Number 332 - 17 November 2007
Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 15,000 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
Whether you work in them, on them or by them, contact with vehicles at work can really hurt you, a series of union compensation cases show. London bus driver Russell Williams was awarded £6,500 compensation after suffering a back injury. The Unite member was driving a Selkent bus when the seat collapsed as he went over a pothole. Before his shift he had reported the seat was defective, but was instructed to drive the bus. Firefighters had to remove the cab door to free him. Refuse lorry driver Sekou Hamidou Dembele was awarded £3,663.12 compensation after his finger was crushed in the vehicle's tailgate. The GMB member was working for Islington Cleansing Services Limited delivering fridges to a recycling centre. His employer denied liability, so the case when to trial and the compensation was awarded by the Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court. Traffic light installer Keith Simpson was awarded £75,000 compensation after suffering severe leg injuries when hit by a vehicle. The Unite member and SBS employee was working on a London road repairing traffic lights when he was struck by a car. He was not able to return to work for nearly three years.
A GMB member has been awarded compensation after being injured at a London food factory. Production worker Dinsuta Kanji received almost £13,000 compensation after being injured at Katsouris Fresh Foods, owned by the giant Icelandic Bakkavör Group. The firm has faced serious criticism of its safety standards after a series of recent injuries (Risks 228). Ms Kanji suffered a broken leg when a colleague slipped on spilt oil and collided with her, knocking her to the ground. 'I was in so much pain,' she said. 'I was taken to hospital by ambulance and admitted for four days. I was in plaster for six months and could not return to work for 10 months. Even now, I cannot stand for long periods or walk long distances.' Representing Ms Kanji, Deborah Smith from Pattinson & Brewer Solicitors commented: 'This was a particularly unpleasant injury. Ms Kanji suffered considerable pain and discomfort and required extensive physiotherapy treatment. It took Ms Kanji some 18 months to recover.' Ms Kanji's branch secretary, Hiten Vadiya said: 'This case shows that it is important to belong to a trade union. Ms Kanji won compensation with the support of the GMB who protect members at work.'
An offshore union leader has called for oil giant Shell to quit the North Sea. Unite regional officer Graham Tran made the demand after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation upheld concerns raised by offshore unions over safety on Shell platforms. The unions claimed there were gaps in 'safety critical' positions on five installations being sold by Shell (Risks 323). HSE has now confirmed a series of safety deficiencies. Mr Tran said he wanted to see Shell leave British waters. 'They have no credibility in terms of safety at this moment in time in the North Sea. As far as I am concerned there is a permanent for sale sign on Shell's assets in the North Sea,' he said. 'I believe the sooner they leave British waters the better for the sake of the safety of all workers - before there is another serious incident on a Shell installation.' Complaints over workloads, management culture and working hours were upheld by the HSE. But concerns over emergency response team numbers were not. HSE said: 'Shell has taken action to address the matters and ensure its own procedures are followed and monitored and, where necessary, additional measures are implemented.' Another North Sea oil firm, Maersk Oil, has also attracted union criticism. Unions say employees raising safety concerns have been 'NRBd' - told they are 'not required back'. They say three contractor employees have already been targeted, with a variety of reasons leading to an NRB, including complaining about safety, being suspected of giving a tip-off to HSE or being too trade union orientated.
A teacher who has developed the asbestos cancer mesothelioma as a result of exposures in a school has issued an online video warning about the dangers of the deadly fibre. Elizabeth Bradford was informed after an inspection by her local authority employer she had been exposed to asbestos, but it was white asbestos so there wasn't a problem. In fact all forms of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, lung and other cancers. Elizabeth said: 'I remembered, going back many, many years, I had worked in a room lined with asbestos, but I was told it was white asbestos and it was safe.' She added: 'I love my job. It's quite shocking to think that I paid that heavily for a job I really enjoyed... Fear just took over and that went on for a long time, not enjoying waking up at all.' She said people tell her she looks fine, but she certainly doesn't feel that way. 'You meet people and they don't know and they ask you how you feel and you say 'fine' - if it wasn't for that bastard you'd be fine.' Teaching union ATL produced the video, which can be viewed on YouTube. It forms part of a training package for its safety reps, which also sets them 'homework' - they are told to find out if their workplace has an asbestos policy, if asbestos is present in their workplace, and where it is located. The safety reps are then asked to provide this information at a follow-on safety reps' training day.
The widow of a Unite member has been awarded a substantial compensation payment after her husband died of an asbestos cancer caused by exposures at work. David Hines from Birkenhead was 73 when he died just two months after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He had been exposed to asbestos as a plumber for Wirral Borough Council between 1955 and 1965 and at VSEL Birkenhead/Cammell Laird, between 1965 and 1993 where he was a plumber working on board ships and other vessels. His widow, Anne, 67, said David always feared he would die from an asbestos related disease after a friend he used to work with contracted asbestosis. 'When he was diagnosed he got in touch with the union to find out what his options were but he was too ill to finish off his claim. He wanted me to carry it on for him. It was worrying to him that I might be left struggling to pay all the bills. He would be delighted to know that we had won compensation.' She added: 'It seems so unfair that David died before he was able to see our daughter graduate as a nurse and before he could see his third grandchild. We feel he missed out on these things because he worked with asbestos.' Unite regional secretary Laurence Faircloth said: 'It is important for victims of asbestos related diseases and their family members to claim compensation from the insurers of their former employers to achieve a sense of justice.' Former electrician Doug Conroy, 70, has also received compensation for mesothelioma. Commenting on the £130,000 payout, he said: 'Most people who get this illness do not live to see the compensation. I am pleased that now I can provide for my family after I am gone and while I am still here I can enjoy a little bit of comfort. I know I am one of the exceptional ones. I am lucky to still be here. The doctor said nothing could be done for me.'
A Devon woman who developed an incurable asbestos-related cancer from hugging her father as a child has settled a damages claim. The Ministry of Defence (MoD), which owned Devonport Dockyard when Debbie Brewer's father worked there in the 1960s, settled with a six-figure sum. It had agreed liability in February (Risks 310). She said: 'It has taken some time. I thought they were waiting for me to die. But after all the quibbling they have settled for the amount my solicitor asked for in the first place. Now we will get a new house and wipe the slate clean. I will get things I need for dealing with this illness and I will be able to provide some comfort for my family.' A year ago Ms Brewer, 48, was diagnosed with mesothelioma and doctors gave her between six and nine months to live. The MoD has acknowledged her only contact with the lethal substance was as a child, hugging her father Phillip Northmore when he came home from work as a lagger at Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth. Ms Brewer has three children, including a 10-year-old son, Kieran, who has learning difficulties. She said thoughts about his future are painful. 'I want to be here for him and I don't know if I will be, but I intend to be here and fight this cancer,' she said. Her father died from lung cancer in 2006 aged 68. His inquest found his death was linked to the deadly asbestos he worked with daily. Mrs Brewer used to spend time with him between 1961 and 1965 when she was aged just two to seven.
Urgent action must be taken to address the toll of workplace and environmental cancers, a new report has concluded. Researchers from the Lowell Center for Sustainable Development in the USA who reviewed new evidence on cancer risks, said their findings 'demonstrate why environmental and occupational cancers should be given serious consideration by policymakers, individuals, and institutions concerned with cancer prevention.' The report strengthens the message of their 2005 paper, which concluded commonly used estimates of occupational cancer risks were 'pointless' and 'counterproductive' and greatly under-estimate the real extent of the problem (Risks 225). The figures criticised in the Lowell reports have formed the basis of the UK Health and Safety Executive's estimate of occupational cancer risk for over two decades. The Lowell team say 'we do know that preventing exposure to individual carcinogens prevents the disease. Declines in cancer rates - such as the drop in male lung cancer cases from the reduction in tobacco smoking or the drop in bladder cancer among cohorts of dye workers from the elimination of exposure to specific aromatic amines - provides evidence that preventing cancer is possible when we act on what we know.' They call for a shift in the traditional approach, saying the 'new cancer prevention paradigm demands that we limit exposures to avoidable environmental and occupational carcinogens in combination with additional important risk factors such as diet and lifestyle.' The authors conclude 'the current state of knowledge is sufficient to compel us to act on what we know. We repeat the call of ecologist Sandra Steingraber, 'From the right to know and the duty to inquire flows the obligation to act.'' The report includes reference to UK occupational cancer tragedies, including lung cancers suffered by former workers at RTZ's Capper Pass tin smelter. So far 29 workers have been compensated, after a compensation campaign by Unite and the local community. Studies have shown those most recently exposed, before the plant shut in 1991, were among the most likely to be affected.
Britain's employers have a big drug and alcohol problem - they are wasting millions on testing and firing workers. A new report in the trade union health and safety journal Hazards says employer support and a healthier working environment would provide a cheaper and more effective resolution to 'impairment' problems. It says recent major investigations have found the evidence linking workplace accidents, absenteeism and low productivity is 'inconclusive'. A 2007 report cited in Hazards from the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC), an official government body, concluded 'despite the intuitive link, there is little clear evidence on the links between drug use and absenteeism, low productivity, poor performance and accidents at work.' ASCC said an analysis of coroners' reports found that for 95 per cent of deaths at work neither alcohol nor drugs played any part. For drugs, the figure was 98 per cent. The Australian report also concluded 'there is little robust evidence on the deterrent effects of drug testing for either illicit drugs or alcohol in the workplace.' The Hazards report concludes impairment testing is a better approach. This can take account of the impact of drugs or alcohol use as well as work factors like fatigue, stress and exposure to physical and chemical hazards that might mean a worker is performing under-par. It says non-punitive, peer-to-peer counselling and support is the most effective way to ensure drug and alcohol use is dealt with effectively at work. The report adds that UK workplace privacy rules laid down in official Information Commission guidance mean in most cases drug and alcohol tests could fall foul of the law. It highlights one major UK construction firm that in 2007 tested almost as many workers for drugs and alcohol use as it provided with occupational health screening.
The number of workplace personal injury claims is low and falling fast, new research for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found. The study by researchers from the University of Warwick's School of Law has undermined the popular view that UK citizens are engaging in a spiralling 'compensation culture' with ever increasing claims against allegedly negligent companies and organisations. The researchers investigated whether there had been an increase in claims for damages arising from occupational injury or ill-health related to breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. They found the number of legal actions was consistently falling in both the High Court and the County Courts. The researchers also looked at the data on the number of civil liability claims specifically arising from the introduction of Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 and found no evidence of an increase. They concluded that this was because workers already had available to them the right to bring actions in negligence as well as the right to bring actions for breach of statutory duty under other legislation, where there was no exclusion of civil liability. These conclusions were also supported by the observations of a wide range of legal practitioners, insurers, employers' associations and trade unions who participated in the Warwick research. The report confirms TUC's 2005 finding that compensation culture is 'a myth' (Risks 217).
The government's 'work is good for you' push is missing one inconvenient truth - a combination of job insecurity, punitive sick leave policies, a failure to recognise the extent of the country's work-related health crisis and a lack of official health and safety enforcement means for many work is bad and getting worse. The claim, in the autumn edition of Hazards magazine, comes as workplace health czar Dame Carol Black's call for evidence on maintaining a healthy and productive workforce enters its final fortnight. The Hazards report says there is an increasing trend to address 'sickness absence' to get workers back to work, but this frequently does not include efforts to address sickness and its causes, including badly designed, inherently unhealthy jobs. It adds that cuts in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have seen a dramatic reduction in workplace inspections and have meant HSE's medical wing EMAS has 'virtually disappeared.' The report says: 'Sick workers face closer scrutiny, while unhealthy employers increasingly face no scrutiny at all.' It concludes: 'Without better access to occupational health services, rehabilitation support and better designed, safe and healthy jobs with real job security, work can be anything but good for you, especially if you are already injured or ill.' Speaking at an event in Sheffield last week as part of her call for evidence, Dame Carol Black said 'we know that those who are in or return to work are healthier, wealthier, and more confident than their unemployed counterparts. Healthy employees are also more productive and efficient, which is good news for businesses looking to maintain their competitive edge. That's why we urgently need to identify how we can help people not only stay in or return to work, but also improve their health while they are there.' Official figures released this month revealed both workplace fatalities and work-related ill-health had increased markedly, up by at least 10 per cent (Risks 330). The TUC will be submitting a detailed response to the Carol Black review.
Family doctors need to do more to help people with mental health problems make a productive return to work, a new report has concluded. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) findings are based on the latest CIPD/KPMG quarterly Labour Market Outlook report, launched this week. CIPD reports that GPs are typically rated negatively by employers for the level of support they provide in helping people with mental health problems return to work. Almost 40 per cent of employers rate GP support in this area as either very poor or fairly poor compared to only 20 per cent who rate GP support as good or very good. Ben Willmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said: 'GPs are letting down patients signed off work with mental health problems by not communicating effectively with employers. All the evidence shows that a phased return to work can play a hugely beneficial role in the recovery of people suffering with this kind of illness. Employers are willing to do their bit, but they need support and better communication from GPs to facilitate appropriately phased returns to work.' Commenting on the report, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: 'We agree that far more must be done to ensure that workers are given access to support when off sick and the GP must have a major role in this, however the role of the sick note system must be to help employees get better so that they can return to work rather than force them back too early. Many of the government's proposals may help this but only if employers have good sickness absence and return to work policies in place.'
The courts disqualify company directors risking cash hundreds of times more often than directors risking people's health and safety, a major study has found. Research for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published this week reported that since the introduction of a director disqualification act in the mid-80s only a handful of directors have been disqualified for breaching health and safety laws compared to over 1,500 each year for breaches of financial rules. Professor Alan Neal and Professor Frank Wright of the Employment Law Research Unit of the University of Warwick looked at the use made of powers contained in the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 in relation to disqualification orders related to workplace health and safety failures. From the records made available to them, the researchers were able to identify just 10 directors who had been disqualified for health and safety reasons between the date when the 1986 Act took effect and the end point of their study in 2005. They say conservatively this means there are 300 finance related disqualifications to every safety ban, but the ratio could be as high as a thousand to one. The researchers said there were clear reasons why there had been so few safety related disqualifications even though the 1986 made this a clear option. Professor Alan Neal said: 'We found a marked absence of awareness even of what potential powers may be contained within the 1986 Act.' The study authors call for better guidance for prosecutor and enforcement agencies on the use of the act, and say arrangements should be made 'to supervise and monitor all health and safety prosecution files, with a view to identifying cases where it would be appropriate to make application for a disqualification order, and that, in any event, a formal return should be made by all prosecutors in respect of the outcomes of any cases handled by them before the courts.' Commenting on the report, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The law is more concerned with punishing directors for financial offences than it is with dishing out penalties when safety crimes are committed.' He added: 'At the moment there is no legal duty on directors to ensure the safety of their employees. That must change. The courts must start imposing higher fines as well as other, more imaginative penalties such as corporate probation on directors who show scant regard for the safety of their workforce. But any increased sanctions are dependent on the offenders being prosecuted, and with most workplaces being inspected, on average only once every 13-20 years, few employers see it as a deterrent."
The family of a man crushed to death in an industrial incident has expressed disappointment with the £30,000 fine levied on the company. Michael Joyce, 51, was killed after climbing inside a machine during his shift at the Freudenberg Technical Products plant in North Tyneside, on 15 October 2005 (Risks 310). The machine, which coats metal car seals with rubber, should have been fitted with an interlock system to prevent access to workers. But the system - costing as little as £20 - was never fitted, while the existing locks were sealed with residue and faulty, Newcastle Crown Court was told. Freudenberg admitted a charge of failing to ensure the safety of its employees after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive. Judge Michael Cartlidge ordered the German-owned company to pay a fine of £30,000 and £16,450 in court costs. Mr Joyce's widow Geraldine slammed the fine. She also condemned the company for quibbling over costs. In a statement read by the family solicitor Philip Davison, Mrs Joyce said: 'We are very disappointed with the fine of just £30,000. We are particularly disappointed that Freudenberg pleaded guilty, but then sought to benefit in lowering the fine.' The court was told Freudenberg was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in court costs in 2001 after another employee had an index finger severed while operating a different machine.
A port authority has been fined a total of £100,000 over the death of a boy aged six, crushed by a giant paper roll. Harry Palmer died when the unsecured reel of newsprint fell on him from a forklift at Tilbury Docks in Essex. Croydon Crown Court heard he was taken to the docks on 29 August 2003 by his dockworker father Peter Littmoden (Risks 122). A forklift truck he was riding on hit another one carrying the reel. The boy fell off into the path of the reel and suffered major trauma to his head and body. The Port of Tilbury London LPD had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £100,000 with £157,000 costs. Speaking after the sentencing, Harry's mother, Jane Palmer, 46, said: 'For four years I have waited for some type of justice at the death of my son, Harry. This has proved to me that there is no such thing as justice. I'm disgusted as £100,000 is never a deterrent.' Miss Palmer said two of her three daughters, Katie, 12, and Nichola, 18, who witnessed her brother's death, were still receiving treatment at a trauma clinic. Judge Stephen Waller said: 'I do not find that this was a company careless of safety. The company's failure here was not to appreciate the risk.' HSE i nspector Eddie Scoggins said: 'I hope this tragic incident makes it clear to employers that they need to take positive steps to identify the risks in their workplaces and manage them. Moving the paper reels was a routine part of work at the docks. Had the company undertaken a proper risk assessment and stopped the practice of carrying riders the completely unnecessary death of Harry Palmer would not have happened.'
Rigorous enforcement backed up by active unions is the best way to deliver safety at work, a new World Health Organisation report has concluded. 'Employment conditions and health inequalities' says contrary to the current fashion for deregulation, regulations are not the problem. 'Mandating of standards or enactment of regulation will have little effect without adequate supporting infrastructure and rigorous enforcement,' the report says. 'Evidence of the failure of existing regulations to protect vulnerable workers even in developed countries, generally reflects a failure of enforcement rather than an argument against the regulatory option.' A case history on the role of unions notes: 'Extensive research mainly conducted in Canada, Australia, the United States, and especially in the United Kingdom, shows that workplaces where trade unions are present are safer, improving occupational health outcomes.' It adds: 'Participation of unions and the workforce at different levels can have a considerable effect in changing health and safety at the workplace. For instance, unions dramatically increase enforcement of the occupational safety and health acts, and unionised workplaces are much more likely to have a health and safety committee and to have undergone a management safety audit in the previous year than non-unionised workplaces. Unions ensure that their safety representatives are better trained in health and safety than employers. Moreover, unions often realise the risks long before management does.'
An Australian union body has created its own dedicated unit to help injured workers back to work. The Victorian Trades Hall Council's (VTHC) Return to Work Unit was created 'to challenge the barriers that stop injured workers returning to full and meaningful employment.' A big part of the VTHC initiative is to provide training to workers and their representatives. The training includes practical tools, information and advice about injured workers' rights to return to work (RTW), including the process, the rights and responsibilities of all people involved in the process and barriers to returning to work. The organisation is running free courses for unions and local trades and labour councils. VTHC also has a high class OHS Reps @ Work website.
Thousands of victims of asbestos cancer in Australia will be able to get an expensive palliative care drug at next to no cost by January or even sooner. Both major political parties promised to subsidise the drug Alimta for sufferers of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma after the government's drug advisory body recommended that it be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which means it is available with most costs borne by the government. The recommendation came just days after health minister Tony Abbott was forced to apologise for insulting terminally ill asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton, who has asbestosis and mesothelioma (Risks 330). Mr Abbott had accused Mr Banton of pulling a stunt by trying to present the minister with a petition calling for subsidies for Alimta. The chair of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, Lloyd Sansom, said the committee had recommended that Alimta be subsidised for mesothelioma sufferers - it is already subsidised for other cancer patients in Australia - after manufacturer Eli Lilly dropped the price, changed the way it was packaged to reduce waste and cost and provided more data about how it improved patients' quality of life. A spokesperson for Eli Lilly confirmed that the company had dropped the price by about 10 per cent - to about $18,000 (£7,750). The executive officer of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Victoria, Leigh Hubbard, said the subsidised drug should be made available immediately.
Mexico's largest copper mine is awash with 'serious health and safety violations', and needs a 'massive cleanup operation' before striking miners can return, a team of top safety experts has found. The team found dangerous levels of mineral dust and acid mist at Grupo Mexico's Cananea copper mine in Sonora, 30 miles south of the Arizona border. The findings were released this week by the union whose health and safety strike involves 1,300 workers and has shut the mine since 30 July (Risks 320). Representatives of Mexico's National Mining and Metal Workers Union say they are prepared to strike until Grupo Mexico SAB, the world's third largest copper producer, agrees to conduct a 'massive cleanup operation' and implement safety and training programme. The union will send the report to President Felipe Calderón. A US pulmonary specialist, two Mexican doctors and three industrial hygienists compiled the report after visiting the mine and interviewing and examining the lungs of 68 workers. Study coordinator Garrett Brown, an industrial hygienist and director of the non-profit Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network (MHSSN), based in Berkeley, California said the US-based United Steelworkers union (USW), which represents workers at a Grupo Mexico-owned US copper mine, paid for the group's travel to Mexico. The study found a failure to maintain equipment and correct visible safety hazards meant 'workers have been exposed to high levels of toxic dusts and acid mists' including silica and sulphuric acid and that they 'work in simply dangerous surroundings.' Garrett Brown said 'there are serious health and safety hazards at the Cananea mine operation that require immediate and long-term corrections in order to protect workers from both accidents and occupational diseases.' He added: 'In 16 years of inspecting mines in the US, Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia and China, I have never seen a place - operated by a transnational corporation with so many resources - that has such bad conditions.' The mist 'is so concentrated it's eating away the steel structure of the buildings,' Brown said. 'You literally have piles of dust two to three feet high all over the processing plants.' Dr Robert Cohen, a pulmonary specialist at Chicago's Cook County Hospital said the medical team found a high prevalence of early signs of respiratory disease among the 68 workers.
A bridge under construction in Dubai has collapsed, killing seven workers and injuring 15, police have said. The bridge was being built in Dubai Marina, a new development in the United Arab Emirates city which is a regional business and tourism hub. Dubai's economy has boomed in recent years, fuelled largely by a construction industry reliant on low-paid workers, many from South Asia. More than 40 labourers were working on the bridge at the time of the collapse, police said. Fifteen injured workers were admitted to Dubai's Rashid hospital, reports said, after the incident last week. 'We tried to put a huge piece of metal in a wall when it collapsed,' said Muthu Raj, one of the workers interviewed by the media 'I saw colleagues trapped inside, but I managed to jump back and stepped on the road.' Dubai is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, but safety on construction sites has been the subject of much debate in the media. Foreign workers in Dubai recently went on strike demanding improved safety, higher pay and improved housing for working on prestige projects such as Burj Dubai - set to be the world's tallest building. This collapse is the latest in a series of recent bridge tragedies. At least 36 workers died when a bridge collapsed in Vietnam in September. In the US, 13 died in August when a Minneapolis bridge undergoing resurfacing work fell into the Mississippi. Also in August, 29 workers died when a bridge under construction over the Tuojiang River in China's Hunan province collapsed.
The latest issue of Hazards, the union safety reps' quarterly, is out now. It investigates how your safety is being threatened at work by a lack of enforcement, and how your health isn't been given the priority it deserves. There's also advice on why drug and alcohol tests are a bad habit employers should in general give up, as well as lots of news and resources. All at a knock down price with massive discounts for union subscribers.
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