Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 13,000 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 NEWS
TV journalist Richard Gizbert has had his 'right to refuse' legal victory at an employment tribunal overturned by the Court of Appeal. The former London based ABC News journalist refused to go to Iraq in 2004 and was dismissed (Risks 270). A court hearing in September 2005 ruled that he was unfairly dismissed on the grounds of health and safety and he was awarded £99,000. The Disney Corporation that owns ABC appealed the judgment and on 21 August won. Journalists' union NUJ said the appeal victory has eliminated the important precedent for employment law set by the tribunal decision. As the judgment was based on UK health and safety law, the ruling would have offered protection to employees in other fields. The original compensation of £99,000 awarded to Mr Gizbert did not cover his debts from fighting this case. If the decision in the Court of Appeal is not reversed, Mr Gizbert's case becomes one of ordinary unfair dismissal with a compensation cap of £60,000. He said: 'We disagree with that interpretation of the law, and shall be seeking leave to appeal the case before the Court of Appeal, because in our view this is clearly a health and safety issue.' NUJ says a legal defence fund for the case 'will help ensure that Mr Gizbert will not be left in debt for fighting a case that stands to benefit thousands of others, both in the field of journalism and beyond.' Richard Gizbert has covered conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda and Chechnya.
Retail union Usdaw says shopworkers are angry over a proposal that some shoplifters should not be jailed. The union says stealing from stores is regularly a flashpoint for violent assaults and says its members report that violent shoplifters are responsible for many of the 20,000 physical assaults on shopworkers every year. It said they see a proposal from the Sentencing Advisory Panel that some shoplifters won't be jailed as misguided, a position backed by retailers. 'These proposals do acknowledge that violent offenders should continue to be jailed but a no jail option for shoplifting sends out the wrong signal to offenders,' said Usdaw general secretary John Hannett. 'Our members already feel threatened by persistent shoplifters and who can tell when one of them will become violent and assault staff. Shoplifting is a serious offence where persistent offenders with serious drug or drink problems regularly verbally abuse staff in their own workplaces, so the assumption that only violent offenders should face a possible jail sentence is flawed and doesn't protect Britain's 2.7 million shop staff.' He added: 'Shoplifting isn't a victimless crime as verbal abuse in our stores shot up 35 per cent last year and physical assaults by 14 per cent and many of those incidents are triggered by shoplifters being challenged by staff.'
A butcher who developed occupational deafness has received a £5,000 compensation payout. UNISON member Eric Stonier worked for a number of companies in Wakefield and Manchester, including Britt Broadbent and Louis C Edwards. Marion Voss of Thompsons Solicitors, the union's legal firm, said: 'All claims involving multiple defendants are complicated but in Mr Stonier's case we succeeded by securing supporting medical evidence from the Ear, Nose and Throat department at Clayton Wakefield Hospital. The audiogram confirmed that Mr Stonier was suffering from noise induced deafness.' She added: 'His disability means that employers will know he is deaf and may be unwilling to employ someone with an industrial injury.' Regional head of negotiations for UNISON in Yorkshire and Humberside, Alan Hughes, said: "UNISON is delighted that the case has been decided in Mr Stonier's favour. Unfortunately over 170,000 people in the UK suffer from deafness or other ear problems due to excessive noise at work. We're very pleased that we've been able to help our member secure the compensation he deserves - our priority now is to ensure that we eliminate the possibility of any recurrence for others.'
Two incidents in two months where workers had fingers severed at a London food firm have prompted a union to call a 9 September meeting of the mainly Asian workforce. GMB says the meeting of Katsouris Fresh Foods 'will plan a campaign to force Katsouris to improve the safety' at three sites employing 2,500 workers. The union says it is likely the campaign will include demonstrations outside the firm's customers, including Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and Waitrose. GMB member Dimple Muit lost the top of the middle finger of her right hand while using a machine that she had already reported as faulty. GMB says a manager refused to call an ambulance, instead offering tissues to staunch the flow of blood. When she was finally taken to hospital by car when was left by herself outside the A&E unit bleeding heavily and holding a plastic bag containing her injured finger in the other. The delay meant that her finger could not be re-attached. Nitin Chokshi lost the top of two fingers after a large bin fell on workers. GMB has written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) demanding action against the company which it says has been served with seven HSE improvement notices in recent years but 'with no visible improvement in the safety' (Risks 161). GMB safety specialist Hiten Vaidya said: 'Both these accidents were avoidable. The company has to clean up its health and safety record, which is just unacceptable. It has a duty in law to provide a safe working environment and it is clearly failing to do so. The HSE that is supposed to enforce safety in the workplace have been worse than useless. It is time for them to come on board with us and sort this company out.' The company is owned by the multinational Geest Group, now part of the Icelandic Bakkavör Group.
Injured workers and families of those killed in an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery last year scored a court victory this week when a judge ordered the London-based company's top two executives to give depositions in the case. A Texas State Court ordered that Lord John Browne, the London-based head of BP's global operations, must testify in litigation related to a fatal March 2005 accident at the Texas refinery. The energy company is expected to appeal the ruling. Judge Susan Criss ruled that Browne and BP global refining chief John Manzoni must give depositions in the case. The plaintiffs consist of about a dozen survivors and family members of workers who died in the 2005 explosion. BP has broadly accepted responsibility for the calamity, which killed 15 and injured 170. The oil giant has reached settlements with many of the victims, but is fighting the case, which includes the plaintiffs' claim that the accident resulted from 'gross negligence' at BP. BP has been fighting to restrict plaintiffs' access to Browne and other senior BP executives on the grounds that they don't have unique knowledge in the case. A jury trial is scheduled to start on 18 September in Criss' courtroom in Galveston. The company's April 2006 annual report notes: 'In total, there were 27 workforce fatalities in the course of BP operations during 2005... This was the worst year for BP's safety record since 1999, when there were 30 workforce fatalities.' There has been extensive media criticism of BP's global board after a series of recent serious safety and environmental problems. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showcases the company's global safety chief on its 'director leadership' webpages.
A university lecturer killed herself after she became unable to cope with the pressures of work. An inquest at West Sussex Coroners Court into the death of Diana Winstanley, 45, heard she hanged herself at her home on 5 July. It recorded a verdict of suicide. West Sussex coroner Roger Stone heard that Miss Winstanley had spoken of her worries about her new role as director of postgraduate programmes in the faculty of business and law at Kingston University. The inquest heard how Miss Winstanley was a professor in the School of Human Resource Management, but was struggling in the new post and had become depressed. Reading from the evidence, court clerk Jos Atkin said: 'She found it difficult to cope in the role, especially with the technology.' Coroner Roger Stone said: 'Sadly, given the circumstances and the notes left by the deceased, I have no doubt that she took her own life. I pass on my condolences to the family.' Speaking after the verdict, Professor Christine Edwards, a colleague of Diana Winstanley at Kingston University and friend of more than 25 years, said: 'It was such a tragedy. Diana was both an excellent academic and a warm and outgoing person who cared very much about other people.' The university said it will undertake a full study of the coroner's report to determine whether any further action needed to be taken, and said there are a number of policies in place to assist staff in dealing with any stress or pressure.
Workers who clocked more than 51 hours at the office each week were 29 per cent more likely to have high blood pressure than those who worked 39 hours or less, a new study has found. The study also found lower grade jobs were also linked to raised blood pressure. To investigate whether more time on the job could drive up hypertension risk, researchers looked at a representative sample of 24,305 California adults who worked 11 hours or more each week. The likelihood of having high blood pressure rose steadily with the number of hours worked, the researchers found, and persisted even after adjusting for factors such as socioeconomic status and body weight. Those who worked 40 hours per week were 14 per cent more likely to have high blood pressure than people who worked 39 or fewer hours. Hypertension risk was 17 per cent greater in those working 41 to 50 hours weekly, and 29 per cent higher in those working 51 hours or more. The researchers also found that hypertension was more common among clerical and unskilled workers than among professionals. Dr Haiou Yang of the University of California in Irvine and colleagues said their study 'suggests that occupations requiring more challenging and mentally active work may have a protective effect against hypertension.' Almost all of the developed world has legislation limiting work hours, except for the United States, the researchers noted. The UK has an opt-out provision from the European Union's 48-hour working week ceiling, introduced as a health and safety measure (Risks 260). In June, Canadian researchers confirmed that chronic job stress can raise blood pressure, and that high job demands, tight deadlines and low support in the workplace appeared to be triggers, particularly in men (Risks 264).
Offshore unions have welcomed a commitment from employment relations minister Jim Fitzpatrick to extend working time rules to cover all offshore workers. The move follows a long running campaign by Amicus for the UK's 20,000 offshore workers. Amicus says rich oil companies have argued these workers are not entitled to the Working Time Regulations stipulated four weeks paid annual leave because their places of work lies beyond the UK geographical boundaries, which have a 12-mile offshore territorial limit. However, last week the government pledged to change the regulations so UK offshore workers are no longer exempt, with the change expected to take effect in October 2006. Amicus is also progressing an employment tribunal case on behalf of its offshore members to argue for back pay for their paid leave entitlement. Amicus national officer Alan Harvey commented: 'We welcome this latest commitment from the employment relations minister but regret that it has taken over three years to get it. This will finally put an end to the disgraceful behaviour of offshore employers who have denied our members their basic right to paid annual leave.' The Employment Appeal Tribunal will take place in Edinburgh on 3-5 October.
Detectives hunting the killer of a shop worker who was gunned down as he looked after a relative's store have doubled the reward on offer to £20,000. Thuy Van Le, 32, was shot in the chest by robbers at the Spanish Wines store in Old Trafford, Manchester, on 15 December 2005. His attackers robbed another off-licence within an hour-and-a-half of leaving Thuy Van Le dead. Det Supt Martin Bottomley, leading the inquiry, said: 'Somebody, somewhere knows who is responsible for this despicable crime and we need them to come forward and tell us who these men are.' He added: 'They cannot be allowed to continue to live their lives within our community and they must be caught before another family is destroyed by their actions.' Thuy Van Le had lived in England for two years after moving from North Vietnam. He was working alone in his brother's shop at the time of the robbery. Greater Manchester Police said he appeared to have put up some resistance to the robbers and was shot in the chest with a small handgun at close range.
A secure unit patient has been fined after he bit a nurse's finger and punched another in the jaw. Scott Rowe has now been warned he could face jail if he offends again. Nottingham Crown Court heard how Rowe, 31, attacked three nurses who were trying to calm him down at Rampton Secure Hospital on 8 February. Rowe admitted two charges of inflicting actual bodily harm and two of common assault. Penny Stanistreet, for Rowe, said: 'He has moved on enormously and realises that he must be punished.' Sentencing Rowe to fines and damages of £400, Recorder Baker said: 'You have hurt four people at Rampton. You bit one of them and hit the others. If you hurt more people again you may have to go to prison.' A spokesperson for Nottinghamshire Healthcare, which runs the secure hospital, said: 'All such incidents are fully investigated and, if there is a case to answer then action will be taken. It is gratifying to note that the courts take these assaults as seriously as we do.' In August, two men were jailed for assaults on health service staff (Risks 269). An agreement signed last month between the NHS Security Management Service (SMS) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) promised a crackdown on violence against health service staff (Risks 270).
A teenager was killed while working at a fairground in Eyemouth, Scotland. James Laidler, 17, from near Morpeth, was crushed under a carriage while working at the fair. He suffered internal and spinal injuries in the 28 August incident and died in an ambulance on his way to hospital. The teenager was starting a ride at the fair - which involved pushing the swinging cages by hand - when the incident took place. He fell forward under one of the metal carriages, which hold up to four people, and was trapped underneath. Colleagues tried to rescue the teenager. A spokesperson for Lothian and Borders Police said: 'The Health and Safety Executive have been contacted and a report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal.' A report in Hazards magazine published last month reported nearly 4,500 workers aged 16 to 24 were seriously injured or killed at work last year, over 20 per cent more than five years ago (Risks 269). It said a lack of training and supervision was the major responsible factor.
A retired nurse died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma after being exposed to fibres while handwashing her partner's work overalls. An inquest held at Northampton General Hospital heard that Myrtle Octavia Gordon, who died on 21 February, inhaled the deadly fibres while cleaning the clothes of her partner, who worked in a Northamptonshire factory for 25 years, or from a short spell working in a car parts factory in Birmingham. Her family said they were convinced the 74-year-old contracted the disease at home. Her son Trevor said: 'It seems to be the most likely cause. We've investigated all the other avenues, but washing the clothes by hand was something my mother remembers vividly.' Her daughter Denise said: 'If you think about when she must have contracted the disease, people didn't know about the dangers of it. To be honest, I'm not sure if there's enough awareness now.' Anne Pember, coroner for Northamptonshire, ruled Ms Gordon died from an industrial disease. She said: 'This is a horrendous disease, sadly from which there is no cure.' The annual report of the government's Chief Medical Officer this year said that the availability of workplace laundry facilities at Plymouth's Devonport dockyards was the likely explanation of the relatively low levels of mesothelioma in women in the area, compared to other shipbuilding areas where work clothing was washed at home (Risks 268).
Trade unionists from across Australia rallied on 29 August in support of more than 100 West Australian construction workers whose rowdy court appearance launched their fight against unprecedented fines for striking. Unions are warning that the industrial relations changes introduced by the federal government mean strike action on safety grounds has been 'criminalised'. Kevin Reynolds, secretary of the West Australian branch of construction union CFMEU, said that the court appearance of 107 workers exposed 'the punitive nature' of the federal government's industrial relations agenda. He said Australians would be shocked to discover under reforms introduced by Prime Minister John Howard workers are now facing investigations, interrogations and prosecutions for fighting for better conditions and safe workplaces. 'The only reason that building workers have achieved decent safety standards and wages and conditions in this country is because the union exists,' Mr Reynolds said. 'Under the Howard government, the basic right to vote to take strike action in support of better conditions and a safe workplace has now been criminalised.' The 107 workers on the Perth to Mandurah railway project face fines of up to Aus$28,600 (£11,500) each in the Federal Court for going on strike in February and March over the sacking of a shop steward. The case was adjourned until 18 October. They are expected to file defences to the fines by 1 November. Under the new industrial relations laws, similar penalties can be imposed if workplace agreements give workers leave to attend union-provided health and safety training or meetings (Risks 255).
For the past 20 years, Canada has had a policy of aggressively promoting asbestos use. But the country's federal government is now considering whether it will continue the country's association with a known and potent industrial killer. According to federal documents obtained by Ottawa-based access-to-information researcher Ken Rubin, the government is trying to decide whether to continue subsidising the Chrysotile Institute, a key trade group promoting Canadian asbestos around the world. The Montreal-based organisation is named after the type of 'white' asbestos fibre mined in and exported from Canada. The country is the world's No. 2 exporter, after Russia. Since the Chrysotile Institute's creation in 1984, Canada's federal government has given it about Can$20 million (£9.5m), and is now providing $250,000 (£119,000) a year under an agreement that expires next March. The documents from Natural Resources Canada, dated last February, suggest that the institute will shut down unless it receives more government funds. 'The CI has requested a one-year extension of its agreement to allow it to strategically reposition its activities and develop a new business plan, or it will now have to start winding up operations,' they say. CI chair Clément Godbout acknowledged that the institute will have to reduce its operations, but said it 'won't die' without federal money because it is also supported by mining companies and the Quebec government. Gary Nash, assistant deputy minister at Natural Resources, said the federal government has not yet made a decision. However, while the government considers its policy options, it continues to fight skirmishes in the Third World, even over relatively trivial amounts of the material. Earlier this year, for instance, National Resources had the Canadian High Commission in Johannesburg express concern about a South African government proposal to ban asbestos, citing World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. In fact Canada lost its legal attempt to convince WTO asbestos bans were in breach of its trade rules.
China is to spend nearly US$60bn (£31.6bn) over the next five years in a bid to improve safety in industrial workplaces, according to state media. The five-year plan on workplace security, the first of its kind, will particularly target the coal mining industry, Xinhua news agency said. China's coal mines are among the most dangerous in the world, with more than 5,000 deaths reported every year. In addition to the mining industry, the plan would also target chemical and fireworks factories, Xinhua said. Funds of 467.4bn yuan ($58.6bn) will be invested in nine safety projects, with emphasis on monitoring production safety, education campaigns and improving workplace management. The plan aims to reduce the reported industrial death rate from 3.85 per 100,000 workers to 2.8 by 2010. Last year, 127,000 people died in accidents in the workplace, and in 17 cases the number of casualties exceeded 30, Xinhua said. The high death rate is in part due to local officials turning a 'blind eye', the agency said. As China's economy has expanded, some local officials have ignored safety concerns in factories and mines in order to achieve production and profit targets. Under the new plan, adherence to work safety practices would be a factor in the way local officials were evaluated, the agency said. The International Labour Office (ILO) puts the fatality rate in China's workplaces at considerably higher than the official government estimates.
A short-term improvement in Ireland's workplace fatality rate does not mean there is room for complacency, a top union safety official has warned. SIPTU health and safety officer Sylvester Cronin, responding to a Construction Industry Federation (CIF) claim that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of fatalities at work, said: 'It is true that the fatality figures have come down from last year, but when we consider that in 2005 it had increased by 50 per cent over the numbers killed at work the previous year, then it's a bit of a spin to say things have 'improved dramatically'. In fact, they are just getting back to a very bad old level.' He added some employers were portraying safety regulations as 'a cost burden.' He said this was in direct conflict with the findings of government commissioned research 'which showed that a majority of those surveyed believe that safety and health legislation has been good for industry and has reduced accident related costs. On the other hand, the survey found that occupational injury and illness cost the Irish economy in the range of 3.3 billion euros (£2.2bn) to 3.6 billion euros (£2.4bn) - or around 2.5 per cent of national income. Clearly Irish employers have a long way to go when it comes to safety and health standards.'
An international press safety body has called for an investigation into the apparent targeting by the Israeli military of a clearly marked news vehicle in Gaza. The International News Safety Institute (INSI), a coalition of media organisations, press freedom groups and media unions, urged all sides in Gaza to respect the safety of journalists covering the conflict, and called on the Israeli government to hold an immediate inquiry into the targeting incident. An Israeli missile struck an armour-plated Reuters car as Gaza cameraman Fadal Shana hurried to film an Israeli raid on Saturday 26 August. Shana and Sabbah Hmaida, a local journalist who was with him, were wounded. Reuters reported the vehicle was clearly marked 'PRESS' in bright red lettering - and the missile hit the 'P' of the sign on the roof as the cameraman was filming. The impact knocked Shana unconscious, while Hmaida received serious leg wounds. The Israeli military said the car had aroused suspicion and that it did not know journalists were inside. An army spokesperson expressed regret for harming the journalists. The Foreign Press Association in Israeli condemned the 'outrageous targeting' and rejected the army's 'excuses'. Reuters and the FPA demanded a full and transparent investigation. INSI director Rodney Pinder said: 'It is hard to know what more journalists can do to protect themselves in conflict than to clearly identify themselves. It is hard to believe one of the world's most sophisticated military machines - one that has frequently pinpointed enemy vehicles for missile attack from far away - could fail to see big, clear PRESS markings on this vehicle.'
One in six working teenagers reported being injured at work, a US study has found. Researchers reported some youths were in hazardous occupations from which they should have been barred because of their age. The study, published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, was based on the results of a questionnaire completed by more than 6,800 Wisconsin high school students in 2003. Slightly more than half of the students reported having a job, with 514 getting injured at work, including 150 injured severely enough for their activities at home, work or school to be affected for more than three days. Ninety-seven filed claims for workers' compensation. 'The findings clearly indicate that work-related injuries among youth are a significant health problem,' said Kristina Zierold, an assistant professor of family medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. The researchers noted that across the US, approximately 70 children die from injuries inflicted at work at year, hundreds are hospitalised and tens of thousands require treatment in hospital emergency rooms. The study found training for most jobs teens are hired to do is perfunctory, with little emphasis on safety. 'Training usually consists of another worker explaining how to do the work and how to run the equipment, without emphasis on safety issues,' Zierold said. She added that effective safety training would mean teens would 'feel empowered at the workplace by knowing their rights and how to protect themselves.' The paper concluded that prohibiting teens from working long and late hours, improved safety training, and increased communication between teens and their co-workers and supervisors may help reduce the occurrence of injury.
The first Mesothelioma UK Patient and Carer Day will take place on Thursday 5 October 2006 and will be marked by an event in Manchester. Mesothelioma UK says the aims of event are: To give mesothelioma patients and carers the chance to meet and share experiences with others affected by the disease; provide up-to-date, unbiased information on t reatment , b enefits , c ompensation , n utrition and s upport; and give mesothelioma patients and carers advice.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2006
Newsletter (5,400 words) issued 1 Sep 2006
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