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Over one third of UK workers believe they could be unable to do their job at 60, according to new statistics. A report published this week in Hazards magazine shows that in just six years the UK has slipped from being number one in the European league table for the proportion of workers who are confident they will be up to their current job when aged 60, to sixth. Hazards calls on employers to stop using bogus health and safety excuses to get rid of, or not employ older people, and start helping keep the ageing UK population in work and off benefits. The new Europe-wide survey findings revealed in the report show just 63.5 per cent of UK workers feel they will be able to do the same job when they are 60 years old. Germany tops the ranking with 73.6 per cent of its workers believing they will still be up to their jobs, followed by the Netherlands (71.2 per cent), Sweden (69.7 per cent), Denmark (68.8 per cent) and Finland (65.2 per cent). The UK is now just above the EU15 average of 61 per cent and EU25 figure of 58.9 per cent. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'If we are going to enable older people to stay in work and off benefits, employers are going to have to stop pushing them out on bogus health and safety grounds and start working to keep them employed. The new age laws should be a useful tool in ensuring older workers can continue to earn a quality living but also that the UK economy benefits from the energy and expertise of a valuable section of the workforce." The report says we are living longer and we are staying healthier longer, so there is no rational reason why we shouldn't be able to survive Britain's workplaces for 50 years or more. But it warns intense, stressful, poorly designed work will exact a cumulative toll, so employer-run and government-supported 'work ability' initiatives need to target workers in middle age, so that the workforce remains skilled up and not worn down. Work and pensions secretary John Hutton this week said the retirement age has to be raised to avoid shifting the tax burden onto younger people. The government has said it intends to raise the state pension age in stages up to 68 by 2046.
Royal Mail has bowed to demands from the communication workers' union CWU and agreed to introduce an £8 million package of anti-terrorist equipment. The new kit, to be deployed in 70 major mail-processing plants, will be used to 'detect any contaminated packages and letters which may be carrying threats to postal workers and the public,' says CWU. It says the funding 'will allow the purchase of hand held detection and identification equipment technology for each mail centre plus analysis equipment to set up Royal Mail's own network of bio-detection testing laboratories, organised geographically to be within a one hour distance of each mail centre.' In the USA, a terror campaign resulted in the deaths of five people who inhaled anthrax spores from letters ( Risks 28 ). A further 13 were infected but survived. Some 10,000 people across the eastern United States were given antibiotics in the aftermath of the anthrax exposure. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce said: 'At last our objectives have been achieved and in safety and security terms this is a great step forward, improving the protection of CWU members working in Royal Mail as well as members of the public. All will benefit from having the detection and analysis technology available to minimise the risk of a successful terrorist attack using the mail network as a weapons delivery system for chemical, biological or radiological materials.'
Royal Mail union CWU has called for an end to the potentially illegal use of the mail to send asbestos samples, a practice which could place both the public and postal workers at risk. Royal Mail has launched an investigation after it was revealed a South Wales company was encouraging the public to take their own asbestos samples and stick them in the post. The instructions from Asbestos Watchdog, a company whose sole director is John Bridle, were removed this week from the firm's website. Members of the public are now told to contact the firm for details of its sampling service. Mr Bridle has been criticised recently both in court and in the media. A BBC investigation last month revealed his CV contained false claims about his qualifications and main clients. He was successfully prosecuted by Vale of Glamorgan Council under the Trades Descriptions Act for making false claims about his asbestos qualifications, resulting in a criminal conviction. CWU says other asbestos-by-post organisations are offering 'self testing kits' for £100. Dave Joyce, the union's national health and safety officer said he had called on Royal Mail to 'examine whether Mr Bridle and his company 'Asbestos Watchdog' are committing offences under Section 85(1) of the Postal Services Act 2000, which prohibits the posting of items which can harm postal workers or the public and I have additionally asked the asbestos policy unit of the Health and Safety Executive to consider whether the company has breached Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act which places duties on employers and the self-employed to ensure their activities do not endanger anybody.'
Almost one in three journalists complain of bullying in the workplace. A survey of 1,436 members of the journalists' union NUJ found newspaper journalists are the most likely to suffer bullying. The NUJ 2006 Membership Survey, conducted by the Trade Union Research Unit at Ruskin College, also shows that work-life balance is most difficult to achieve if you work on a paper, with a worrying 40 per cent of those answering saying they were failing to achieve it. Of the total respondents to the questionnaire, 31 per cent said they had been bullied. In the newspaper sector, 40 per cent had been bullied, in TV and radio 21 per cent and a quarter in magazines and press and PR. Sixteen per cent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination and the reasons were varied, ranging from race, sexuality and age to childcare arrangements and not having attended a fee-paying school. NUJ said the groups who were the target of bullying and discrimination were 'depressingly familiar', with the vast majority being from ethnic minorities, or women. The researchers noted that bullying appears to be becoming more widespread. Large numbers want to improve their work-life balance - almost a quarter of the total sample. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: 'It is shameful that bullying is still common and that so many lives are made a misery because of it. The NUJ takes bullying extremely seriously and we are working hard to try and raise awareness of it and eradicate it.' He added: 'Flexible working is also something that more and more people need in order to get the right balance between work and home life. Employers should try to make it more available to staff.'
Disturbing levels of sleeplessness, anxiety and exhaustion are affecting lecturers in colleges and universities, according to a new union study. Provisional research findings released the week by college and lecturers' union UCU reveal high levels of stress as workloads increase. But the study of over 1,000 college staff found only 16 per cent thought their institution was addressing the causes of stress. Roger Kline, head of equality and employment relations at UCU, said: 'This new research reveals disturbing levels of anxiety and ill-health symptoms amongst the workforce in further and higher education.' He said it was 'clear that one cause is the diminishing control which academics have over their job. Another is the job insecurity amongst lecturers and researchers with part-time and short-term contracts... We need more enlightened management practices which will increase academics' autonomy and reduce excessive administration.' The study findings were released this week at a conference organised with the College and University Support Network (CUSN). CUSN chief executive Patrick Nash said: 'Thirty one per cent of calls from lecturers to our helpline in the last six months have been from people who were feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. Lecturers told us the main factors contributing to their high stress levels were money worries, harassment, problems with managers, difficulties with colleagues, workload, issues to do with performance and pay, and legal issues.' A full analysis of the research, conducted for UCU and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), will be published in the new year.
Rail union RMT has stepped up its campaign to keep fire safety regulations in place across London Underground. Speaking on the 18 November 19th anniversary of the King's Cross fire, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said rules brought in after the blaze in 1987 should not be diluted. 'As we remember the 31 victims of the King's Cross fire, we should also remember that it was as a direct result of that tragedy that the Section 12 regulations were introduced two years later,' he said. 'It is hugely disturbing that less than two decades after King's Cross, and with the 7 July bombings still fresh in our minds, it remains possible that the strict minimum safety standards could be removed. The government's decision to postpone scrapping Section 12 in January this year was welcome, but it is imperative that ministers now recognise the need to keep them in place, because the Fire Safety Order is simply not an adequate substitute.' Labour MP John McDonnell has tabled a House of Commons motion urging the government to maintain the regulations. Bob Crow commented: 'It is good news that John McDonnell, who has done so much in parliament to keep these regulations in place, has tabled another Commons motion, and RMT members will be urging every MP to sign it. We look forward to the opportunity of outlining our concerns to Angela Smith, the minister now responsible, and will work within any forum to help ensure that these vital safeguards remain in place.'
A warehouse worker in hospital for surgery for a workplace lifting injury was told he was suffering from a deadly asbestos cancer. Peter Nicholas Wilkinson, 45, who died on 2 September, had been admitted to hospital last July after tearing a hernia at work. However, an inquest at Leamington Town Hall last week heard that tests revealed Mr. Wilkinson had contracted the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Despite treatment including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he died 14 months later. The inquest heard Mr Wilkinson had worked as a warehouse officer for 12 years at Argos Distribution Centre in Lutterworth. He had also owned his own car accessory business and worked at Halford's in Rugby as a sales assistant. In July 2005 he injured his stomach while loading a carton box at work. After being diagnosed with a hernia tear, he was admitted to the Hospital of St Cross for surgery. However, during the process he developed breathing problems and the procedure was aborted. Further tests revealed he was suffering from mesothelioma. Dr Richard Carr, a consultant pathologist, said in a statement to the inquest that the exposure was 'presumably of a low level.' Coroner Michael Coker recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease.
A company owner who did not have the legally required injury insurance has been told to pay up £11,500 in fines, costs and compensation after a teenage mechanic was injured. Andrew Richardson was found guilty last week of not having Employers Liability Compulsory Insurance at The City of London Magistrates Court. He had pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to have the required insurance on the sample dates of 14, 15 and 20 July 2005. The charges against his company, Southern Gas Conversions Limited, were dismissed as the court felt Mr Richardson was responsible personally for the breaches. After a two-day trial where Mr Richardson represented himself, he was found guilty and was ordered to pay a fine of £500 plus the prosecution costs of £10,000. The court heard that on 15 July 2005, one of the days without insurance cover, Yana Jones, a 17-year-old who had been working as a mechanic, suffered injuries to her left leg resulting in a hospital stay and permanent scarring. Mr Richardson claimed in court that the two 17-year-old mechanic students he paid £3 an hour were not workers, but were just attending his business to watch. The court heard from Miss Jones that she had carried out a range of mechanical tasks for Mr Richardson including paint stripping and brake changing. Mr Richardson claimed he did not need insurance, but the prosecution introduced a questionnaire signed by him that showed that he had falsely claimed to Carshalton College that he did have insurance cover. As Miss Jones could not make any claim from an insurance policy and had also been unable so far to get any compensation from Mr Richardson, the court ordered him to pay her £1,000 in compensation. Health and Safety Executive investigating inspector Andrew Withers said: 'It is terrible when people get hurt at work, but at least having insurance means the victim can get some compensation to cover losses and help their recovery. Ms Jones thankfully did not suffer more serious injuries, but if she had, she might at only 17-years-old have been left unable to work again and yet not received a penny.'
Two-thirds of UK call centres fail to protect their workers against hearing damage from noise, a report has warned, with many of the UK's 900,000 call centre staff at risk. Experts say increasing numbers of injuries and illnesses are being caused by acoustic shock and other noise related hazards. Over 700 people have so far suffered acoustic shock, with the compensation paid out totalling £2.5m. Around 300 further cases are pending, according to the Acoustic Safety Programme, an independent body which aims to protect the hearing of call centre workers. Acoustic shocks are defined as 'any temporary or permanent disturbance of the functioning of the ear, or of the nervous system, which may be caused to the user of a telephone earphone by a sudden sharp rise in the acoustic pressure produced by it.' Speaking ahead of an acoustic shock conference in Glasgow last week ( Risks 283 ), Chris Atwell, operations director for the Acoustic Safety Programme, said: 'It can be a debilitating occurrence for a call centre worker. They can develop permanent damage to their hearing.' Dr Mark Downs of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, said: 'Acoustic shock is not the same as noise-induced hearing loss and is believed to occur at sound pressure levels below those which present an immediate risk to hearing damage. It is still a relatively un-researched condition and RNID welcomes public debate on the issue.' A report to the conference warned that while some organisations are acting to safeguard the hearing of their staff, the vast majority are not. Call centres can introduce equipment such as headphones which extract any potential causes of acoustic shock to protect workers' hearing.
A team of experts has drawn up five 'grand challenges' to evaluate the safety of nanotechnology. Writing in the journal Nature, the team says that fears about nanotechnology's possible dangers may be exaggerated, but not necessarily unfounded. Author Andrew Maynard and his colleagues write that the development of the industry could be slowed 'unless sound, independent and authoritative information is developed on what the risks are and how to avoid them.' The five grand challenges include developing instruments to evaluate exposure to engineered nanomaterials in air and water and developing methods for assessing their toxicity. Dr Maynard, from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, and colleagues say that the way science is carried out means it is ill-equipped to address novel risks from emerging technologies. Research into understanding and preventing risk often has a low priority in the world of technology development, research funding and intellectual property, they say. 'Without strategic and targeted risk research, people producing and using nanomaterials could develop unanticipated illness arising from their exposure,' the authors warn. 'Public confidence in nanotechnologies could be reduced through real or perceived dangers and fears of litigation may make nanotechnologies less attractive to investors and the insurance industry.' The US Environmental Protection Agency this week said it would regulate nanosilver products, marking a significant reversal in federal policy. Rail union ASLEF reported last month that Transport for London (TfL) was considering the use of nanosilver-based anti-flu disinfectants on an industrial scale in both mainline and tube trains and stations ( Risks 280 ). They have already been used extensively on the Hong Kong system.
BP's carefully nurtured ethical reputation has been seriously damaged by a series of safety and environmental catastrophes. In the latest blow, a young woman, Eva Rowe ( Risks 278 ), has forced a humbling apology from the company for shocking safety lapses that caused its Texas City oil refinery to explode last year, killing her parents and 13 other people. 'If you drew up a list of companies that Americans are most disappointed in, BP would definitely feature,' said James Hoopes, professor of business ethics at Babson College, Massachusetts. For a while, he says, BP's talk of ethics and sustainability overcame a grand old American tradition of hating big oil companies. 'Expectations had been raised so high that people's feelings have been crushed,' said Prof Hoopes. 'The predominant feeling about BP is, 'Oh no, fooled again.'' Others take a blunter line. Athan Manuel, director of lands protection at the Sierra Club, a North American environmental network, said: 'Their reputation is pretty much in the toilet.' The company already had the worst fatality rate among major refinery companies in the US before the Texas City blast killed 15 in March last year, the nation's worst industrial accident for a decade. Eva Rowe says she got a letter a few days later apologising for the death of her father, James. But it appeared to be a form letter intended for a bereaved wife, rather than for a daughter who had also lost her mother. 'It was hurtful,' she said. 'Those were my parents - my mum and dad. It wasn't just anybody.' Butch Wing, director of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition, says BP is guilty of price gouging, safety lapses, environmental crimes and racial discrimination. 'We want a dialogue with them,' he said. 'BP has a major, major problem in the US.' In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) still showcases the London-based multinational's globally-run safety operations on its 'director leadership' webpages.
An injured Surrey firefighter has defeated a Court of Appeal challenge which could have overturned his compensation payout. Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), which had argued John Pennington 'should not have attempted to save a driver's life', lost its appeal which would have stripped the firefighter of £3,115. Judges voted two to one against claims made by the fire service, a Surrey County Council controlled organisation, that firefighters should put their own safety first, even if it means leaving accident victims to their fate. Now the county fire service is seeking leave to appeal against the Court of Appeal decision to the House of Lords. John Pennington, 46, was based at an Esher fire station in February 2001 when he fought, ultimately in vain, to save the life of a lorry driver. After a pile-up on the M25, Mr Pennington, who took over from an exhausted colleague, tried to cut a driver free from his cab, and lost the tip of his left forefinger while operating heavy machinery. In December last year he was awarded compensation against Surrey County Council (SCC) and SFRS. The council appealed the decision in light of remarks made concerning the suitability of equipment. This part of the appeal was upheld, but the court found in favour of Mr Pennington in respect of his injury payout. Lord Justice Pill said: 'Without any training or experience on the ram, Mr Pennington took over the urgent attempt to save life. I find quite unacceptable the authorities' approach to their duties as employers in such circumstances.' Lady Justice Arden said: 'There is no doubt that the fire and council authorities must have expected firemen to be called upon to use this machinery in some fairly horrific road accidents. They must have expected him to do his best in this situation and he was entitled to training to help him do so without risk to himself. On that basis it was not only Mr Pennington's own devotion to duty that was causative of this injury. The lack of training played a role too.'
After six years of campaigning and two and a half years of intensive negotiations with the James Hardie company ( Risks 184 ), unions and asbestos victims groups have secured a final deal from the company to compensate Australian victims of its asbestos products. James Hardie and the New South Wales government this week signed a tax office approved, Amended Final Funding Agreement which should see the firm make its first payment to the asbestos compensation fund as soon as February next year. Greg Combet, secretary of the national union federation ACTU, said the deal 'is a final, open ended, un-capped and importantly tax-office approved funding agreement from James Hardie which will see the company pay in excess of $4.5 billion [£1.83bn] into a fund to compensate current and future Australian victims of its asbestos products.' He added: 'The only thing left to do now before James Hardie commences paying money into the fund is for the agreement to be voted on by James Hardie shareholders which we understand will occur in February next year. Payments will commence immediately after shareholder approval.' He said the compensation sum had already been factored in to the company's share price. He added: 'The ACTU would like to thank the NSW government, Bernie Banton ( Risks 230 ) and asbestos groups and all the unions and union members who have worked so hard to achieve this outcome. I am very proud of the role that Australian unions have played in securing this agreement.'
The workers harvesting the pineapples found on UK supermarket shelves are working in desperate conditions, an investigation has found. The fact-finding mission made up of Costa Rican trade unionists, representatives from the non-governmental organisation Banana Link and the UK's GMB trade union carried out their own independent tour of one particular plantation this month visited the Pinafruit SA plantation in Limon province on Costa Rica's Atlantic coast. The plantation is owned by a Costa Rican company, Grupo Acon, and grows golden pineapples for several major fruit importers, as well as Tesco and Waitrose. 'The conditions we witnessed were dreadful,' said Bert Schouwenburg, a full-time official for the GMB in London. 'If you had any empathy for the people who grow and pick the pineapples, you just wouldn't grow pineapples this way. The workers were being used like donkeys, with no thought for the damage this back-breaking work does to their health. I was appalled at what I saw and what I learned from talking to workers. It was like seeing Dickensian conditions, only with sunshine.' Another delegation member, Cath Murphy, a GMB shop steward from Scotland, was so upset by what she saw on the plantation that she cried at night when she got back home. One of the most visible health effects of working continuously with jaggy, pesticide-soaked plants is that the planter's fingernails become deformed and eventually fall out, she said. 'The boys showed me their fingers and their nails were all brown, unusually thick and infected. They told me that their nails drop off all the time. I only saw one boy wearing rubber gloves.' Linda Craig, director of the UK Pesticides Action Network said there are other serious health worries. 'Respiratory diseases, asthma, babies born with defects, spontaneous abortion and male sterility are higher in the pineapple zone than anywhere in Costa Rica, all health problems linked to pesticide poisoning,' she said.
Beefed up health and safety inspection systems reduce costs and injuries, the International Labour Organisation has said. As evidence the global workplace standards body says the hiring by the Ontario provincial government in Canada of 200 new labour inspectors over the last two years ( Risks 184 ) has had stunning results, not only leading to 9,000 fewer injuries per year but also savings of an estimated 45 million Canadian dollars (£20.7m) in workers' compensation costs, far in excess of the costs. The compensation authority pays the safety inspectorate for its additional labour costs. 'The example shows that strengthening labour inspectorates not only prevents accidents and saves human lives but also pays for all actors involved,' said ILO labour inspection expert Gerd Albracht. An ILO report last week to the organisation's governing body for the first time set 'reasonable benchmarks' for the number of labour inspectors per worker, with one inspector to 10,000 workers the desired level in industrial market economies. The ILO report proposes a series of measures designed to 'reinvigorate', modernise and strengthen labour inspectorates worldwide. These include tripartite labour inspection audits to help governments identify and remedy weaknesses in labour inspection, the development of ethical and professional codes of conduct, labour inspection fact sheets, global inspection principles, and hands-on tools for risk assessment, occupational safety and health management systems and targeted training for inspectors. According to the ILO report, resources for labour inspection have been squeezed in many countries as a part of budget austerity measures. Inspections in the UK have fallen dramatically in recent years ( Risks 281 ). In August, the Health and Safety Executive announced up to 350 jobs were to do ( Risks 270 ).
Mine rescue workers have confirmed 23 workers died in an underground explosion on Tuesday 23 November, making it the worst mine accident in Poland for many years. The accident happened at Halemba mine in Ruda Slaska, about 300km (190 miles) south-west of Warsaw. The mine shaft had been closed in March because of high gas levels. The team of miners, aged between 21 and 59, had been sent to retrieve equipment worth $23m (£12.1m), the company said. President Lech Kaczynski, who visited the site on Wednesday, met grieving family members and pledged a full investigation into the accident. Work had to be suspended for several hours on Wednesday, before the dead bodies of 15 missing miners were discovered, amid fears of another explosion after rescuers encountered high concentrations of methane gas. A lack of oxygen and temperatures reaching 40C also hindered the effort. 'Rescuers were working in extremely difficult conditions,' said Zbigniew Goldstein, a main adviser to a mine rescue centre based in nearby Bytom. 'We had methane, we had poisonous gases, high temperatures, high humidity, water threats, structural changes after the explosion. Everything that can happen down there.' Unions have often complained of poor investment in the industry. More than 100 miners have died since 2003. An explosion at the Halemba pit in 1990 killed 19 miners.
Nine former employees of a US tyre plant who developed occupational cancers as a result of toxic exposures have been told by chemical giants it was their own fault. The group, who all worked at Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, were exposed to benzene but have been told they caused their own cancer because they 'voluntarily used the chemicals knowing the dangers and risks, and they failed to take precautions which could have avoided injuries.' The allegation comes from 16 defendants in a US lawsuit, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Sun Petroleum Products Co., Texaco, Standard Oil Co., Shell Canada and Shell Chemical. The petrochemical companies say there were warnings on the chemicals and they were complying with industry standards, adding the cancers were due to unavoidable accidents or 'abnormal or unintended uses' of the products. Nine former workers at the now defunct tyre factory were exposed to dangerous levels of benzene, benzene derivatives, rubber solvents and other toxic and hazardous chemicals. Two the plaintiffs are dead. The lawsuit started when two women in their 50s who had worked together at Uniroyal in the 1970s discovered they both had multiple myeloma. The women began to research their illnesses and contacted a California law firm with experience in lawsuits related to toxic exposure. Benzene has been known for 80 years to cause cancer. And Esso Oil's medical research division wrote an internal memo about the health effects of benzene in 1958 admitting: 'Most authorities agree that in light of present knowledge, the only level which can be considered absolutely safe for prolonged exposure is zero.'
The latest issue of the award-winning Hazards magazine - the only magazine written especially for trade union health and safety reps - is now finding its way into the mitts of thousands of reps nationwide. This issue of the not-for-profit publication asks whether workplace health and safety has had its chips, as healthy lifestyle and 'work is good for you' initiatives come to the fore, and spells out why the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must have more not fewer resources. It highlights TUC's demolition job on damaging myths about jobsworth HSE inspectors, ladder 'bans' and other fanciful stories aiming to undermine genuine safety controls. And it looks at issues from work and the older worker, to deadly shipbreaking hazards in Asia. There's also plenty of news and resources.
The Health and Safety Executive's Bad Hand Day campaign, launched this week in partnership with local authorities, sets out to tackle dermatitis among hairdressers. The campaign is seeking to persuade salon owners to use appropriate gloves and good skin care. HSE says up to 70 per cent of hairdressers suffer from skin damage.
The Labour Research Department (LRD) is producing a booklet on asbestos, explaining the new Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, recent court cases and promoting union and Hazards campaigns. LRD also wants to include examples of what employers and union safety reps have been doing about asbestos in workplaces over the last couple of years.
Hazards magazine is campaigning for greater recognition of the occupational cancer risk. It says between 12,000 and 24,000 people in the UK could be killed by work cancers each year, at least twice and perhaps four times the official estimate. It needs evidence to add additional weight to its arguments and wants to hear about any cancer risks in your workplace, compensation payouts made to people developing occupational cancers, union guidance on the issue or union initiatives to remove or reduce workplace cancer risks.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2006
Newsletter (5,900 words) issued 24 Nov 2006
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-12694-f0.cfm
printed 23 May 2013 at 15:31 hrs by 188.8.131.52