issue no 222 - 3 September 2005
Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 11,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. 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 statement.
TUC's top level safety reps' training course will soon be available online. From October, the TUC Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety, which can lead to a professional safety qualification, will be available for study from the comfort of your computer workstation. TUC says the course is aimed at experienced union safety reps and adds: 'The 36 week course gives learners the opportunity to question the development and function of health and safety law, discover how to build trade union organisation for health and safety and tackle some of the health, safety, welfare and environmental problems that workers currently face.' TUC says participants will access the course via the internet and work interactively on tasks with tutors and other people taking the course. Learners will be expected to work for at least 3 hours per week for the duration of the course with the advantage of being able to work at a time and in a place that suits their needs. Online learning should not be seen as an alternative to paid release from work. The law allowing trade union safety reps paid work time for trade union safety training still applies, whether learning takes place away from work or in work, at a workstation or in a company learning centre.
It is less than two months to European Health and Safety Week, and the TUC wants safety reps to get busy. The Wednesday of this annual event has been designated 'National Inspection Day' each year - this year, that's Wednesday 26 October - when all safety representatives are asked to inspect their workplace. The 2005 event runs from 24-28 October. To make the business of inspection that bit easier, TUC has produced a simple guide to inspections that includes forms and a checklist. There is also a National Inspection Day poster to download and use. TUC believes, of course, that inspections are not just for safety week, they are for all year round. Don't feel you have to wait.
Britain's employers are being urged to 'wake up' after a survey found that many business leaders were failing to protect staff in the aftermath of the London bombings. According to Amicus, the majority of directors had never bothered to consult their employees for their views on how to handle terrorism. The union said hardly any chief executives had taken the time to attend a health and safety meeting and that 69 per cent of firms polled for the union had not consulted union safety representatives on terrorism issues. The snapshot study of 100 companies, by the Corporate Social Responsibility Foundation on behalf of the union, found that 23 per cent of bosses had never practised any emergency procedure between their staff and the rescue services. And 77 per cent of health and safety committees had not met to discuss terrorism since the July 7 attacks - while just eight per cent of firms asked staff for feedback on possible measures. Amicus national officer David Fleming said the results were a 'wake-up call' for UK employers. 'Sadly, it seems directors are sometimes more comfortable talking to their shareholders about money than engaging with their staff about how to stay alive,' he said. Tim Arnold, from the CSR Foundation, said: 'Nearly all of the victims of the London bombings were people on their way to work, yet top directors do not have the same attitude towards health and safety that they have when it comes to announcing their share price.'
Rail union RMT has told Eurostar that replacement workers used in place of striking security guards could present a safety and security risk. The union members at Ashford and Waterloo, employed by security firm Chubb, went on strike on Friday and Saturday last week as part of an ongoing safety dispute. The strike lasted for three-and-a-half hours on each day. RMT raised concerns with Eurostar ahead of the strikes that safety and security standards would be compromised if Chubb used unvetted and untrained staff in an attempt to undermine the industrial action. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'I have written to Eurostar expressing our concern that the use of staff who are untrained or who do not have the required counter-terrorism check would seriously compromise its passenger-screening operation.' He added: 'Our security guard members are trained to use specialist equipment and techniques to ensure that no dangerous materials can enter the Eurostar system, and the use of untrained or unvetted staff in an attempt to undermine our action would seriously compromise security.' He said RMT's membership at Chubb has grown by 25 per cent since this dispute began. RMT said the strikes had been 'very successful'. The dispute is ongoing.
Thousands of GMB members at DHL Vauxhall and other depots around the country, who handle hundreds of thousands of parcels per day, are angry that the delivery company has no plans in place for dealing with evacuation if suspect packages are found. GMB says it want the company to introduce rigorous Royal Mail-style evacuation procedures. In a statement, the union said: 'GMB demands that DHL carries out risk assessments and health and safety checks at all of its parcel depots.' GMB was concerned that following the terrorist attacks on London, dangerous materials could be travelling through parcel depots, the statement said. 'GMB is worried that the potential for postage of deadly parcels, containing explosives and toxic substances like ricin, could be leaving DHL employees and members of the public at risk,' it said. 'GMB believes that it is ridiculous in the current circumstances to not have parcel depots' safety procedures vetted by trained health and safety representatives.' The union wrote to DHL eight weeks ago requesting risks assessments and access to its major London depot, at Nine Elms, Vauxhall, but has so far receive no response. Frank Minal, GMB regional officer covering the depot, said: 'It is essential that at a location as big and important as Vauxhall that there is clarity in the procedures and that tried and tested systems are used in what are tense and dangerous times. We want to sit down with the company to sort this out.'
Postal workers' union CWU has accused the courts of not using the full power of the law to rein in dangerous dog owners. The union raised its concerns after negligent dog owner Barry Waite was ordered by magistrates to pay £1,000 compensation to a south Wales postie after pleading guilty to having a dog dangerously out of control in a public place. Delivery worker Andrew Peters was attacked in June as he delivered mail in Treowen, south Wales, and sustained hand injuries requiring a three day hospital stay (Risks 220). Blackwood Magistrates Court put a lifetime control order on the bull mastiff dog, requiring that it is muzzled, controlled by an adult and adequately secured. After the incident, postal workers refused to deliver mail to the street. CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said 'with around 6,000 dog attacks on UK postal workers every year this issue continues to be a major safety problem for our delivery members and the courts have got to start taking such cases more seriously.' He added: 'The courts seem more prepared to issue harsher sentences to owners committing animal cruelty offences against their dogs than those owners who allow their dogs to badly injure people.'
The gas supply company Transco was fined a record £15 million last week after being convicted of serious safety breaches which led to the deaths of a family of four in an explosion. As well as imposing the heavy financial penalty - the previous biggest fine in UK health and safety law had been £2 million (Risks 151) - the judge, Lord Carloway, condemned the firm's lack of remorse and attempts to evade blame. The blast in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, in 1999 which claimed the lives of Andrew Findlay, 34, his wife Janette, 37, and their children, Stacey, 13, and Daryl, 11, had been caused by a leak from a severely corroded gas main outside their home. The jury's guilty verdict against Transco, which made a profit of £390 million last year on a turnover of £2.2bn, was unanimous. The Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, QC, said he had wanted to bring a charge of culpable homicide (Risks 92), but Transco persuaded appeal judges to dismiss the charge, which named no individual director or employee (Risks 109). The Crown was left with a charge under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, where there was the possibility of an unlimited fine. STUC health and safety officer Ian Tasker said the fine was 'a penalty that quite obviously reflects the seriousness of the breaches of health and safety regulations involved in this case.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: 'We are pleased that the courts finally seem to be taking health and safety offences seriously. However it does illustrate why we also need an offence of corporate killing. A conviction under the health and safety at work act is still seen as an administrative breach, whatever the penalty. We believe that this case also reinforces the case for more stringent duties on directors with penalties for those that allow situations like this to arise.'
Workplace health and safety policy in Scotland is to be directed by a new 'partnership'. Scottish ministers and their Westminster counterparts have joined forces with the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) in a bid to improve workplace conditions. The partnership brings together businesses, unions, UK, Scottish and local governments, the Health and Safety Executive and health and safety professionals 'to help implement HSC's GB-wide strategy to improve workplace health and safety'. The work of the partnership will be steered by a committee which will meet at least three times a year. Margaret Burns, an HSC commissioner, said: 'This new partnership shows the commitment of a wide range of organisations to work together to make a real impact on health and safety in Scottish workplaces.' Burns will chair the committee. The 10 other members, who are appointed by HSC, include three representatives of Scottish union federation STUC.
Latest occupational health statistics, pulled together from the UK's piecemeal workplace disease reporting system, have been published by the Health and Safety Executive. HSE says for the first time the statistics identify the contributing factors recorded by specialist doctors involved in cases of musculoskeletal disorders and mental ill-health. In 2004 specialist doctors in the Health and Occupation Reporting (THOR) network saw an estimated 23,000 new cases. HSE says as in previous years, the most common types of work related illness were: Musculoskeletal disorders, affecting mainly the back and upper limbs, and mental ill-health, which consisted mostly of stress, depression and anxiety. In cases of work related mental ill-health reported to THOR in 2002-2004 the most commonly reported factor was simple work pressure, which was mentioned in one quarter of cases. Highest rates of occupational asthma were in those working with flour and in vehicle spray painters. Hairdressers, barbers and beauticians had the highest rates of occupational dermatitis. HSE's figures are incomplete and are thought by many to be very conservative. Its asbestos cancer figures suggest there are approaching 4,000 cases of asbestos related mesothelioma or lung cancer each year, however other occupational health authorities believe the lung cancer estimate especially is a gross under-estimate. And the overall cancer prevalence figures used by HSE, extrapolated from a 1981 paper, puts the proportion of cancers caused by work at about 4 per cent, or around 6,000 cases a year. Hazards magazine in 1996 noted: 'This figure was always suspect and is now totally discredited... Some experts believe up to 30 per cent of cancer deaths each year may be due to work.'
An engineer who was suing Yorkshire Water for their negligence in exposing him to deadly asbestos has died of mesothelioma. Jonathan Kay died knowing he had won his legal fight after Kelda Group plc - formerly Yorkshire Water Authority - admitted liability. Mr Kay, a graduate engineer and father-of-two, did not live long enough to discover how much compensation the firm would pay out, because lawyers are yet to reach agreement on what is set to be a six-figure sum. Mr Kay's solicitor Paul Webber said: 'Jonathan Kay fought hard for justice for himself, but most importantly for him, for his young family. Despite clearly being in extreme pain, he continued in his quest. His determination and courage were rewarded when, a few weeks before he died, the former Yorkshire Water Authority admitted liability.' He added: 'Although Jonathan did not live to receive the compensation, he died secure in the knowledge that his family would be protected.' Jonathan Kay is one of a new generation of younger workers succumbing to asbestos cancers (Risks 207). Barry Welch was just 32 when he died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in April (Risks 203). John Willett, a 54-year-old former fitter and heating engineer with Manchester city council who is dying of mesothelioma, was awarded £128,000 compensation this week. Mesothelioma sufferer Andy Jones, aged 64, is trying to contact ex-employees of Kenyons Ltd in Pontardawe, south Wales, to assist his compensation case. An inquest this week found Devon pipefitter Kenneth Moore died aged 77 from mesothelioma.
Equitas, the company set up to assume Lloyd's of London's massive liability exposures, said this week it had settled some of its largest remaining direct liabilities with a $300 million (£167.1 million) payout to six major policy holders to settle US asbestos-related claims. 'These settlements benefit both parties. In reaching these agreements, Equitas has resolved some of its largest claims,' Glenn Brace, claims director at Equitas, said in a statement. Equitas was set up in the mid-1990s to take over and pay off Lloyd's huge pre-1993 exposures, largely to asbestos claims, which threatened to bankrupt the world's oldest insurance market. Equitas effectively assumed all the market's pre-1993 liabilities so that Lloyd's could continue underwriting. Equitas has been able to reduce its asbestos exposure by making upfront cash settlements worth hundreds of millions of dollars with some of its biggest claimants. Since April 2001, Equitas has paid over $2.9 billion (£1.6bn) in 35 major asbestos settlements. In June, Equitas said it had theoretical asbestos reserves of £3.4 billion (£1.9bn) at March 31. The US does not have a ban on asbestos products.
The 24-hour economy is placing women at an increased risk of breast cancer, a major study has warned. Researchers from Harvard University have established that regular night shifts increase the chance of developing the disease by as much as 50 per cent. The more night work that women do the higher the risk, says the study, which concludes that exposure to artificial lighting could be to blame. The doctors at Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital analysed data on more than 10,000 women, including several hundred airline cabin staff, and found that those who worked at night were 1.5 times more likely to get cancer than daytime staff. 'We found a significant 48 per cent increase in the risk of breast cancer among shift workers,' said the Harvard researchers. 'The fact that risks for flight attendants and other night work occupations were essentially identical provides an argument against previous theories suggesting that the increased incidence of breast cancer in flight attendants is due to effects of increased radiation or electromagnetic exposure.' The study, published online in the European Journal of Cancer, adds to a growing body of research raising concerns about the long-term health effects of shift work, and frequent changes between day and night duty. Many call centres are now staffed permanently, and large sections of the retail and entertainment industries are also open around the clock.
The hospitality trade faces an ever rising threat of legal action from employees whose health is damaged by secondhand smoke, health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has warned. It said its registered legal letter sent to all the major hospitality trade employers could form part of any future court cases for compensation from employees whose health is damaged by secondhand smoke. ASH said the best defence for the industry would be to back smokefree legislation, ending smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places. ASH director Deborah Arnott commented: 'It is past time for every employer in the hospitality trades to realise that fully smokefree workplaces are both necessary and inevitable. Some big pub chains, for example, have made real and welcome progress. And more and more restaurants are smokefree throughout. But too many employers are still exposing their staff and customers to the health damage caused by secondhand smoke - and running serious legal risks as a result. The only real defence for any employer against the rising threat of legal action is to go fully smokefree. The sooner the government decides to drop its unjustified exemptions for some pubs and clubs and introduce simple and comprehensive smokefree legislation the better.' ASH has been working with the trade union and personal injury lawyers Thompsons to identify cases, particularly in the hospitality sector.
There has been a 15-fold increase in prosecutions of people who physically assault NHS staff, new figures have revealed. Department of Health figures showed there had been 759 prosecutions in 2004-5, compared with 51 in 2002-3. The NHS Security Management Service (SMS) has since 2003 taken steps on the problem, such as setting up a national reporting system to track repeat offenders. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the figures demonstrated 'tough action' would be taken over assaults on staff. She added: 'Although I am pleased with this increase, it also illustrates the extent of the problem. Working with the NHS Security Management Service, I am determined to reduce the number of violent incidents occurring in the NHS. NHS staff should not have to tolerate abuse.' SMS chief executive Jim Gee said: 'The vast majority of the public find violence against NHS staff to be completely unacceptable.' The SMS' new measures include establishing a Legal Protection Unit to ensure prosecutions are pursued, and a network of Local Security Management Specialists to investigate alongside police. There is also a new national reporting system for physical assaults 'so that the nature of the problem can be properly assessed and repeat offenders can be tracked.'
The international shipping industry offers almost endless opportunities for lawlessness and terrorism, a new report by the International Commission on Shipping (ICONS) has warned. Report authors Peter Morris and James Bell warn that the status of the seafaring profession has diminished even further as a result of the post 9/11 global security regimes. They argue that 'for most abused seafarers it is business as usual and, in fact for some, conditions have worsened'. And they also raise fears that the industry could be missing an opportunity - on the back of record freight rates - to spend some money to address some of the worst problems undermining safety and welfare. The new report highlights the need for skilled and experienced seafarers to ensure the safe and efficient transport of cargoes and passengers. Instead, the seafaring profession is 'regularly vilified, criminalised and portrayed as socially irresponsible'.
News that a leading Conservative MP in Canada has been struck with the asbestos cancer mesothelioma has led to renewed calls for an end to the country's energetic global promotion of the killer fibre. Tory MP Chuck Strahl's announcement that he has cancer, the result of workplace asbestos exposures in his youth, should be a wake up call for the government to support a global ban on asbestos, said New Democrat (NDP) MP Pat Martin. Canada is an 'international pariah' when it comes to supporting and dumping asbestos around the world, Martin said. He is calling for a global ban on the production, sale and use of asbestos, adding that the recent announcement by House Deputy Speaker Chuck Strahl should be a wake up call for the government to start moving on the issue. 'Chuck's situation illustrates that this terrible, toxic substance is all around us and the government has its head in the sand for the sake of a few jobs in Quebec,' he said. 'They refuse to acknowledge that there's no safe level of exposure. It reaffirms my commitment that asbestos in all its forms should be banned.' As a young man, Martin worked in an asbestos mine and said he was lied to about asbestos hazards. 'For the tragedy of asbestos to strike so close to us all on Parliament Hill, it strengthens my resolve that this is Canada's greatest shame and is crying out to be addressed.'
Bike couriers in Canada, tired of what they describe as years of government neglect of their health and safety concerns on smog-filled, crowded city roads, are turning to unions for support and representation. Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) national rep Valère Tremblay says the union, which is organising couriers in 36 cities, hopes to 'provide messengers with a grievance procedure'. The union drive could spur action by Canada's federal and provincial governments. The courts have already recognised that bike couriers' bodies are their engines by allowing a Can$15-a-day (£7) deduction for food as fuel on their income taxes. Now the Sierra Legal Defence Fund is considering bringing a lawsuit against the governments for failing to curtail the smog that several studies show is having adverse long-term effects on couriers' health.
China is promising radical action to stem the huge number of fatalities in its coal mining industry. Officials say they are suspending production at a third of China's coal mines. The 7,000 mines affected will need to meet national safety standards before they can reopen, official news sources say. More than 3,000 miners have been killed this year alone, in fires, floods and other work-related accidents. Analysts say the closures may be hard to enforce, as jobs and energy needs can take precedence over safety. Many of the fatalities have occurred in mines that have been closed previously or are operating illegally. The State Administration of Coal Mine Safety has already published a list of 1,324 mines earmarked for closure. About 5,700 others have been told to suspend production by the end of the year. Along with shutting mines, the government is also cracking down on collusion between local officials and mine owners, the China Daily said. North China's Shanxi Province has announced it will reward coal mine workers who report hidden dangers in coal mine operation with cash payouts, in an effort to reduce mine accidents. The identity of the whistleblowers will be kept confidential to protect them, according to a circular jointly issued by the Shanxi Provincial Federation of Trade Unions, the Provincial Work Safety Administration and the Provincial Coal Mine Safety Administration. In recent tragedies, 123 workers drowned last month in a coal mine (Risks 220). Last week, 15 miners died in a gas outburst in a local coal mine in Renhuai City, in south west China's Guizhou Province. Official reports say the mine owner is on the run.
The deadly legacy of South Africa's apartheid system is still being felt across southern Africa, as migrant gold miners, ailing as a result of heavy dust exposures, return to their rural homes to die. Occupational health lawyer Richard Spoor said miners employed by mining giants Anglo American and Harmony are travelling back to South Africa's neighbouring countries where they spend their last days in poverty. 'These are the circumstances of tens of thousands of miners - men who have spent their lives in the service of the gold mining industry,' said Spoor. 'They arrived as strong young men and left crippled by injury and disease. They have been used and consumed like commodities and discarded like pieces of worn-out machinery. Their lives and the lives of their families and children were not improved by their labour on the mines; they were instead impoverished and harmed thereby.' He added: 'The rural people of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and the Transkei have borne the real cost of gold mining in South Africa. For more than five generations, they have given up their productive men to the mines and have been burdened with the appalling toll of crippled and dying fathers and husbands who have been returned to them.' The lawyer concluded: 'To inflict harm on such a scale on a sustainable basis required that black people be dehumanised so that they could be killed and maimed without evoking outrage. The climate of impunity must end, reparations must be made and the industry must be brought to account for the crimes it has committed against the rural people of southern Africa.'
The rapid expansion of a voluntary alternative for firms who want to opt-out of formal safety inspection and enforcement is causing concern in the US and Europe. The issue has come back to the fore as OSHA, the US health and safety watchdog, this week announced three firms had joined OSHA's 'Voluntary Protection Programmes' (VPP), 'alliances' between firms and OSHA that allow companies to self-regulate. For the first time, the US safety watchdog highlighted a firm outside the US, with Ireland's General Electric (GE) Infrastructure being accepted into a US-Ireland 'joint initiative' (Risks 165). Eight US firms based in Ireland were already part of the Irish pilot scheme, launched last year. OSHA said Ireland is 'the first country to implement a programme modelled on OSHA's highly successful VPP.' However, critics have said the scheme is costly, and diverts resources away from formal enforcement activities, a warning also made in a US government General Accounting Office report (Risks 173). The report also noted that claims the scheme is successful are based on self-reporting by the firms involved, and criticised OSHA for making no serious attempt to assess the effectiveness of the approach. Firms have been found to have fiddled their accident records in a bid to qualify for VPP (Risks 169). Irish safety officials, however, used OSHA's 'evidence' of success to justify the development of VPP. Safety experts both sides of the Atlantic have voiced concern about the expansion of VPP. Jordan Barab, a former high ranking OSHA official, told the Washington Post this week: 'There is no substance to alliances. They have taken the place of standards and making rules.' And a report in the June newsletter of Europe's union safety thinktank HESA, noted: 'OSHA has tried to get VPP spread throughout the European Union, which would enable companies in such programmes to largely evade control by safety inspectors. So far the attempts have failed, except in Ireland and Northern Ireland.'
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2005
The Construction Safety Campaign (CSC) and the Hazards Campaign have organised a health and safety fringe meeting at this month's TUC Congress in Brighton (Risks 221). Speakers will call for unions and campaigners to 'fight the government's deregulation agenda for health and safety or face more death, injuries and disease.' If you wish to attend but are not a delegate to the TUC Congress you will need to contact CSC to obtain the pass necessary to enter the Brighton Centre.
Visit the TUC http://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.
Newsletter (5,300 words) issued 2 Sep 2005
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printed 22 May 2013 at 14:49 hrs by 126.96.36.199