Risks 549 - 31 March 2012

Share this page

Risks
Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 23,000 subscribers. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy

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

Union News

Asbestos victory at the Supreme Court

A Supreme Court ruling which this week found against insurance companies that had been seeking to deny compensation to the victims of asbestos cancers has been welcomed by unions. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, commenting on the 'trigger case' decision, said: 'We are pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld the basic principle that liability arises at the time when exposure occurs. Any other decision would have been perverse. It is a disgrace that a small number of insurance companies should seek to deny thousands of people who have developed a fatal disease from negligent exposure to asbestos the compensation that they deserve.' He warned, however, that 'there are still many people with the disease who are unable to get compensation because their insurer cannot be traced. We urge the ministers to set up immediately an Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau along the lines proposed in a government consultation carried out two years ago.' Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, commented: 'This is a landmark ruling which will affect thousands of victims of asbestos. It is a disgrace that insurance companies went to such lengths to shirk their responsibilities. For callous insurers this means the responsibility holiday is over.' Unite was party to the appeal to the Supreme Court after insurance companies were partly successful when they took the case to the Court of Appeal. The insurers argued that in some cases the employers' liability insurance is 'triggered' not by the exposure to asbestos but by the development of the disease, which is can be decades later when there may be no insurance in place. The new ruling by a panel of five Supreme Court justices establishes that the disease can be said to have been 'sustained' by an employee in the period when it was caused or initiated. One of the judges, Lord Clarke, said: 'The negligent exposure of an employee to asbestos during the [insurance] policy period has a sufficient causal link with subsequently arising mesothelioma to trigger the insurer's obligation.' He added 'it would be remarkable if the insurers were not liable under the policies. The whole purpose of the policies was to insure the employers against their liability to the workers.'

Relief at asbestos trigger case victory

Relatives and supporters of victims of asbestos cancers have expressed relief at a Supreme Court ruling which ends a six year block on many compensation payouts. Four insurers - Excess Insurance, MMI, Builders Accident and Independent Insurance Company - had argued that the date when an asbestos cancer develops should be the date when the insurer's liability is triggered. But the Supreme Court accepted the insurer at the time of exposure was liable. Tony Whitston, chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum, said: 'Thousands of claimants never lived to the just outcome of this case. Their grieving families have had to wait years for justice while this case was dragged by insurers through every court in the land. They will greet this judgment with relief rather than joy. This case is the latest in a series of shameful attempts by insurers to limit their liability to pay compensation. Let us hope it is the last.' Helen Ashton of Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, who represented Ruth Durham, who lost her father Leslie Screach to the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, welcomed the 'clarity' provided by the ruling, but added: 'There have been repeated challenges to the entitlement to compensation of the asbestos victims by the defendants in this case. In the six years that have passed since it started, hundreds of people suffering will have died without knowing that this result will help provide for their families.' Carolann Hepworth of law firm John Pickering and Partners represented Joan Eddleston, whose husband Arthur died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. She said: 'It is hard to comprehend the mindset of the insurance companies who were happy to take millions of pounds in premiums and having spent the money then argue that thousands who were wrongly exposed to asbestos and developed a fatal illness are not entitled to any compensation.'The family of Unite retired member Charles O'Farrell, who died of mesothelioma in 2003, were represented by union law firm Thompsons. Mr O'Farrell's daughter, Maureen Edwards, said: 'All I ever prayed for was the right decision. This is the right decision. I am delighted for all those families who have been awaiting this result.'

Cases expose ongoing asbestos disease crisis

The ongoing risk posed by asbestos exposure has been illustrated by two recent cases. Former school caretaker Thomas Pettman from Aylesford in Kent died, aged 78, from the asbestos related cancer mesothelioma in April 2010, just a few weeks after being diagnosed with the disease. The UNISON member was exposed to asbestos in the boiler room of the school in Kent where he worked as a caretaker. Lawyers brought in by the union secured substantial damages in an out of court settlement after obtaining evidence that forced the employer to admit liability. Mr Pettman had been determined his wife, Jackie, should be financially secure following his death. His daughter, Sharron Russell, continued the claim on behalf of her mother. She said: 'My dad was determined that mum would receive every penny she was entitled to. Sadly his health failed rapidly and he died shortly after the initial meeting with Thompsons. We felt strongly that the employer was to blame for causing dad's death and that mum should be compensated for dad's pain and suffering.' In a second case, an inquest last week heard a woman's death from mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos on her husband's work clothes. Jean Beard, 78, who was exposed to dust on her husband's working clothes on wash days decades ago, died on 9 December 2011 from an asbestos-related industrial disease, the Gloucester coroner found. Dennis Beard, who died in February 1991, worked at the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Works - a notorious asbestos hotspot where carriages were lagged with asbestos to prevent fires. A report of Mrs Beard's inquest in local newspaper the Gloucester Citizen identifies three other women in the area who died of the same cancer as a result of secondhand asbestos exposure from work clothing worn by their husbands.

Unions call for dock safety action

The UK government must undertake an 'urgent rethink' of its hands-off policy on safety enforcement in Britain's deadly docks, UK and international union bodies have said. The unions were commenting on the 'grave loophole' after a safety report this month challenged the official classification of the ports industry in the UK as 'low risk', pointing to a death rate five or more times the national occupational average (Risks 547). Despite this, Hazards magazine reports, docks are being classed as 'lower risk areas where proactive inspection will no longer take place.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow commented: 'Everybody but this ConDem government seems to understand that jobs both on board ship and on the dock side are dangerous and that safety needs to be rigorously enforced. The axing of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) jobs and funding to finance the tax cuts for the super rich is another attack on dock workers' safety that will put more lives at unnecessary risk' (Risks 548). Reaction also came from Unite's national officer for docks, Julia Long, who said: 'There have been a number of tragic incidents in UK docks which goes to show that the government needs to have an urgent rethink on its position.' Frank Leys, dockers' section secretary of the global union federation for transport ITF, said the report 'has revealed a grave loophole in the way casualties are recorded that the regulatory authorities must now address.'

Bad gloves cost railway worker his thumb

A Wakefield railway worker provided with unsuitable safety gloves ended up losing part of his thumb after it became infected by contact with human waste. ASLEF member Darren Skelton, 41, ended up in hospital hooked up to an IV drip after his thumb became seriously infected. A split on the seam of a pair of fabric safety gloves left the skin of the Northern Rail supervisor driver exposed as he moved pipes which take away human waste from the toilet systems on trains. A few days later the thumb on his right hand became inflamed and despite antibiotics from his GP continued to swell and part of the flesh began to die. Mr Skelton needed surgery to remove part of his thumb and has been left with significantly reduced sensation and restricted movement in what has been left. He had to take three months off work and when he returned he was on light duties for another three months. Mr Skelton, who has worked for Northern Rail and its predecessors for 24 years, said staff had raised concerns about the suitability of the type of glove being used on a number of occasions, but nothing was done. Workers were also concerned the gloves were cheap and weren't fit for moving the pipes. Faced with an ASLEF backed compensation claim, Northern Rail admitted liability and agreed an out of court payout of £7,500. Northern Rail workers are now provided with a latex-type glove and have been trained in which gloves to use. The pipe connections are now stored in buckets of sanitizing fluid. Mr Skeleton said: 'Over the years we have complained time and again about the type of gloves we were provided with. We knew they weren't robust and were the cheapest option. Our complaints were ignored until I had my accident.' ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan commented: 'Northern Rail failed to listen. As every gardener or anyone who uses gloves to clean the house or the car knows not all gloves are the same. Five minutes thought about what was the best glove for the job would have avoided Mr Skelton suffering a serious infection and having to adapt to the consequences of losing part of his thumb.'

Unite says no more slip ups

The union Unite has called on employers to deliver workplaces free from avoidable hazards after a member suffered a serious knee injury in a slip at an industrial lubricant manufacturer. Russell Scragg, 59, slipped on a step at Fuchs Lubricants in Stoke on Trent where he had worked in a skilled role as a blender for 10 years. The floor had not been treated with anti-slip covering despite the nature of the factory's work. He hit his left knee as he fell, causing pre-existing osteoarthritis to worsen in both knees 10 years early. Mr Scragg still suffers pain in both knees almost three years after the incident, causing them to swell if he stands for long periods of time. He has been moved off his job as a blender and is instead working in the packing department which has meant a pay cut. Lawyers brought in by Unite to act in a compensation case found the wrong type of floor covering was used in the area where Mr Scragg fell. Fuchs Lubricants admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £30,000. Neil Slater from Unite called on employers to sort out hazards before workers are injured. He added: 'This factory specialises in making lubricants and it's not unreasonable to expect that its floors would be covered with anti-slip flooring. As a result of failing to avoid the most basic of hazards Mr Scragg has been moved from a highly skilled, well paid job, to a lesser role with a reduced wage packet.' Deborah Roberts from Thompsons Solicitors, who represented the Unite member, said: 'There were several basic steps that Fuchs Lubricants could have taken to avoid this accident. For a lubricant manufacturer, anti-slip flooring is pretty obvious."

Dodgy surface floored firefighter

A firefighter who broke his ankle ended up having to resign from the service as a result of his injuries. The 37-year-old FBU member from Porth, Mid-Glamorgan, gave up his 10-year career as a retained firefighter after he broke his right ankle when he tripped on uneven ground in Porth Fire Station during a weekly exercise wearing breathing apparatus in 2007. As a result of his injury the Sports Development Officer for Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council, whose name has not been released, was unable to work as a lead firefighter for 12 months. He returned on light duties but soon realised he was not physically up to the job and handed in his notice. He also had to have six weeks off from his day job. An investigation by legal experts brought in by FBU, found the area where the member tripped had already been identified with yellow spray paint as hazardous. However, the training drill - which involved wearing masks which affected the firefighters' vision - continued without the area being cordoned off. South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority denied liability but agreed an undisclosed out of court settlement. Chris Howells, FBU regional secretary, said: 'An area of the yard had been identified as potentially dangerous and yet the training drill, using masks, was allowed to go ahead without a cordon. The fire service is trusted for saving people in dangerous situations, but in this case it was unable to keep its own member of staff safe during a routine training exercise.'

Other news

Government silent on safety law cull targets

The government has confirmed a Budget commitment to cull or revise 84 per cent of the UK's health and safety laws (Risks 548), but can't or won't say which laws are in its sights. Questioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) publication SHP Online after chancellor George Osborne's 21 March statement, a Treasury spokesperson confirmed '167 of the 199 health and safety regulations considered as part of the Red Tape Challenge' will either be withdrawn or improved. She could not give a more detailed breakdown, however. The TUC condemned the Budget as a series of measures 'for the rich by the rich' incorporating a 'regurgitated mish-mash' of pro-business moves that tell employers safety is unimportant and can be ignored. Criticisms continued this week, with one personal injury expert demanding greater clarity from the government on its plans. David Urpeth, national head of workplace injury at the law firm Irwin Mitchell, said the deregulatory moves were 'very worrying.' He added: 'The preciseness with which the figure of 84 per cent has been put forward indicates that ministers have a clear idea on how they can make changes. What we want to see now is a full breakdown of the suggested changes and how they intend to implement them over the next couple of years.' The personal injury expert said: 'It needs to be remembered that a good health and safety record can mean more business as such matters are being increasingly considered by prospective customers.'

Warning on the UK's dangerous role in Europe

A senior member of the European Parliament has warned that the UK government is bidding to undermine UK workplace safety law in Europe as well as at home. Glenis Willmott, a UK MEP and Labour's leader in Europe, said 'many people might be surprised to find out just how many of their rights are secured under the 'health and safety' heading' of European legislation, including directives on working hours and key workplace rights for pregnant women. 'Yet it is a critical time for health and safety,' she wrote in a 23 March blog posting. 'In February, the Tory leader in the EU, then Martin Callanan, called for these two directives to be scrapped entirely, allowing the UK government to take away these rights. David Cameron has also said health and safety laws should be repatriated, in particular the Working Time Directive. Meanwhile, in December, Conservative and Lib Dem MEPs called for strict limits on new health and safety laws - and these MEPs are expected to be at the forefront of a new 'informal committee' on health and safety in the European Parliament.' Commenting after addressing a safety conference organised by the construction union UCATT, she said: 'It is vital that employees and trade unionists understand how important these EU laws are to ordinary people's working lives. We must all realise, too, that when the government calls for 'repatriation' of health and safety laws to the UK, they are really calling for important rights to be stripped away from workers.' She added: 'Bogus headlines about 'health and safety gone mad' can often cloud the issue - but in reality, as UCATT members in the construction industry know, people's lives and livelihoods depend on their health and safety at work.'

'Massive relief' at safe gas platform evacuations

Offshore union RMT has expressed its 'massive relief' at the safe evacuation of the Elgin gas platform. A gas leak on the Elgin PUQ platform, about 150 miles (240km) off the coast of Aberdeen, led to the withdrawal of all 238 workers. Total E&P UK (TEP UK), which operates the platform, said it was taking 'all possible measures' to try to identify the cause of the 25 March leak and to bring it under control. The union commended Total for its swift decision to airlift the 200-plus workforce to safety, and said the urgent need was now to find a way of stopping the leak. It also said that Shell had done the right thing in closing down its nearby Shearwater operation. Shell said it was removing 85 staff from its Shearwater platform and the nearby Noble Hans Deul drilling rig as a 'purely precautionary' measure. The rigs are around four nautical miles (4.6 miles) from the Elgin platform. Drilling operations on the Noble Hans Deul rig have been suspended and the wells have been left in a safe state, Shell said. Commenting on 27 March, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'It is a massive relief that everyone is now clear of the Elgin platform, but there is still a free flow of gas into the atmosphere and that remains to be stopped. It took only a couple of hours to get most people off, and the last 19 were evacuated by boat because it was too risky to continue using helicopters.' RMT offshore organiser Jake Molloy said: 'Total acted very swiftly in getting everyone off, but the potential still exists for catastrophic devastation. If the gas cloud somehow finds an ignition source we could be looking at complete destruction. This is an unprecedented situation and we really are in the realms of the unknown, but the urgent need now is to find a way of stopping the flow of gas.' On 26 March, Total acknowledged a flare on the Elgin platform continued to burn but said it 'does not pose any immediate risk'.


Call for action on safety for journalists

The UK government must do more to encourage the international community to take sanctions against regimes which perpetrate acts of violence against journalists, the union NUJ has said. The call was backed by MPs, who in a 21 March debate in Westminster called upon the government to do more to hold to account regimes that fail to investigate the deaths and incarceration of journalists. The House of Commons debate came ahead of an international agreement to prepare a UN action plan. A Council of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) meeting on 22-23 March considered the draft 'UN Plan of Action'. It said a work plan should be prepared by UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova, to be presented to its executive board next spring. This would start a process 'toward the creation of a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide'. UK journalists' union NUJ said recent reports from IFEX (International Freedom of Expression Exchange) show that in nine out of ten cases of journalists killed while performing their professional duties the perpetrators of these crimes are never prosecuted. Other research shows that more than two-thirds of the people responsible are not even identified because of the failure to carry out sufficiently thorough investigations. Speaking ahead of the UNESCO decision, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: 'The UK government must take the lead in shining the spotlight on countries that appear to be dragging their feet in the protection of journalists; raising awareness; assisting member states to develop their own legislation and mechanisms for protecting journalists; improving collaboration with relevant agencies; and developing further safety initiatives, which might include the creation of so-called media corridors in conflict zones.'

Dust disease widow's information plea

The widow of a Durham man who died from a debilitating disease caused by asbestos dust just a week before their golden wedding is appealing for his former colleagues to come forward to help shed light on conditions where he worked. Thomas William Flower died in October last year from the lung scarring disease asbestosis, which was diagnosed after the 74-year-old's death following a four year battle with illness. An inquest last week returned a verdict of death due to industrial disease. Commenting on the loss of her 'soul mate', Thomas's widow 71-year-old Jean, said: 'Not knowing he died from asbestosis until after his death made things ten times worse. I am still in shock and feel numb about it. I really find that I can't think straight. I just want him back as I am feeling totally lost without him.' Thomas worked at Newalls Insulation at Washington Chemical Company Limited in the period from about 1964 to 1967, where workers were known to have heavy exposures to asbestos. He also worked at Pyrex in Sunderland between 1963 and the late 1960s to early 1970s, as well as time spent at Caterpillar at Berkeley, Washington and at Phillips Factory in 1973 until 1993 making the glass tubes for TVs before working his way up to quality control manager. Thomas then worked as a caretaker for Neville's Cross School in County Durham from 1995 to 2001 where, amongst other things, he looked after boilers and carried out general maintenance. Isobel Lovett of law firm Irwin Mitchell is helping Jean track down witnesses to support her in her legal fight. She said: 'We would urge anyone who can shed light on conditions at any of these places, and particularly anyone who remembers working with Thomas, to get in touch.'

Deadly print firm ignored warnings

One of the UK's leading printing groups was fined £112,500 at Peterborough Crown Court this week after a maintenance engineer was crushed to death in a printing press. Earlier incidents that should have alerted the company to the danger had not been acted on, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered. Ian Ebbs, a 43-year-old father of two from Morton, near Bourne in Lincolnshire, was working the night shift at the Wyndeham Peterborough (then known as St Ives Peterborough Ltd) plant in October 2008 when an automated process preparing the presses for a new print run came to a halt. The problem was identified as a stuck locking pin on the paddle wheel assembly, which prevented it moving downwards. Mr Ebbs climbed into the machinery to get at two air lines which controlled the locking pin and swapped them over, freeing the paddle wheel which then came down on him, trapping him between it and fixed parts of the printing press. He died at the scene. Wyndeham Peterborough admitted a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £112,500 and ordered to pay £80,000 costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector Alison Ashworth said: 'There had been two incidents in the months before Ian Ebbs' death when machinery moved unexpectedly in the same enclosure, but the company failed to have effective procedures in place for capturing this information and therefore failed to act upon it. If they had, it is entirely possible that this fault could have been safely resolved, rather than leading to a man needlessly losing his life.' She added: 'This printing company relied too much on the skills and expertise of experienced staff like Ian Ebbs to sort out problems, rather than having proper systems in place to identify risks and control them.'

Shipbuilding firm sentenced over welder death

A Merseyside shipbuilding firm has been fined £120,000 over the death of a welder who became trapped while driving a forklift truck. Robert Dunroe suffered mortal injuries while using the truck to transport heavy welding equipment at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead on 18 August 2010. He died in hospital four days later. His employer, Cammell Laird Shiprepairers & Shipbuilders Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found he had not been trained to drive a forklift. Liverpool Crown Court heard the 62-year-old from Wirral was crushed between the truck and a lifting beam used on a crane. Another employee ran over to the vehicle and reversed it, releasing Mr Dunroe, but he died from his injuries. The court was told that keys were routinely left in the ignition of forklifts, and that Mr Dunroe had driven a truck on several occasions without being challenged about his lack of training. No procedures were in place to inform employees who was and who was not authorised to drive the trucks. Mr Dunroe's widow, Jane, said: Rob meant everything to me.' She added: 'I'd just retired and we were looking forward to spending more time together. Our friends are couples and I can't go out with them anymore, as it just doesn't feel right. And I can't go to the places Rob and I used to go together. That feels wrong too.' Cammell Laird Shiprepairers & Shipbuilders Ltd, which has 500 employees, admitted a criminal safety offence and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £12,294 in prosecution costs on 22 March 2012.

Leisure park worker trapped in trench collapse

A worker at a Devon holiday park suffered serious injuries when a trench he was working in collapsed on top of him. Grzegorz Waluszkowski, 40, was helping to lay a drainage pipe at the park on Lady's Mile Farm in Dawlish on 23 July 2010, when the wall of the two metre deep trench caved in. He was dug out by others at the scene before the emergency services arrived but had suffered multiple fractures to his skull, jaw and cheekbones. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the park operators Main Gate Leisure after an investigation found the company had failed to adequately plan the work or put the necessary safety measures in place. Torquay Magistrates' Court heard Mr Waluszkowski, who lived on the site, was working on the trench with two directors of Main Gate Leisure Limited. The trench walls were propped-up with plywood and metal plate, with a piece of softwood between the two sides holding them up. This gave way, and Mr Waluszkowski was trapped when one side of the trench collapsed. Frantic effort were made by staff at the site to release Mr Waluszkowski, who was unconscious, using shovels and eventually one of the directors used an excavator to help to dig him out from the rubble. HSE inspector Jonathan Harris said: 'The trench was clearly inadequately supported and the plywood and metal plate were no more than a rudimentary attempt to support the trench walls. Normally trench boxes would be used as shields whenever workers need to briefly enter a trench. These boxes can be rented from hire companies.' Main Gate Leisure Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,198 in costs.

Employers can't demand Facebook details

The Information Commissioner's Office has warned employers in the UK that it would have 'very serious concerns' if they were to ask for Facebook login and password details from existing or would-be employees, following reports of such demands in the US. A spokesperson for the ICO told The Guardian newspaper: 'The UK Data Protection Act clearly says that organisations shouldn't hold excessive information about individuals, and it's questionable why they would need that information in the first place.' In the US, two American senators are asking the US attorney general, Eric Holder, to investigate whether the practice of employers asking for Facebook passwords during job interviews is violating federal law. Press reports say some private and public agencies in the US are asking job seekers for their social media details. Facebook has since warned employers not to ask job applicants for their passwords to the site, noting that it would break its terms of service. The company threatened legal action against applications that violate its long-standing policy against sharing passwords. There are indications sick workers in the UK could already have their Facebook and other social networking pages scrutinised by employers and insurers. One personal injury solicitor warned in 2008 the practice was already in use to discredit compensation claims (Risks 384). In the US this year, a worker had his workers' compensation withdrawn after a judge ruled a Facebook entry showing him 'partying' was acceptable evidence of his recovery (Risks 542).

International News

Australia: 'Red tape ideologues' must be challenged

The safety profession must challenge the 'entrenched ideologies' of conservatives baying for deregulation of workplace health and safety, an Australian expert has said. Kevin Jones, writing in his 'Safety at work' blog, says the country's conservative political parties claim occupational health and safety laws impede growth by disrupting work and adding unnecessary operational costs. 'This is not the reality but the ideology is so ingrained into conservative politics that the safety profession will gain very little traction in the next few years without a strategy to contest this ideological fantasy,' he writes. To support this claim, Jones points to research that demonstrated a company's share price increased in line with the quality of its safety management system. The lead author of the paper in the journal Safety Science Monitor 'reviewed the 100 largest companies on the Australian stock exchange and sought to assess the quality of their safety management systems.' In an editorial, he said 'the aim was to produce an OHS [occupational health and safety] filter for a share investment fund.' The paper concluded: 'The testing of the portfolio put together by the fund manager using the OHS filter showed that safety management was a corollary to company share value.' Safety blogger Kevin Jones comments: 'The morality of safety management is indisputable... but arguing for the benefits of safety on other criteria, criteria that business accepts and understands, is proving elusive. Safety is seen as a nice-to-have and not as an essential business element unless it is a requirement of a commercial contract and, even then, the safety budget is likely to be minimal.' He concludes: 'While the safety profession is promoting values-based safety, what is really needed is a business-based safety - an economic argument that occupational health and safety is profitable.' Recent research, including evidence from the US (Risks 540), UK (Risks 508) and Australia (Risks 547), has found poor health and safety is a massive burden on business as well as workers, the community and the public purse.

Europe: Stress in the workplace to rise

Job-related stress is a concern for the large majority of the workforce, a Europe-wide survey has found. The 2nd European Opinion Poll on Occupational Safety and Health, conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), measured the opinions of over 35,000 members of the general public in 36 European countries. It found eight in ten (80 per cent) of the working population across Europe think the number of people suffering from job-related stress over the next five years will increase, with over half (52 per cent) expecting this to 'increase a lot'. The poll found a large majority of Europeans (86 per cent) agree that following good occupational safety and health practices is necessary for a country's economic competitiveness, with 56 per cent strongly agreeing. Views are similar among workers and those who do not work (86 per cent and 85 per cent agree respectively). 'The financial crisis and the changing world of work is making increased demands on workers, therefore it is unsurprising that work-related stress is at the forefront of people's minds,' commented Dr Christa Sedlatschek, director of EU-OSHA. 'Regardless of age, gender and organisation size an overwhelming majority of people believe that work-related stress will rise.' Greeks were most concerned about rising stress, reflecting the country's economic turmoil and echoing the findings of a European study last year that found Greece had the largest increase in recession-related suicides (Risks 514).

Global: Workers best at monitoring supply chains

High tech giant Apple must give workers a voice in their future and demand more information about the factories where its components are made, labour and consumer groups have said. In a joint statement issued on 22 March, unions and NGOs called on Apple to rely on workers themselves to monitor the labour conditions in the manufacture of its products, not a top-down auditing approach. 'Give Apple workers a voice in their future', the joint statement from International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Good Electronics, MakeITFair and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), was released in anticipation of the results of a Fair Labour Association (FLA) audit of one of Apple's final assembly suppliers, Foxconn (Risks 545). 'Once the audits are over and FLA has gone home, the workers in the factories will again be left to deal with the brutal labour conditions that are imposed on them,' reads the statement. 'It is the workers themselves who are in the best position to monitor whether their labour rights are being respected and to push for remedies when they are not.' The groups argue that Apple must allow workers to conduct democratic elections of their own representatives in the workplace. These can then negotiate with management on the pay and conditions of the workforce. Apple suppliers have been linked to safety, child labour and other abuses. Foxconn particularly has been criticised for military style management techniques and excessive working hours, linked to a spate of workplace suicides.

Resources

Workers' Memorial Day 2012 resources

Workers' Memorial Day is less than four weeks off, so if you've not made your plans already, start working out what you are going to do on the day. 'The TUC is calling on health and safety representatives, trades councils and safety campaigners to make 28 April a day of action to defend health and safety from the attacks on regulation, enforcement, cuts and refusal to tackle the massive toll that health and safety breaches take on workers,' the national union body notes. 'Our health and our safety are under attack like never before and we must defend them, for our sake and that of future generations.' TUC has assembled a top class package of resources to help organise, publicise and effectively run 28 April events and campaigns. Available on the TUC website, you'll find a series of briefings giving all the facts and figures you'll ever need to win an argument for better regulation and enforcement, an infographic spelling this out at-a-glance, guides on dealing with the press and lobbying MPs, and a listing of events nationwide.

Events and Courses

TUC courses for safety reps

COURSES FOR APRIL 2012 TO JUNE 2012

Useful Links

  • Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
  • Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
  • HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Share this Page