issue no 226 - 1 October 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.
Union workplaces are safer, healthier places for a reason - because union organisation keeps them that way. It's not that we know more - although we usually do - it is because we have the numbers, the support and the skills to get our safety message across. Now a new TUC guide, 'Organising for health and safety', spells out how to organise more and organise better. TUC wants branch safety officers, full time officers, and groups of safety representatives to use the new online guide to help improve the organisation of health and safety in the workplace, recruit new safety representatives, and make safety committees more effective. The resource includes exercises to help build organisation and a new tool to help develop practical proposals for improving health and safety organisation in the workplace. TUC says you will get the most out of the exercises if they are undertaken by a group from the same workplace, or similar workplaces.
TUC is urging union safety reps to make sure employers take notice of their safety concerns. A new online guide to union inspection notices (UINs - Risks 28) says each one 'is a formal notice issued to a manager by an accredited trade union safety representative. It registers that the employer is not complying with health and safety legislation in respect of an identified workplace hazard, describes the action which must be taken to comply with the law and specifies a date by which action must be taken.' TUC stresses UINs are not enforcement notices but says 'branches can negotiate a voluntary system of UINs with their employer.' The new guide spells out key points for a UIN agreement. TUC says: 'Remember, that health and safety should be managed through a partnership approach with safety representatives and employers working together using the local negotiating machinery to achieve change. If this fails, and legislation has been contravened, the union inspection notices may be appropriate.' A number of unions have negotiated the right to use UINs with their employers, and there are many reports of successful outcomes. Union reps in most states in Australia can issue Provisional Improvement Notices - PINs are legal documents and are considered a key part of the trade union safety armoury (Risks 199). TUC has called for new safety reps' rights in the UK, including the introduction of PINs (Risks 158, Risks 151).
UK headquartered multinational British Petroleum (BP) is facing union criticism abroad after receiving the USA's largest ever workplace safety fine, over US$21m (£12m), in a secret deal with safety authorities. The settlement agreement between US safety watchdog OSHA and BP resulted from an OSHA inspection of the BP Texas City oil refinery after the 23 March explosion and fire which killed 15 and injured 170 (Risks 221). Last month, an official report into the blast called on BP's London-based global board of directors to institute an urgent, independent enquiry into the company's failing safety culture (Risks 220). US steelworkers' union USW welcomed the US$21,361,500 (£12.1m) OSHA penalty but said it was wrong the matter was settled behind closed doors between the company and OSHA before any safety citations were issued. USW president Leo W Gerard said the 'settlement should have happened after a citation, not before,' the more usual procedure which allows workers and the public to scrutinise the alleged safety offences. Where a company contests a citation, workers and their union have a right to participate in the process. In the BP case, the settlement talks took place in private and the union was excluded. 'We will never know what OSHA traded away to get the settlement,' said Gerard. 'The families of the victims, workers in the plant, and the surrounding community deserve to know all the problems OSHA uncovered. And the workers who face those hazards every day on the job should have had a voice in the settlement talks.' Gary Beevers, director of the USW's Region 6, said: 'Penalties are supposed to hurt, and this one represents less than half a day of BP's corporate income. It doesn't even cover what BP saved by not making the safety improvements that would have prevented the March 23 explosion.'
After the massive success of this month's barking mad puppy animation (Risks 223) the TUC is backing itself to produce yet more winners. TUC's intention is to develop a series of flash animations aimed at getting out a positive message about union membership. Next out of the stalls is 'Why the Long Face?', highlighting Community's organising campaign in betting shops. The action is different but the message is the same - unions deliver better conditions, safer workplaces and some dignity at work. It doesn't finish there, however. TUC is seeking ideas for a third and final animation! So if you have an original and funny idea to get the union message out to the world at large, tell TUC -Will Flash for Cash, the creative geniuses behind the animations, will turn the winning entry into a fully fledged, all singing, all dancing (where appropriate) animation to be launched on 16 October.
The government is to launch a new workplace health strategy later this year and is to appoint a national director 'to focus on the health and well being of people of working age.' The new director, a joint appointment of the government's health and work and pensions departments, will oversee the implementation of the Health, Work and Wellbeing Strategy to be published later in the autumn, raise the profile of work and its relationship with health and wellbeing, and help develop specific outcomes with all stakeholders to ensure people of working age get the help and support they need to stay in work. David Blunkett, secretary of state for work and pensions, said he and health secretary Patricia Hewitt 'are committed to work with the Health and Safety Commission, with business and the trade unions, to create a new occupational health programme for Britain. This is a programme to prevent ill-health, to help rehabilitate those in ill-health, to reduce absence from work, and to avoid people relying on benefits out of work.' He added: 'The new national director will work with ministers to build a strategy unmatched in Europe or the world.' Patricia Hewitt added the national director 'will lead a ground-breaking partnership that will help to break the link between ill-health and being out of work. We want to transform opportunities for people to recover from illness while at work; and maintain their independence and sense of worth.'
Top executives of a government-backed quango are pocketing six figure annual payouts for running companies overseas with scandalously poor safety records. One company, Pacific Rim Palm Oil Ltd, is managed by the arm of British government known as CDC, formally the Commonwealth Development Corporation. CDC controls more than £1 billion of public money and its aim is to invest in developing countries to help the poor. An Observer investigation into CDC's activities found there were 13 fatal accidents at its main projects in 2003, including two separate incidents where children were killed at Songas power project in Tanzania. The firm's internal report, 'CDC fatal accidents and injuries', dated 10 March 2004, reveals that there have been 62 deaths in nine years, many of them involving company vehicles killing individuals in road accidents. It concluded that, though it believed its accident rate was relatively low, 'it is clear from the investigations into the 2003 fatalities that there were many instances where management could have done more.' Ian Roberts, a professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who is an expert in road injuries, said: 'It would seem sensible to me to ensure that before bosses award themselves £200,000 bonuses they should invest in better health and safety mechanisms, otherwise it looks less like international development and more like exploitation. I have a real concern that so many people are being killed by their vehicles.' CDC has one shareholder - Hilary Benn, the secretary of state for international development. Non-executive directors include Arnab Banerji, the prime minister's economic adviser.
Supermarket giant Asda has been fined £22,000 after a worker was buried under a mound of chilled chicken and another suffered an electric shock. Both incidents happened at the Kingswood store in Hull in 2003, the city's magistrates heard. One worker was pinned to the floor when a trolley overloaded with chilled chickens fell on her and another suffered an electric shock cleaning a cabinet. Asda pleaded guilty to four health and safety offences. The first incident happened in March 2003 when a worker tried to demonstrate to a supervisor that the trolley carrying the frozen birds was unstable. The trolley had previously been taken out of use because it was defective, but then used again without any repairs having been carried out, the court was told. In the second incident four months later a female worker who had not been trained in cleaning display cabinets or switching them off before wiping them down with a damp cloth suffered an electric shock. The company was fined £10,000 for that incident and £6,000 for the chicken trolley accident. It was also fined £3,000 for two further counts of failing to maintain the trolley and another of failing to carry out a risk assessment for moving the chickens around. Asda's US parent company, Wal-Mart - the world's largest retailer - has attracted controversy for a string of safety and employment offences at its stores in Canada (Risks 198) and the USA and for safety standards at its suppliers in developing countries (Risks 214).
Young men with high work demands and a lack of control over their job situation show signs of early atherosclerosis, according to a new study. The same was not true of young women in the study. Researchers conducting imaging tests found increased thickness of the lining of the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the head, in men who reported having low job control and high job strain, according to the study in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. 'In our study, the effects of job strain on early atherosclerosis were mostly explained by high demands rather than by low control,' said lead author Mirka Hintsanen, of the University of Helsinki in Finland. The study included 478 men and 542 women aged 24 to 39 years from a continuing Finnish cardiovascular risk study. Participants were screened for other cardiovascular risks such as smoking, alcohol use, level of physical activity, body mass index and cholesterol levels. Those risks were taken into account along with job stress factors. Atherosclerosis can heighten the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Hintsanen says that not saddling employees with high workloads while providing ample time for them to perform their duties could reduce work strain. 'Developing leadership and organizing work wisely may also promote lower demands,' Hintsanen says. 'I think it is in the best interest of employers to use this kind of information.' A report from TUC and Hazards last month warned that prolonged standing at work also increased the risk of atherosclerosis (Risks 221).
The government and the 'cancer establishment' have been accused of failing to tackle the causes of breast cancer, particularly exposure to industrial chemicals. A report, by an umbrella organisation called the UK Working Group on the Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer, pulls together evidence on what is known of the effect of gender-bending chemicals, carcinogens and toxins on animals and humans. 'We need a massive rethink of priorities,' said Diana Ward of Breast Cancer UK, the principal author of the report, which was funded by the European Public Health Alliance Environment Network, public service union UNISON, the Co-Op Bank and the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign. She added: 'Government and the cancer establishment promote treatment and control and call this prevention. It's a travesty of the meaning of the word.' Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the occupational and environmental research group at the University of Stirling, commented: 'I think they are flagging up an area that in other countries is being addressed much more seriously.' The review of 50 years of research gathers together 'incontrovertible evidence' that many industrial chemicals and radiation are major causes of breast cancer. It points out that breast cancer was relatively rare until the mid-20th century, but the number of cases has risen steadily since then. In 1996, one woman in 12 was expected to get breast cancer in her lifetime, but within five years the figure was one in nine, the report points out.
Pressure is increasing on the government to introduce a blanket ban on smoking in bars. Speaking ahead of a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference this week, Peter Hollins, director general of the British Heart Foundation, said 'the case for comprehensive legislation is now overwhelming. Everyone has a right to a smokefree workplace. The current proposals will leave the most heavily exposed workers unprotected and will lead to an increase in health inequalities.' Hugh Robertson, head of safety at the TUC, said 'the trade union movement is unequivocal. We need comprehensive legislation with no exemptions urgently. Every day that smoking is allowed in workplaces, two workers die from other people's smoke. There is simply no possible argument for not going ahead with this now.' Britain's largest pub operator Mitchells & Butlers last week switched its position and backed an outright ban. It told the Department of Health: 'The food-based exemption route is unworkable, divisive, creates a confusing and inequitable playing field and does nothing to address the public health concerns for staff.'
A Worcestershire woman whose carpenter husband died after being exposed to asbestos dust at a jail is to receive a six-figure payout from the Home Office. Barry Price, 67, died in 2002 from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, which he contracted through his job at Hewell Grange Prison in Redditch. His widow Gladys agreed an out-of-court settlement over the death. Mr Price, who worked at the open prison from 1973 to 2000, was regularly exposed to asbestos dust but was not made aware of the dangers, said lawyers Russell Jones & Walker. Adam Wilson, from the law firm's Birmingham office, said: 'This was a particularly sad case where public sector employers simply failed to protect Mr Price with disastrous and fatal consequences. At the time he worked for them Mr Price's employers knew, or should have known, of the dangers of working with asbestos and the serious risks of being exposed to asbestos dust.' He added: 'The law was already in place to protect Mr Price and his employers, the Home Office, should have provided masks, clothing and equipment to remove the dust but they neglected to do so.'
NHS staff in Wales are subjected to an average of 22 cases of violent or aggressive behaviour every day, according to a study. Nurses, midwives and health visitors are most likely to be the victims. The Wales Audit Office study found violence and aggression towards health service workers costs £6m a year. The auditor general for Wales, Jeremy Colman, said the problem could be much worse because of under-reporting. The study, which looked at figures from 2001 to 2004, found the multi-million pound bill for the 15 Welsh NHS trusts is spent on the replacement of staff, training, security and dealing with legal problems. The report, 'Protecting NHS Trust staff from violence and aggression', is the first to cover the whole of Wales. The auditor general said: 'The aim of the report was to ask whether the authorities have a grip on the situation. The fact that we cannot answer the question (whether violence is increasing) is significant in that respect because there is not a grip on the situation.' He said there were not 'sufficiently robust' systems in place in previous years to record incidents. He added the 'zero tolerance' approach to violence is the right one.
The public sector fleet industry must improve safety, former union heavyweight Sir Bill Morris has said. Speaking to public sector fleet managers at a conference in Birmingham, Morris, the former general secretary of transport union TGWU, said the case for making sure employees were safe while driving was clear and unequivocal. He said with 65 per cent of all company vehicles involved in an accident each year, 'the status quo is not an option.' A Motorists' Forum report to the Department for Transport had identified benefits of better managing workplace safety, including lower insurance, improved public image and morale and fewer vehicles off the road for repair, he said, adding: 'Good practice suggests that your risk management policy should be an integral part of your health and safety policy. The policy should be built on pillars of responsibility, structure, systems and monitoring, and supported by a coalition of internal stakeholders such as employers, managers, supervisors and drivers.'
A labour inspection clampdown in Bulgaria has led to a massive improvement in safety and working conditions. A report from the General Labour Inspectorate (GLI) said improved regular inspections and penalties led to a doubling of the number of employers adopting programmes to eliminate workplace risks between 2003 and 2004. GLI said in 2004 more than 8,000 companies took measures aimed at improving health and safety and three times as many firms provided the services of 'labour medical agencies.' The report concludes that inspection campaigns targeting work-related accidents, especially in high risk sectors, had achieved clear improvements. Comparing 2003 and 2004 data, 38 sectors of the economy saw a reduction in accidents, the report said, with the most notable decreases found in extraction of iron ore (136 fewer cases), and food and drinks production (61 fewer cases). The report found that although only 1 per cent of complaints to GLI from employees or unions related to health and safety - most were concerned with pay or overtime - its statistics showed about 70 per cent of actual labour law infringements were related to working conditions. Under Bulgaria's labour law, fines and penalties are imposed on individuals, the employer or other responsible person, and not the company.
Forest workers in Canada are considering shutting down the entire forest industry for a day of mourning every time a logger is killed at work, in a bid to focus attention on the industry's high fatality rate. Twenty-seven workers have died in the British Columbia (BC) forest industry this year, according to Darrell Wong, president of local 2171 of the Steelworkers Union, which passed last week a resolution calling for such a shutdown. 'If the whole industry were to shut down every time somebody was killed, then safety would suddenly become a very high profile issue,' said Wong, who represents loggers working on the BC coast. He called the high number of fatalities a forest industry 'dirty little secret' that is not being addressed as long as each death goes unmarked. The resolution also calls for large public funerals every time a worker dies in the woods. He contrasted forestry deaths with occasions when a Mountie is killed at work, when 'the whole world pays attention so things get changed. And quite frankly I don't think things are changing fast enough in the forest industry to deal with the hazards.'
Room attendants at Toronto's famous Fairmont Royal York Hotel took their 15-minute breaks en masse last week, hoping to make a point about escalating workloads in an industry increasingly reliant on heavy luxury bedding to lure customers. Calling it a 'bed war,' UNITE-HERE union organiser Andrea Calver said hotel rooms across North America have bigger mattresses, heavier duvets and more pillows than ever before. But the people whose job it is to attend to these rooms - mostly women recently arrived in Canada - are finding the work increasingly difficult. Similar concerns have been raised recently by unions in the US and Australia (Risks 225). Some of these luxury mattresses can weigh as much as 51 kilograms and bedding can weigh 17kg, Calver said. And that's beginning to take a toll on room attendants. At the Royal York, 23 of the 150 attendants are on modified duties as a result of injuries sustained while making up rooms. 'Mostly repetitive strain - pain in their wrists and backs,' said Calver. She said most find it impossible to make their 16-room target without sacrificing their breaks. Paul Clifford, president of the union local at the hotel, said: 'The need for rest and recovery is essential for room attendants. Over the course of a room attendant's working life, she will make tens of thousands of beds. With increasingly luxurious beds, it's no surprise that repetitive strain injuries are increasing for room attendants.'
The fashion for artificially worn-in jeans is taking its toll on health, researchers have found. Jet sandblasting, used by manufacturers to distress the fabric, is leading to fatal lung diseases. Cases of silicosis, disabling lung scarring caused by inhaling crystalline silica, has been diagnosed in denim sandblasters in Turkey. Researchers raising the alarm in this month, called for urgent measures in the textile industry to protect workers. Finding presented at the Congress of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) highlighted the dangers. A team led by Metin Akgun, of Ataturk University in Erzurum, identified the condition in two young non-smoking male denim sandblasters aged 18 and 19. They had been just 13 and 14-years-old respectively when they started in the job, working eleven-hour days in the same small, enclosed, poorly ventilated workshop with only simple facial masks to protect them. One month after diagnosis the younger patient died. The researchers say denim sandblasters' silicosis seems to be a particularly acute form of the disease, developing in less than five years, rather than the 10 to 30 year period typical of silicosis in miners. 'This rapid progression is the consequence of intensive exposure to large amounts of dust with a high silica content', Akgun told the congress. A further case presented by Nur Dilek Bakan, of the Yedikule Teaching Hospital for Chest Disease and Thoracic Surgery in Istanbul, concerned a 30-year-old male subject whose lung function began to decline abruptly after just two years in the job. Similar cases of fast-developing silicosis were seen in stone cleaners working on Elgin Cathedral, Scotland.
A North American union has denounced DuPont corporation's 'abominable' health and safety record. A report from the Steelworkers' Union (USW) launched at last week's World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Florida 'illustrates that DuPont's many violations and accidents are not just isolated incidents of worker failure, but establish a clear pattern of denial of corporate responsibility,' said the union. The report says the company has a record of serious safety violations and is on the official US safety watchdog's 'Dangerous Dozen' for putting over 9 million people at risk. 'When it comes to worker safety and protecting the environment, DuPont, does not 'Walk the Talk',' said Ken Test, chair of the USW DuPont union council. 'Many of our members and retirees suffer from their exposure to dangerous chemicals that they encountered on the job during their years of loyal service.' The report is also highly critical of the DuPont STOP system, a behavioural safety package sold to other firms by the company and that earns over $100 million (£56.6m) in revenues, because it is 'based on the theory that almost all injuries are caused by worker unsafe acts.' Mike Wright, head of the USW health, safety and environment department, said 'USW has tracked data on fatality investigations for 20 years. What we almost always find when we investigate catastrophic accidents, including fatalities, is that multiple root causes related to hazards and unsafe conditions, not multiple unsafe behaviours, cause the accident.' According to USW's Ken Test: 'I could not think of a more inappropriate corporation to profit off the message of safety. These workers were asked to trust DuPont and now regret it.'
Have you agreed just the best working time agreement at your firm? Are your members happy at work, not in the dog house at home, still recognised by the kids? And is your employer fluent in all the right 'f' words - family, friendly and fulfilled, and not fried, frazzled and fatigued? Then you could be line for a major European Working Time Innovation Award. You'll have to get your skates on though - there's just a month to the 31 October application deadline. The award - 'for the most innovative way of organising working time through good social partnership' - will be presented at a European TUC (ETUC) conference, co-organised with the TUC, in London on 17-18 November. A key focus of the conference will be 'bringing to the fore the already existing rich variety of good practice examples in various EU member states, where social partners have been able to develop innovative ways to address the challenges in a way that is beneficial both to workers and companies.' So if you think you are years ahead on working time, make sure you get in your application pdq.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2005
The International Transport Workers' Federation's (ITF) highly successful annual ITF Road Transport Action Day, which has been organised since 1997 under the slogan 'Fatigue Kills!', will this year be expanded into an Action Week for the first time. ITF says the action week will be closely tied to a drive to organise the unorganised. It adds: 'Whilst we are retaining our popular slogan 'Fatigue Kills!' as our permanent logo, the following slogan will be used on our campaign materials: 'Organising globally - Building union power.''
A respiratory diseases seminar in Derby on 5 November will examine the health effects of asbestos and respiratory sensitisers and irritants in the workplace. The event will be addressed by specialist medical consultants, welfare benefits and legal advisers and support agencies including Mesothelioma UK and the Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team (DASH) and by the union Amicus.
The TUC is supporting 'Ban Bullying at Work Day' on 7 November. The event is to raise awareness of workplace bullying and to try to ensure that employers take responsibility for tackling bullying in the workplace. The day has been organised by the Andrea Adams Trust, the main charity dealing with tackling bullying at work. The trust is providing activity packs and related materials. TUC says unions can use the day to raise awareness, survey members or even seek agreement with employers on preventing bullying.
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.
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Newsletter (5,400 words) issued 30 Sep 2005
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printed 20 June 2013 at 04:57 hrs by 188.8.131.52