved site engineers, this entirely preventable incident could have been avoided.' The Original London Sightseeing Tour Limited was fined £10,500 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000 for a criminal safety offence.

Worker died in unguarded machine

A company has been fined £133,000 for criminal health and safety failings after an employee died from head injuries while carrying out maintenance work. John Smith, a 53-year old Railcare employee who had been with the firm about 30 years, died as a result of the injuries sustained whilst working at an axle lathe that had an unguarded chuck. He was using the machine to polish a train axle at Railcare Limited's site in Glasgow in December 2008. The firm admitted a series of criminal health and safety failures. The fine imposed on Railcare, which is based in Milton Keynes, was reduced from £200,000 after its guilty plea. On 15 December 2008, Mr Smith was found lying on his back at the site, wearing only one glove and with a 'considerable' amount of blood beside him. He died of a head injury. Although there was no witness of the incident, it is believed his sleeve was caught in the 25-year-old machine and pulled him towards it. The court was told that the lathe, which rotated at 600 rpm, did not have a guard fitted to it to protect workers. Following the case, Elaine Taylor, head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) Health and Safety Division, said: 'This case yet again demonstrates the crucial importance of employers carrying out suitable and sufficient assessment of risks to their employees in the course of their daily work, taking the steps necessary to identify such risks, and thereafter ensuring that safe systems of work are in place and dangerous machinery parts are properly guarded. Railcare failed in each of these respects in relation to the axle lathe. As a result, Mr Smith lost his life in an entirely avoidable incident.'

Arm skinned and broken at fencing firm

An international fencing manufacturer has been fined after a worker suffered severe injuries to his left arm at a production plant in Sheffield. Sheffield Magistrates' Court heard how on 7 August 2009 the Betafence Ltd employee suffered a dislocated elbow, compound fractures to his lower arm, and had parts of his skin ripped off as he tried to re-thread some wire through a machine block. The worker, who has asked not to be named and has since left the company, was mending a wire break in one of the four rotating blocks of a wire drawing machine. Each block had a moveable guard fitted with an interlocking device which should switch off power to the block when the guard is moved out of position. To re-thread the block, the worker had to lean into the machine. He had his left arm through the rotating block when the machine started moving unexpectedly. He has since had three skin grafts and two metal plates fitted to his forearm. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the interlock had failed to break the circuit and cut power to the block as it should have done, and as the worker leaned into the machine to repair the wire, it is possible he depressed the start or run switch inadvertently. The court heard that Betafence Ltd, which operates in ten countries and employs 2,000 people worldwide, had been convicted in 2003 in a prosecution brought by HSE for a machinery safety offences in 2002 and had been subject of machine guarding-related enforcement action a number of times since. The firm was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £3,762 costs for a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations.

Two injured in eight metre fall

A construction contractor has been prosecuted after two workers fell eight metres from a temporary structure at a factory building job in Coleford. Cheltenham Magistrates Court heard that Spencer Gosney and Matthew Brewer had been subcontracted to build a concrete core as part of a new GlaxoSmithKline factory. Chalcroft Ltd was the principal contractor on site. On 12 August 2009, the two men were building the core using a large piece of climbing formwork, a frame used to contain poured concrete. As the tower got higher, the formwork was lifted up and fixed in place enabling the men to work at the top to set more concrete. But one of the anchor points holding the section of formwork where the men were standing came out of alignment before the concrete was poured in. The men used a bolt not suited for this use in its place, but fixed it at an acute angle. The bolt was unable to withstand the weight of the concrete and broke, tipping the platform upon which the men were standing, sending them falling to the ground. Gosney suffered a laceration to his head and severe bruising to his internal organs and leg. Brewer fractured his hip and pelvis and has still not returned to work. Chalcroft Ltd admitted a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £14,000 plus £23,236.28 costs.

Farmworker suffers smashed face in fall

A farmworker suffered severe facial injuries after falling 16ft through a shed roof in Cornwall. Bodmin Magistrates' Court heard self-employed worker James Best, 24, was asked to help remove fibre cement roof sheets from a shed at Park Farm, Washaway, near Bodmin on 12 July 2011. Magistrates were told Mr Best was working on the shed roof for Martin Dairy when he fell 16ft on to the concrete floor below. He suffered a broken jaw, damaged eye socket and broken arm. No plans had been made for the work and apart from a fragile warning sign at the shed and inadequate crawling board, there were no safety measures on site. Commenting after the hearing, HSE inspector Georgina Speake said: 'This incident could so easily have led to a fatality and could have been prevented with proper planning. Falls from height are one of the most common causes of fatalities and serious injury in both the construction and agricultural industries, which continue to remain two of the most high risk industries in which to work.' Martin Dairy Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £1,033 in costs.

Stonemason gets belated payout for diseased lung

A stonemason who developed a life-limiting occupational lung disease after he was exposed to silica dust at work has received compensation more than 13 years after he was diagnosed, and despite one set of solicitors turning his case down. John Whittaker, 65, suffers from the disabling lung condition silicosis which has left him breathless and unable to walk long distances. Despite clearly suffering from an occupational disease his case for compensation was turned down by the solicitors he first instructed in 2008. Mr Whittaker was exposed to the dust whilst working for William Anelay Ltd from 1970 to 2008. During his time with the company he was never warned about the risks of stone dust to his health. Even after he was told he was suffering from scarring on the lungs in 1998 he continued to be employed in a dangerous environment without protection. His condition became acute in 2008 and he was diagnosed with silicosis. He was forced to leave his job. At that point he decided to instruct solicitors to claim compensation. But the solicitors he first approached told him his case would fail because the case was outside the three year limitation period for making a claim. Mr Whittaker has unable to work since 2008, has been told the disease has shortened his life expectancy by five years and suffers from depression. Determined to get redress, he sought a second opinion from occupational disease specialists Thompsons Solicitors, who advised there was in fact a strong chance he could successfully claim damages. William Anelay Ltd's insurers subsequently admitted liability and agreed a six figure out of court provisional settlement. If Mr Whittaker's condition worsens he will be able to claim further compensation. A 'delighted' Mr Whittaker said: 'I felt real anger and despair when I got turned down initially as my exposure to silica dust was clear and its connection to my condition was beyond doubt and yet I was told there was nothing I could do for my ruined health and lost wages.' Oliver Collett from Thompsons Solicitors said he was 'shocked' the case had been turned down by another law firm. 'It was clear to us that he had a strong case and it was a matter of trying every legal avenue available to us to ensure that he was compensated for his massively disabling condition,' he said.

Government confirms schools asbestos inaction

The government has confirmed it is not intending to the take the 'urgent' action needed to control asbestos risks in schools. The call for action came this month in a report from parliament's all party group on occupational health and safety (Risks 541). Labour MP Ian Lavery told ministers this week they must act now or risk the lives of tens of thousands of schoolchildren and teachers from killer asbestos. He was speaking out after a Commons debate on the asbestos risk in 75 per cent of Britain's schools. During the debate, education minister Nick Gibb appeared uncertain who was responsible for controlling asbestos in free schools and academies. Responding to a question from Mr Lavery, the minister said: 'The duty to manage is the duty of the employer. In academies and free schools that would be either the governing body or the academy trust. However, I will write to the honourable gentleman shortly to ensure that I am correct on the technical question of who precisely is the employer in those circumstances.' The minister rejected the key demands of the parliamentary committee, adding that the government did not propose to introduce mandatory asbestos awareness training for teachers, governors and staff, or provide updates on asbestos risks for parents and staff. He promised MPs a review of asbestos advice to schools later this year following an ongoing investigation into the vulnerability of children to low levels of exposure, commissioned by the asbestos in schools steering group under junior minister Lord Hill.

International News

Canada: Horrific crash kills 10 farm workers

Ten migrant farm workers in Ontario, Canada, have been killed when the van transporting them collided with a flatbed truck. Three other workers suffered critical injuries. The flatbed driver was also killed. The tragedy, which occurred early evening on 6 February, has led to renewed calls from agricultural workers' organisations for improved safety in the industry. 'On behalf of the 250,000 members of UFCW Canada, our thoughts go out to the families of all the victims of this tragic and horrible accident,' commented Wayne Hanley, the national president of UFCW Canada. 'The safe transportation of agriculture workers has always been a critical issue, and we must expect a relentless investigation into how and why such a tragedy occurred.' The union leader added: 'This is shocking reminder to the more than 10,000 members of the Agriculture Workers Association who already know the dangers involved in working in the agriculture sector. Out of respect for the victims, and for all the men and women working in the agriculture sector, we will work to ensure that every factor in this accident is investigated to make certain it never happens again.' In association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada operates four Ontario support centres for domestic and migrant workers and six others centres across Canada. Stan Raper, AWA's national co-ordinator, said migrant labourers often pull long shifts as chicken catchers or on pig farms, travelling from barn to barn in passenger vans like the one involved in the crash. 'They are usually quite invisible and we don't often hear about them until something like this happens,' he said.

USA: Truck drivers shut port over safety

Trucker drivers working for the major haulage contractors at the port of Seattle turned off the engines, got out of their cabs, and stopped hauling to draw attention to their serious safety concerns. As a result of this week's action, commerce at the major trading hub slowed to a trickle. The truck drivers, who are treated as self-employed and so are not unionised, say they are making it their job to sound the alarm on occupational hazards, overweight containers, shoddy equipment, risks to motorists, and the culprits responsible for these rampant safety violations: their employers and their giant high street retail clients. According the 'Clean and Safe Ports' campaigners, the trucking bosses at Pacer, Seattle Freight, Western Ports and others were stunned, but the state police weren't. Top cops in Washington State testified before lawmakers right alongside the workers, detailing a dizzying array of dangers associated with the industry, including a high proportion of illegally defective vehicles. The truckers are seeking a new law from the state legislature which would shift responsibility for fixing the hazards, paying fines, and correcting safety violations off from the supposedly self-employed drivers, and onto the haulage firms themselves. The Change to Win union federation is backing the Clean and Safe Ports campaign.

USA: Social network pics used against sick workers

When your job harms you it may not be good enough just to be sick; you may have to demonstrate you are perpetually miserable as well. US workers are discovering that any suggestion of enjoyment posted on social networking sites, could see the injured party's workers' compensation payouts stopped. One injured worker in Arkansas was denied an extension of disability benefits after his former employer and insurance company unearthed pictures from social networking sites that showed him 'drinking and partying,' according to the judge who turned down his appeal. Nearly three years earlier, Zackery Clement suffered a hernia when a refrigerator fell on him. His insurance company and his employer, a furniture and appliance retailer, paid for medical expenses and disability payments. When Clement applied for an extension of those benefits, he was turned down by a judge and the workers' compensation commission. The insurer and the retailer had submitted pictures of Clement taken from Facebook and MySpace, arguing that the pictures proved his injuries were healed. Clement took his case to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which ruled that the photos of him - one of which is captioned "drinkin" - were acceptable evidence of his recovery. The decision of appeals judge David Glover included a lengthy timeline of Clement's injury and rehabilitation, which included three surgeries, along with the observation that Clement tested positive for cannaboids at one point during his treatment. Judge Glover wrote: 'We find no abuse of discretion in the allowance of the photographs. Clement contended that he was in excruciating pain, but these pictures show him drinking and partying.'

USA: Industry stalls diesel fumes cancer action

Publication of a landmark US government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners ? already 20 years in the making ? has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. Diesel exhaust fume has been recognised by the UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a probable cause of cancer in humans since 1989, and the US government's workplace safety research body National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been calling for its control in mines since the 1970s. But for the time being, at least, the results of the $11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and NIOSH are under lock and key, after a federal judge affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to see the background documents in advance. The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up ? with consequences not only for underground mining but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping. Andrea Hricko, a professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California who has followed the dispute, said a statistically powerful government study could have far-reaching impact. 'They feel compelled to challenge it because they don't want more regulations on mining equipment and locomotives and trucks,' she said of the mining industry. In a recent court filing, lawyers representing the industry-run Mining Awareness Resource Group (MARG) wrote that publication of the diesel study, along with government plans to notify its subjects of any health risks, is 'likely to spawn public concerns, regulatory actions, and lawsuits, likely based on inaccurate and faulty Study reports.'

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