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A kitchen assistant who was eventually forced to leave her job following a violent incident has been awarded £40,000 compensation. Diana Gruber, 60, received the payout from Leicestershire County Council after a verbal attack at Coalville Resource Centre. At the time of the February 2004 incident, UNISON member Mrs Gruber had worked for 10 years at the centre, which caters for adults with learning difficulties. As she was serving tea, she was approached by a centre user who demanded a drink and verbally assaulted her, including threats to kill her. She feared for her own physical safety - the man, who suffered from Fragile X Syndrome, had physically and verbally assaulted staff and other centre users on several previous occasions. 'I didn't know what to do, I was very shaken and was terrified to return to work,' Mrs Gruber said. 'I thought my employer would help me out, but actually their inability to act made it worse for me.' She added: 'I worked at the centre to help people, but when I needed support I was completely left in the lurch.' UNISON senior regional organiser Lilian Greenwood commented: 'It isn't always easy to judge the potential conduct of someone with a mental illness but it is possible to help out... someone who's been on the receiving end of this type of attack. Mrs Gruber deserved far more support from the council than she received.' Peter Magee, Mrs Gruber's representative at Thompsons Solicitors, said: 'Mrs Gruber was seen by her employer's occupational health department who recommended a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. However, no-one followed this up. Indeed they failed to care for her throughout the period which she was off.' She was eventually retired on ill-health grounds in July 2006.
Employers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must join with the workforce to create new safety standards for beer delivery workers, their union Unite has said. Brian Revell, Unite national organiser, said these workers, known as draymen, have one of the most dangerous jobs in the food and drink industry. He said the union had prepared a six-point action plan, arising out of a meeting of 24 Unite senior shop stewards that discussed the problems faced by the workforce. The main area of concern, he said, is the increased pressure to deliver more beer with fewer workers. 'This is a dangerous industry and we intend to create a safer workplace for our members. We intend to develop industry-wide health and safety standards and we are inviting the employers and the Health and Safety Executive to work with us to reduce accidents in this industry.' The union's plan of action calls for: No expansion of one-person deliveries; recognition of the dangers of 'job and finish' and work towards its elimination; prevention of the stacking of barrels over 11 gallons capacity on the back of vehicles; all beer to be drained off from barrels before they are removed from cellars; medical checks for all beer distribution workers; and a minimum of 4 weeks induction training.
A growing number of pupils are taking weapons and drugs into a hard core of schools in troubled areas, research for teaching union NUT suggests. The proportion of teachers finding weapons on pupils on a weekly basis had almost quadrupled from 2001 to 2008, according to the study by Warwick University researchers. The academics interviewed 1,500 teachers and reported those finding drugs on pupils weekly had doubled. Overall, the share of teachers who had never found drugs or weapons on pupils has grown. But one in four said they had found an offensive weapon and one in five said they had found pupils possessing drugs. One in 10 teachers had discovered children dealing in drugs. Speaking at the union's annual conference, NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott said: 'Overall there seems to be an improvement, but this core group of schools are still reporting this very significant issue.' He said teachers needed extra support to deal with violence and drugs and urged the government to help by tackling poverty. He added that schools should be drugs and weapons-free and their discovery on pupils should lead to permanent exclusion.
The government has promised action to protect teachers from bullying through mobile phones and the internet. The move comes after teaching unions this month raised concerns about the impact of cyber bullying on teachers and pupils. Schools secretary Ed Balls told the NASUWT conference this week the 'cyber bullying taskforce' for England will seek ways to stop pupils targeting teachers. He added that he wants cyber bullying of teachers to be a 'serious disciplinary offence.' Until now, the government taskforce has focused on how cyber bullying in England affects children. The measures being suggested by the government include the setting up of a hotline on which teachers could report incidents of cyber bullying, and examining how government could work with the internet industry to combat the problem. Mr Balls told the NASUWT conference: 'Bullying is never acceptable and we will do all we can to prevent it in all its forms. The law requires head teachers to take action to prevent all forms of bullying. It also gives school staff statutory power to punish bullying whether that occurs in or out of school. We already give schools advice on the practical measures they can take to tackle bullying, including guidance on dealing with cyber bullying. But I want to go further.' NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said she welcomed the news that the taskforce was to look at teachers' experiences. 'I am pleased the government accepts that we need strong policies in schools which focus on teachers. Increasingly, teachers' lives are being destroyed by what pupils are doing.' She added: 'Relying on industry self-regulation to resolve this problem is the equivalent of waiting for hell to freeze over.' A survey this month by teaching union ATL found 16 per cent of teachers had been victims of cyber bullying and of those more than half had received silent calls or been the victims of videoing, which has been posted on websites such as YouTube.
The majority of teachers are suffering voice loss and other work-related ill health, surveys by teaching union ATL have found. The union says over two-thirds of teachers (68 per cent) working in primary schools have experienced voice problems they feel have been caused by their job. Over a third (37 per cent) of those who have experienced voice problems have visited their GP, and almost a quarter (24 per cent) have had to take time off work. Overall 60 per cent of teachers surveyed had experienced voice problems, with 68 per cent of teachers working in maintained schools experiencing voice problems compared to 57 per cent in independent schools. ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted commented: 'These statistics are truly shocking - too many teachers are putting pressure on their voices on a regular basis and are suffering as a result. It is vital that schools support their staff and help them protect their voices when problems occur.' A second ATL survey of teachers and lecturers found 70 per cent believe their health has suffered because of their job, and over 50 per cent are stressed by working in education. Among those whose health has been affected, 51 per cent had gone to their local GP to seek help and 36 per cent had taken time off work. The most widely reported health problems were stress, disturbed sleep patterns and exhaustion.
Maintenance work on overhead power lines along the East Coast and branch lines was cancelled after key engineering staff in four Network Rail depots refused to issue work licences on safety grounds. Rail union RMT said workers at Morpeth, Leeds, Doncaster and Hitchen depots invoked 'Worksafe' procedures and sought alternative duties on the night of 19 March after learning managers doing the work of highly skilled staff on strike from the York electrical control room (Risk 347) had had as little as six days' training. The strike action was prompted by what RMT says is Network Rail's unsafe plans to slash the number of operators there by a third. After the work refusal, the union warned that any attempt to discipline the workers concerned would result in a ballot for strike action among all overhead line staff. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said he had sent an urgent letter to the Railway Inspectorate 'because I understand that none of the managers working the control room has current certification, and that none of the six days' training they received was on live equipment.' He added: 'RMT has also made it clear that any attempt by Network Rail to discipline members for taking the entirely correct steps to protect their own and their colleagues' safety will result in a strike ballot of all overhead line staff.'
Union leaders are demanding that London Underground construction workers have the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card before they are allowed to work on the Tube network. The call came as the collapsed public-private partnership (PPP) operator Metronet faces allegations of unqualified companies carrying out electrical work and a police investigation into alleged corrupt contract awards (Risks 343). It follows revelations by trade paper Contract Journal that drainage specialist Lanes was awarded electrical work at Oxford Circus despite not being registered with the JIB, the relevant industry body. The journal says British Transport Police is now investigating the Lanes contract award and the spotlight has been turned on general working practices on the Tube. Unite London regional officer Harry Cowap told the journal: 'It's all agency staff underground and no-one knows what skills are down there because there is no need to have a CSCS card.' Tube workers must pass a safety test before working on track and maintenance jobs. But the multiple-choice test is virtually impossible to fail because the questions are so basic. Harry Cowap said: 'All they check for is the safety test card which is a joke because anyone can pass it. It's a free-for-all. The CSCS is standard for construction jobs above ground so why isn't it the same under ground?' He added: 'It's the worst job I've ever been on. Everyone should have a CSCS card and all firms carrying out electrical work should be JIB registered. There should be an even tougher regime down there than for sites above ground.'
Medical experts are calling for action to reduce the potentially fatal risks to health service staff posed by latex. 'Latex allergy: Occupational aspects of management', new guidelines from the Royal College of Physicians and NHS Plus, falls short of calling for a total ban on latex gloves. Instead it urges the health service to use powder-free, low protein latex gloves as an alternative to powdered gloves, saying this significantly reduces latex allergy and latex-induced asthma. It does however recommend that employees with latex-related problems should use non-latex gloves. The groups say their guidelines 'recommend that national and local policies are put in place to encourage switching from powdered to powder-free gloves, as the evidence shows that this is not likely to happen on a voluntary basis.' They add 'clinicians often prefer latex gloves to those made from other materials for a variety of technical reasons, so this needs to be taken into account when developing policies.' The approach is likely to be controversial, as it means some workers will remain at risk of developing latex allergy and workers already sensitised to latex will be at risk of severe allergic reactions which can be triggered by even minute exposures in the workplace. Union safety experts warn the strategy might also fall foul of the COSHH regulations, which require substitution of hazardous substances were suitable, safer alternatives are available. They say it is unlikely a clinician's personal preferences would in most instances constitute sufficient reason not to switch to a suitable alternative. UNISON member Tanya Dodd, a trainee nurse at Scarborough General Hospital, received a six figure payout this month for type 1 latex allergy caused by the gloves she wore routinely as part of her job. The nurse, 25, has had to give up the profession as a result of the condition (Risks 248).
Maintenance firm Colas has been fined £90,000 six years after a safety breach that cost two workers their lives. Fred Cook, 38, and colleague John Crimmins, 33, were electrocuted when the mobile tower light they were pushing came into contact with a high voltage power line. The pair, who both worked for a sub-contractor, had been moving the lighting tower on the A66 in County Durham on 16 January 2002. Recorder of Middlesbrough Peter Fox sentenced Colas Ltd on 19 March after the company admitted at an early hearing a breach of safety law. The firm was also ordered to pay £24,000 in costs by Teesside Crown Court. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) principal inspector Rob Hirst said: 'Had the risks from inadvertent contact with overhead power lines been recognised, the work activities properly planned and suitable control measures put in place, then this incident would not have occurred.' He added: 'Employers, and those who have any influence or duties in the management of work activities, need to assess, plan and manage such high risk situations.' Colas was the principal contractor responsible for the resurfacing work.
A waste company has been fined £10,000 after a worker suffered serious injuries when he was run over by a workplace vehicle. FOCSA Services (UK) Ltd was also ordered to pay costs of £4,277 at Calderdale Magistrates' Court, after pleading guilty to a breach of safety law. In September 2006, Michael Curtis, now 56, a site attendant at the FOCSA-managed Atlas Mill Household Recycling Site in Brighouse, suffered horrific leg, pelvic and abdominal injuries when he was knocked down and run over by a telehandler as it manoeuvred to unload a kerbside recycling vehicle. He was hospitalised for three months. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Kate Dixon said: 'This was a tragic and entirely avoidable incident, from which the worker was lucky to escape with his life. The employer failed to ensure that proper measures were taken to protect the worker and the consequences of that will affect him permanently.' She added: 'The employer failed to provide a system of work that adequately controlled the risks arising from the movement of vehicles on the site. The dangerous parts of the site were not adequately fenced off or secured and site rules were not enforced. This also meant that members of the public were also put at risk.' Mr Curtis, who still works for the company at another site, said the incident had affected every aspect of his life. 'If my injuries had been an inch or two higher I could have been killed,' he said.
A dairy firm has been fined £12,000 after a worker had parts of her fingers cut off at a Worcestershire factory. The incident happened in April 2006 at Robert Wiseman Dairies' Droitwich plant. A female employee was changing machinery that puts labels around plastic milk bottles when automatic guards intended to prevent access to the machine's cutting blades were manually over-ridden. The tops of three of the woman's fingers were severed. It is not known how the guards had been over-ridden. The company pleaded guilty to safety breaches when it appeared at Redditch Magistrates Court. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay £6,200 court costs. A spokesperson for the firm said: "We very much regret that this incident took place, and have worked with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to ensure that there can be no repetition. In practical terms, we have changed working practices and introduced measures to ensure that automatic safety guards cannot now be over-ridden." HSE investigating inspector Ritchie McCrae commented: 'It is a fundamental expectation that employees should be able to work in safety, operating under systems that are regularly assessed and appropriately maintained.'
A Yorkshire widow has received a six-figure compensation payout after her husband died of an asbestos cancer. Sylvia Worth, 54, was awarded £122,000 in damages. Her husband, Harry, who was in his late 60s when he died, was exposed to asbestos as a teenager, while working as an apprentice electrician at the Campbell & Isherwood shipyard on Tyneside, now known as Sorbo Ten Ltd. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in February 2004 and died just a few months later in June 2004. Mrs Worth said Harry could not believe he could develop such a deadly disease from the few years he worked alongside asbestos. 'He was astounded when he was diagnosed. He thought you had to work with asbestos for a lifetime before you could get something like mesothelioma. He said to the doctor that he hadn't been near asbestos in 45 years.' She added: 'Harry encouraged me to pursue compensation after he was gone. He said he wanted a sense of justice but he also wanted to help other people who are diagnosed in the future. I feel his life has been cut short by the neglect of work practices from decades ago. Money cannot replace a person. If I could have Harry back now they could take the money back.'
Top personal injury lawyers have welcomed a pledge by prime minister Gordon Brown to produce a consultation paper on the plight of victims of pleural plaques, an injury caused by exposure to asbestos. In October last year the highest court in the UK, the House of Lords, announced that it would not overturn a ruling of the Court of Appeal in January 2006, which now prevents sufferers of pleural plaques from claiming compensation (Risks 244). The Court of Appeal's ruling reversed over 20 years of established practice, during which time sufferers of pleural plaques had been able to claim compensation for the condition. Gordon Brown's announcement of a consultation came during prime minister's questions time earlier this month. Roger Maddocks, industrial disease specialist at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said the consultation was 'good news after a continual onslaught by insurers to deny innocent victims of asbestos exposure compensation for injury caused by their employer's negligence.' He added: 'I represent many families who will be devastated by their diagnosis. Pleural plaques are physical scars, often a cause of great anxiety and at times a precursor to very serious, and sometimes fatal, disease.'
A panel of experts convened by construction union UCATT has advised MPs the government should overturn the Law Lords decision blocking compensation for pleural plaque sufferers. Top medical and legal experts addressed a 26 March seminar held in the House of Commons to brief MPs. Asbestos disease expert Professor Mark Britton told MPs most people were diagnosed with pleural plaques by accident, when they were x-rayed for other diseases. He also emphasised the debilitating mental affects of the disease. He said: 'People's whole quality of life disintegrates and it leaves mental casualties.' Matthew Cartledge, a senior partner with trade union lawyers OH Parsons, said it was 'just plain wrong' that overturning the Law Lords ruling would be difficult for government. He also said it was essential that pleural plaque sufferers should be able to claim provisional damages and be able to identify the company and insurers who were liable - something only likely to happen at the moment after sufferers go on to develop potentially fatal asbestos cancers. MP Michael Clapham, who chaired the meeting, said 'it is important to keep up the pressure. This place does not move without pressure.' UCATT has distributed 100,000 campaign postcards, to be sent directly to justice minister Jack Straw, urging him to overturn the Law Lords decision.
One in five of all crashes on major roads are caused by tired drivers but research shows many motorists are ignoring the simplest sign - the common yawn - that it's time for a break. A new government campaign featuring acting star Joseph Fiennes sets out to remind motorists of the dangers of driving when tired - and says it is a particular problem for working drivers. Road safety minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: 'We all want to finish our journeys as quickly as possible but being tired at the wheel is a proven killer that we cannot ignore.' He added: 'People who drive for work are particularly at risk but there are simple steps we can all take to make our journeys safer. Plan regular stops into a long trip and if you find yourself yawning pull over and take a break - this could make the difference between life and death.' A You Gov poll of British drivers published at the campaign launch found fewer than one in five motorists (18 per cent) always take a yawn as a sign to pull over. Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said: 'Yawning quite simply means you're on the road to falling asleep - so if you're yawning behind the wheel it really is time to pull over.' The campaign is primarily targeted at people who drive for work as research shows they are at particular risk, the government said.
Relatives of British deep sea divers killed in the North Sea during the boom years of oil exploration are seeking compensation from the Norwegian government, which is expected to run to millions of pounds. The families of seven British divers - all of whom died between the 1960s and 1980s as the scramble for oil intensified in the North Sea - are expected to submit formal applications for compensation over the next few weeks. They say factors including faulty equipment and excessive working hours were ultimately the responsibility of the Norwegian government as owner of the oilfields. The families also hope to join a class action lawsuit against the government by 24 former divers who claim that they were treated as 'human guinea pigs' and sent to extreme and dangerous depths, sometimes as low as 1,300ft (396m), more than twice the current safety limit. Of 17 fatalities in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea between 1967 and 1987, 11 were British and the rest Norwegians and Americans. It is believed that the family of only one dead British diver has been compensated by the Norwegian government. Although it has admitted political and moral responsibility for the 'pioneer divers,' who worked in the North Sea from 1965 to 1990, it has denied legal responsibility, allowing it to rebuff large-scale compensation suits. A statement by the Norwegian labour ministry on 31 January said: 'The Norwegian state has not denied that divers have been injured as a consequence of diving in relation to the petroleum activity in the North Sea during the pioneer period,' but added: 'The state admits a responsibility on the basis of moral and political aspects, but does not acknowledge any legal liability.'
Nine coalmine bosses have been sentenced to between two and six years in jail for a 2005 blast that killed 108 miners and injured 29 others in north China's Hebei Province. Shang Zhiguo, head of the Liuguantun colliery, was sentenced to six years in jail for committing a major workplace safety crime. The deputy head Li Qixin, who was also in charge of production safety, was jailed for five years on the same charge, according to a Kaiping District People's Court ruling. The coalmine investor Zhu Wenyou and head of the mine safety department Lv Xuezeng were each jailed for three years. The mine ventilation department chief Liu Wencheng was jailed for fours years. Another four managers were sentenced to between two and four years in jail. The gas explosion happened at the Liuguantun Coal Mine in Kaiping District of Tangshan City on 7 December 2005. The gas blast was caused by the illegal operation of the mine, Li Yizhong, former director of the State Administration of Work Safety, had said. The coal mine was still under construction and did not have a production licence before the accident happened, said Li.
Global transport unions' federation ITF has launched safety initiatives for workers toiling in the air and at sea. It is carrying out a worldwide study on stress and fatigue in the aviation industry 'to strengthen its campaign activities and help win the argument for better working conditions.' And it has launched an on-board safety film to support seafaring safety reps. The aviation questionnaire, which has been translated into eight languages, is being sent out to more than 200 trade unions and associations across the world representing ground staff, cabin crew and air traffic services workers. ITF believes the findings will prove that liberalisation of airlines has led to increased staff stress and fatigue levels. Ingo Marowsky, ITF civil aviation section secretary, commented: 'We will use the findings from this study to inform our future activities and if necessary step up our campaign for better regulation of work and rest times so that workers are protected against 'burn out' and fatigue.' He added: 'We believe that this study, which is being carried out in conjunction with eminent academics from around the world, will provide concrete evidence of a link between liberalisation and staff's working conditions.' ITF says its seafaring safety film, a 20-minute multi-language DVD, 'has been designed to support and equip on-board safety representatives and is being distributed by ITF inspectors as well as being offered to ship operators to show on their vessels.' John Bainbridge, assistant secretary of the ITF seafarers' section, commented: 'This is a new tool, a small addition to the armoury of all those who want to better understand the important role the safety representative plays and support him or her in their mission to build a safety culture.'
South Korea's largest union umbrella group has launched a campaign to make discount stores and other workplaces provide chairs for workers who are needlessly forced to stand. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) said the move is to prevent standing-related health problems. According to the union's research, many workers at department stores, discount stores and ice cream and fast food chains do not have use of a chair either during breaks or when working. KCTU says prolonged standing can lead to health concerns including varicose veins, heart disease and pregnancy problems. The country's National Human Rights Commission warned in January that the majority of female non-permanent workers employed as supermarket cashiers or sales clerks had back or other health problems. The law obliges management to provide chairs or stools for workers while taking breaks. The law also says workers can sit while not dealing with customers. In reality, very few people are aware of the law, KCTU spokesperson Oh Moon-sook said. 'Many female workers complain about swollen legs and not being able to sleep but still having to smile at the workplace because they are service agents,' she added.
The US government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating several cases of laundry and housekeeping workers suspected of having become infected with HIV as a result of needlestick injuries at work. Dionne Williams, a senior industrial hygienist for the official safety watchdog OSHA, said: 'It appears that there are a lot of injuries among laundry and housekeeping personnel, due to needles and other contaminated sharp objects left in soiled goods. The number of infractions is up.' Between 1981 and 2006, the CDC documented two cases of laundry and housekeeping employees who were infected with HIV as a result of occupational exposure to blood and identified 13 more possible cases. Those employees were among a total of 57 documented cases and 140 possible cases of HIV-positive healthcare workers in the US 'who have not reported other risk factors for HIV infection and who report a history of occupational exposure to blood, body fluids or HIV-infected materials,' according to the CDC. Twenty-six of those workers have converted to AIDS. However, both the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) - the government's occupational health research arm - warned that the number of laundry and housekeeping employees infected with HIV as a result of needlestick injuries could potentially be much higher. NIOSH estimates there are as many as 800,000 needlestick injuries among healthcare, laundry and housekeeping employees each year, of which at least half aren't reported. OSHA's Dionne Williams commented: 'Hospitals should develop a safety culture that encourages employees to discuss potential problems in a non-punitive environment and to be vigilant about what they see.'
COURSES FOR APRIL TO JULY 2008
Newsletter (5,300 words) issued 28 Mar 2008
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