Risks 557 - 26 May 2012

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

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

Union News

Safety cuts already causing hurt

The government's drive to reduce regulation and enforcement of workplace health and safety is already causing harm at work, the union Unite has said. The union has been asking its union reps how the changes are impacting on standards at work, ahead of the government's own progress report later this year. Unite reps have so far reported a worrying deterioration they link to a government-ordered downgrading of safety protection, which includes slashing enforcement by a third, exempting most firms from preventive inspections and cutting the Health and Safety Executive's budget to the bone. Unite reps say they are feeling the pain at work, with some reporting employers have cut back on personal protective equipment at work and are failing to properly report legally reportable injuries. They also point to work overload as a result of public sector cuts, a lack of action on stress and mental health issues at work, poor management of asbestos at work and a failure to take preventive action to protect women from reproductive risks. Unite intends to collate a dossier to demonstrate the positive effect of unions on health and safety and the problems they are facing as the safety cuts bite.

NUJ victory on Dale Farm production order

The NUJ and other media organisations have won a judicial review at the Court of Appeal overturning a court decision to grant a production order which could have left journalists at increased risk of violence. The appeal came after journalists were told they had to hand over to the police unbroadcast footage of the eviction of travellers from Dale Farm in Essex. Jason Parkinson, the NUJ member who took the case to the Court of Appeal, a move supported by major news organisations, said: 'We are not there as evidence gatherers to fill police intelligence databases with hours of material on activists or protestors, we are journalists and we are there to report the news and keep the public informed. In the last 18 months, every time one of these orders has been served it has put journalists in greater danger while trying to report on public order situations. I know this because I have been threatened and assaulted by people claiming my material will be used by the police.' He added he was 'very happy' the judicial review 'recognised the impact these orders have had on the safety and impartiality of all journalists and has made sure any future production order applications must take this into account, as was clearly not the case this time round.' Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said the ruling was 'a huge victory for the cause of press freedom and the protection of sources and journalistic material. We are incredibly pleased that the NUJ and other media organisations have won the High Court battle against the police production order to force journalists to hand over their Dale Farm eviction footage.'

Dangerous backdrop to offshore gathering

Activists from the offshore branch of maritime and transport union RMT gathered in Dundee this week for a conference where safety issues were a looming concern. The meeting came less than two weeks after Bond Helicopters was forced to ground their fleet for urgent safety checks following a ditching and safe recovery in the North Sea. It also follows ongoing safety fears in the wake of the March 2012 gas blowout on the Elgin platform, which lead to an evacuation and an exclusion zone (Risks 549). Speaking ahead of the conference, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the meeting was 'timely', adding it 'will give us a perfect opportunity to address the recent issues that have been dominating the headlines on safety and security and to formulate a co-ordinated union strategy that takes us forward.' Jake Molloy, RMT offshore industry organiser, said: 'Safety, piracy, hostage taking and the protection of our members' jobs and working conditions are foremost in our minds... The message to the offshore workforce could not be clearer, your union, RMT, is in fine shape, is on fighting form and will continue to lead the battle to achieve the best and safest working conditions across the whole industry.'

Warning on 'hidden killer' in schools

UNISON is calling for urgent action to protect education staff from the dangers posed by asbestos in schools. The union was speaking out after a school caretaker and member of UNISON died from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. It took up the case after the unidentified member was diagnosed with the condition in December 2010. The union secured a £248,000 compensation payout. The father of two, who died in March 2012, was exposed to asbestos working for Lancashire County Council as a caretaker at two primary schools during the 1980s. Asbestos was present in the boiler rooms. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: 'Mesothelioma is a deadly killer and asbestos is still found in many public buildings. Employers must take this threat seriously and take every possible step to make sure people are safe at work.' UNISON says Labour's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was intended to rebuild or renew nearly every secondary school in England. This programme would have got rid of a lot of the asbestos present in schools. But the union says the coalition government has scrapped these plans, leaving many at risk. More than 75 per cent of Britain's state schools contain asbestos. Much of that is badly maintained, meaning that children and staff are exposed to this killer fibre.

School plumber gets mesothelioma payout

A former plumber has received more than £245,000 in compensation after being diagnosed with a deadly asbestos cancer. The 62-year-old GMB member from Whitchurch, Cardiff, was exposed to asbestos while working as an apprentice plumber for Cardiff Corporation, later known as Cardiff County Council, from 1965 to 1970. During his time at the Corporation he worked on house and school maintenance programmes where he was exposed to asbestos present in heating systems and roofs. He was never warned about the dangers of asbestos nor given adequate protection from the dust. He first began to suffer from symptoms of asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma, in December 2009 and was diagnosed with the condition in March 2010. The GMB member, whose name has not been released, said: 'When I was diagnosed with mesothelioma I knew that I'd been exposed to asbestos working for the Corporation. I recall thinking back then that my work might come back to haunt me but I had no idea just how much damage the asbestos would do to me. We were never told by our employers that it was dangerous.' GMB regional secretary John Phillips said: 'The legacy of asbestos in Wales has affected many of our members who are sadly diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related disease. We are pleased to provide all our members with free legal support to help them claim compensation.'

Concern as hauliers 'abuse' drivers

A small number of independent Suffolk haulage operators has been accused of 'systematic abuses' of their drivers. Unite highlighted the plight of the drivers ahead of a scheduled meeting of a union delegation with Labour's shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle. The union is concerned about reports of abuses of the Working Time Directive by a small number of independent hauliers, based in the Felixstowe docks area. Unite regional officer Mark Plumb said: 'The flagrant abuses of the Working Time Directive include working up to 80 hours per week, every week over the regulatory period. Also, there are infringements into night time working (starting work before 4.00am) without health checks, and then followed by 15-hour days, up to three times per week.' He added: 'Members are also being encouraged to take their rest periods while their lorries are being loaded or unloaded and, in some cases, are being given loads which exceed the maximum weight limit for such vehicles.' He said the union wanted Marie Eagle to raise their concerns with transport secretary Justine Greening, 'as these alleged abuses could be mirrored elsewhere in the UK.'

We told you not to cut staff, says RMT

Cuts happy London Underground Ltd is having to undertake a massive recruitment drive after ignoring union warnings about the dangers of cutting staff. RMT members on the Tube system were informed this week by management that the company is to recruit a further 600 Customer Service Advisers, on top of the 300 employed earlier this year. It comes after the company shed 800 station staff last year. RMT said the recruitment of the latest wave of additional staff is an 'outright admission that they got their station staffing cuts programme wrong and that if they had listened to the union in the first place they could have saved themselves a huge amount of disruption and embarrassment.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Tube bosses were warned repeatedly that their job cuts programme would come back to haunt them and so it has proved. The axing of station staff has been a massive blunder that has left stations unstaffed, created safety problems and led to disruption from the moment it was introduced. Instead of listening to the union warnings Tube bosses, under the leadership of Boris Johnson, ploughed on regardless and have now been forced into this massive u-turn.' The union leader added: 'RMT remains deeply concerned that the legacy of this whole botched staffing cuts process will be a shortage of trained, safety-critical staff to cope with the massive pressure that will be thrown at the system throughout the Olympics period. Tube bosses owe Londoners an apology for this wholly avoidable fiasco and a cast-iron assurance that there will be no repeat of this kind of staffing blunder in the future.'

Other news

Government publishes 'sunsetting' bill

The government has published a Bill that will build 'sunsetting clauses' into new regulations and that includes a presumption the laws will be scrapped unless a government department argues for their survival. The government also says the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will include measures for 'reducing inspection burdens on businesses of all sizes and increasing SME access to reliable, consistent advice on complying with regulations in areas such as trading standards, health and safety and environmental health.' Business secretary Vince Cable said: 'The measures in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will help make Britain one of the most enterprise-friendly countries in the world. It will improve our employment tribunals, reform and strengthen competition enforcement, scrap unnecessary red tape and help ensure that people who work hard and do the right thing are rewarded.' When the Bill was flagged up in the Queen's speech earlier this month, a TUC spokesperson commented: 'Despite all the evidence, the government retains its obsession that businesses are over-inspected. Changes introduced last year mean that most employers will never have the benefit of a health and safety inspection unless they report a death or serious injury. This will mean employers will be both less likely to report injuries, and also will be less likely to take adequate measures to protect their workforce.' He warned: 'We are already seeing evidence that fatalities seem to be rising in many industries as businesses cut back on health and safety. If the government continues to give the message that good health and safety is a burden then this can only increase.' New research has confirmed that official inspection and enforcement has a positive and lasting effect on workplace safety, with no evidence of the burdens on business or job creation and retention claimed by the government.

Vulnerable worker protection must be widened

The government should act urgently to stop the widespread abuse of foreign workers, according to a University of Manchester crime expert. Professor Kauko Aromaa from the university's School of Law says gangmasters' legislation drawn up after the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster in which 23 cocklers are believed to have died could be widened to include other employment sectors. New research by Professor Aromaa found forced labour is widespread within sectors including construction, food processing, catering, cleaning and agriculture. Though the study was conducted in Northern Europe, all countries in Europe - including the UK - have similar problems, he says. Presenting his findings this week at a Manchester University conference on cross-border crime, Professor Aromaa called for an extension of the enforcement scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). 'The GLA was created after the tragedy of 2004 and is working reasonably well for workers in the agriculture, horticulture and shellfish sectors. However, the problem is widespread in a range of other sectors across Europe, including the UK, so we say existing GLA legislation could and should be urgently broadened to address this.' He added: 'Despite the evidence, the government is yet to pick up on what is a serious problem. Part of it is that they aren't aware of the extent of the situation. But it's also controversial for governments to protect the migrant community who do not attract much sympathy from sections of the public. We say, though, that it is the responsibility of politicians and policy makers to rise above this and protect the vulnerable.'

Behavioural safety gets a drubbing

Behavioural safety 'came in for a bit of a bashing' at a major safety event last week, where even proponents of the approach agreed that it can go horribly wrong. SHP Online, published by the Institution of Occupational Health, was commenting on contributions at last week's Safety and Health Expo in Birmingham. It reports consultant and former director of health and environment at GMB Nigel Bryson told delegates that 99 per cent of why most behavioural safety processes fail is because of lack of credibility. Unite's Bud Hudspith, whose union is running a Beware Behavioural Safety campaign, said: 'Common downsides here are where programmes have clearly been designed to shift the responsibility for safety from management on to the workforce. Basically, most behavioural safety programmes don't work and are a waste of money. Instead of doing them, we want companies simply to identify hazards and deal with them. If they did that, then they wouldn't have to worry about the psychology of the workforce!' He added: 'Most safety professionals know that most accidents are down to a combination of factors coming together. Behavioural safety, however, says this is wrong - and that is why Unite's campaign is telling people to 'beware'.'

Death exposes wood dust cancer risk

A young carpenter and joiner from near Stamford died from a form of cancer which is thousands of times more common in people working with wood dust, an inquest has been told. John Montgomery died at the age of 37 on 4 August 2009, as a result of a sinonasal carcinoma. An inquest into his death heard it is a cancer diagnosed in about one in a million people a year but among one in 2,000 people who work with wood. Mr Montgomery began working in the industry at the age of 16. Martin Thompson, who took on Mr Montgomery as an apprentice, told the inquest: ''I would not say covered in dust everyday.' But Mr Montgomery's widow, Jo, said he would frequently come home 'absolutely covered in dust' during his time working with Mr Thompson. The inquest also heard from Malcolm Brandwood, from QKS in Stamford who employed Mr Montgomery to fit kitchens. He said exposure to wood dust in that job was 'minimal'. Professor Anthony Seaton, from the Institute of Occupational Medicine, said about one in a million people are diagnosed with the condition each year, but this figure rises to one in 2,000 for those employed in woodwork. Contradicting the evidence of another expert witness, he described the likelihood of a link between Mr Montgomery's condition and his trade as 'overwhelming'. Coroner Gordon Ryall recorded a narrative verdict saying the cause of Mr Montgomery's death were a pulmonary abscess and emphysema, conditions affecting the lungs and sinonasal carcinoma, which had spread to the brain. He said: 'Mr Montgomery died from the consequences of a sinonasal carcinoma tumour and such tumours may be due to exposure to wood dust. Mr Montgomery was exposed to wood dust during his working career.'

Award for Olympic construction safety record

Safety standards during union-organised construction of the Olympic park have been recognised with a special award to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) presented the Diamond Jubilee Award to the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). The construction of the main 2012 venues involved around 62 million hours of work with an Accident Frequency Rate of 0.17 per 100,000 hours - less than half the construction industry average. The project was also completed without a work-related construction fatality. Tom Mullarkey, chief executive of RoSPA, said: 'The ODA's approach to occupational health in particular, provides a shining example that the construction industry at large could learn from and follow.' Dennis Hone, ODA chief executive, said: 'We are honoured to receive such a prestigious award in recognition of the health and safety achievements of our workforce.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The TUC and construction unions have worked closely with the ODA to ensure that the Olympic Park was not only completed on time and on budget, but built with an outstanding safety record and a high level of employee engagement. This RoSPA award is a welcome recognition of the hard work that has gone into achieving all these aims. The task facing the construction industry now is to learn from the Olympics and to make this the new benchmark.'

Adhesive firm comes unstuck as worker loses thumb

An adhesive tape manufacturer has been prosecuted after a 19-year-old agency worker severed his thumb in machinery at a factory in Wellingborough. Joe Reynolds had only been working at Latrave Ltd for three weeks when the incident happened on 25 August 2010. Mr Reynolds, who has now turned 20, was being trained to fix a known problem on a running printing press when his left hand was pulled between two rollers. He was airlifted to the specialist hand injury unit at Royal Derby Hospital where he had part of his thumb amputated. He was in hospital for five days and off work for nearly seven months. He still requires physiotherapy and the injury has stopped him pursuing many of his hobbies, including boxing and repairing and riding bicycles. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the machine's guard was missing and that the teenager was being trained in an unsafe work method. Wellingborough magistrates found Latrave Ltd guilty of a criminal safety offence and fined the firm £8,000 and ordered it to pay full costs of £14,736. After the hearing, HSE inspector Mark Austin said: 'This inexperienced 19-year-old agency worker has suffered serious, permanent harm because Latrave Ltd failed to ensure his safety when operating this machine. His future career path may have been changed and it will have a lasting effect on his life. The machine had guards missing, he was shown dangerous practices like keeping it running while fixing it, and was not properly supervised for someone who had only worked for the company for less than three weeks.'

Worker injured after safety device is disabled

A component engineering company in Cheltenham has been fined after an employee suffered head injuries on a machine that had a safety mechanism deliberately disabled. Grzegorz Chylenski, 33, was working with a Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machine at PG Components Ltd at the time of the incident on 22 August last year. Cheltenham Magistrates' Court heard when Mr Chylenski reached into the open CNC machine to retrieve a dropped component, he was struck on the head by moving parts, suffering a fractured jaw and cuts to his face and ear. On the day of the incident, the CNC machine had been programmed by one of the directors of PG Components and was running on a short cycle. The enclosed machine is fitted with a manufacturer's safety function that stops the machine running when its doors are opened. However, an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the safety mechanism had been disabled. Bypassing the manufacturer's safety mechanism and operating the machine with the doors open allows for a quicker, more efficient cycle, but poses a risk to the operator and anyone reaching inside. Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Dominic Goacher said: 'This incident could have been avoided had the manufacturer's safety device not been bypassed. Allowing the CNC machine to be used in this state puts operators at serious risk of injury or even death.' PG Components (Cheltenham) Ltd was fined £11,200 and ordered to pay £2,777.60 in costs and compensation to the injured party of £2,500.

Haulage firm punished after warehouse death

A Grimsby haulage company has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker was killed when a row of steel coils 'collapsed like dominos' trapping him under their five-tonne weight. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted ABC (Grimsby) Ltd after Alan Burr, a warehouseman and forklift truck driver, was fatally crushed when he tried to repair some torn packaging on a roll of coil at the firm's warehouse in Immingham Docks on 27 January 2010. Grimsby Crown Court heard that Mr Burr, a long-serving employee at the company, had been stacking the narrow banded coils on rolls in batches of four or five, with a gap between each coil. Each coil measured five feet in diameter and weighed around one tonne. As he was standing between two of the rolls to repair the damaged wrapping, one of them toppled, causing a domino effect to the stack. The 52-year-old was trapped under the weight and was pronounced dead at the scene. HSE's investigation found the method used by Mr Burr to store the coils was a common one and others had stored them in a similar way. No one from the company had instructed the employees not to do this. HSE inspector Denise Fotheringham said: 'This loss of life could have been avoided if sufficient instruction, training and the provision of inexpensive coil racks - which work on the same simple principle as a toast rack - had been provided by the company.' Mr Burr's wife of 24 years, Mandy, described her loss in a victim statement to the court. She said: 'To have someone knock on your door and tell you that the man you love with all your heart will not be coming home again, and then watch your daughter collapse on the floor as she heard the news, is a feeling very hard to describe. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, it's like having your heart squeezed so tightly, you cannot breathe properly. Alan and I had planned to grow old together and always be there for each other, but that was taken away in a split second.' ABC (Grimsby) Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.

International News

Japan: Rare cancer deaths at printing firm

Four former employees of a printing company in western Japan died after developing bile duct cancer, raising concerns about the use of chemicals at the plant. Shinji Kumagai, an associate professor at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health who was part of the team that uncovered the deaths, said chemicals used at the factory are the probable cause of the cancers. Families of the deceased are seeking to have the deaths recognised as work-related fatalities, and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) has started an investigation. Another worker also developed bile duct cancer but is still alive. Kumagai said 33 male employees worked at the offset printing company's proof printing section from 1991 to 2003. The five who developed cancer were aged 25 to 45 at the time of the cancer's onset and had been with the company for seven to 19 years. The death rate from cancer of the bile duct or nearby organs in the print workers was 600 times higher than for all Japanese males, Kumagai calculated. 'The cause (of the cancer) is from the employees' work, as the rates are so high that a coincidence is unthinkable,' Kumagai said. 'I've heard there are other proof printing companies, and an investigation is necessary.'

New Zealand: Union welcome for ships move

Unions have welcomed a decision of the New Zealand government to ban foreign-flagged fishing vessels in its waters. The move followed a series of labour abuses and tragedies in New Zealand's waters, in ships under foreign flags and carrying horribly exploited and abused crews. Jon Whitlow, secretary of the global union federation ITF's fisheries section, described the move as 'welcome, right and overdue. Scandal has followed scandal in this area in recent years, including grave instances of crew abuse. We congratulate MUNZ (the Maritime Union of New Zealand) and all those who pushed for this reform.' MUNZ general secretary Joe Fleetwood says the move will mean fishing vessels catching New Zealand quota will have to fully comply with New Zealand employment, health and safety, and labour laws, once the policy comes into force. The change is being phased in over four years. Peter Conway, secretary of the national Council of Trade Unions (CTU) commented: 'Unions proposed the phasing out of Foreign Charter Vessels so that all ships catching our quota were flagged in New Zealand and therefore subject to full compliance with our maritime and employment laws. The government has now taken that step.'

USA: Inspections are good for safety and jobs

Stopping those nit-picking safety inspectors turning up at firms without so much as an invitation and then taking action against law-breaking employers turns out to be a seriously bad business move. A May 2012 study led by Professor Michael Toffel of the famously-business friendly Harvard Business School discovered a surprise visit from an official safety inspector is good for both jobs and the bottom line, and the benefits just go on and on. The news release announcing the study was clear enough: 'New study shows that workplace inspections save lives, don't destroy jobs.' The study, published on 18 May 2012 in the journal Science, used a 'clinical trial' of California's randomised safety inspections to discern their effect on both worker safety and companies' bottom lines. The results were unequivocal: Workplace inspections do reduce on-the-job injuries and their associated costs and do not cause any harm to companies' performance or profits. The study looked at company survival, employment, sales and total payroll to see if inspections were detrimental to the inspected firms. 'Across the numerous outcomes we looked at, we never saw any evidence of inspections causing harm,' Toffel explained. And the effect was long lasting, with the report noting the reduced injuries and cost savings lasted for at least four years after the inspection. According to the study, if the same system was in operation nationwide the annual savings arising from surprise inspections would translate to roughly $6 billion to employers and employees, even without factoring in pain and suffering. Peg Seminario, safety director with the US national union federation AFL-CLO, said the study 'tells us is that protecting your workers on the job and keeping them safe is good for workers but is also good for business. What's too costly is not addressing injuries and illnesses. We can't afford not to protect people.'

USA: Groups say styrene has earned cancer tag

One of the USA's largest unions and leading environmental advocacy groups started legal proceedings last week aimed at making sure the US government can alert the American public to the potential dangers of top cancer suspect styrene. The chemical is used extensively in the manufacture of plastics, as well as boats, cars, bathtubs and products made with rubber, such as tyres and conveyer belts. The legal action is in support of the US Department of Health and Human Services' listing of styrene as 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.' The motion is in response to a chemical industry lawsuit attempting to force the agency to withdraw the styrene warning. 'Thousands of our members are exposed to styrene on the job,' said Michael Wright, safety director with the union USW. 'They have a right to know the truth - that our government has found that styrene exposures may lead to cancer in humans - and this listing makes it publicly known. It's time for the chemical industry to stop denying that truth, and instead put its resources into ensuring that styrene and other toxic chemicals are used as safely as possible.' The lawsuit in defence of styrene's official listing as a cause of cancer is supported by USW, the Environmental Defense Fund and Earthjustice.

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