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The UK will officially recognise Workers' Memorial Day to commemorate thousands of people who have died, been seriously injured or made ill through their work, cabinet minister Yvette Cooper has announced. Welcoming the decision to give the government stamp of approval to the annual 28 April worldwide event, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This special day commemorates the many thousands of people who have died as a result of their work and we're pleased the government has taken the step of recognising it. Workers' Memorial Day has been an important date in the trade union calendar for many years and we look forward to working with ministers to increase its profile.' Announcing the move, which followed a government consultation, work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper said: 'This is a tribute to all those who have campaigned long and hard, including bereaved families, trade unions, campaign groups, and many other organisations and individuals. For the first time, the UK will join countries across the globe in remembrance of all those killed at work and for the families they have left behind, and the many more who have been harmed. It is also a spur to greater efforts to improve health and safety for today's and tomorrow's working population.' As part of its support for the 28 April event, the government will encourage commemorations to be held on the day throughout the UK, with ministers committed to help support and promote these commemorations. Workers' Memorial Day is when workers around the world remember the dead and campaign for improved workplace safety to protect the living. To mark the day this year, the TUC is calling for a minute's silence in workplaces up and down the country at noon on Wednesday 28 April.
The TUC has called for a 'zero tolerance' approach to violent crime at work after a new analysis showed the number of physical assaults against workers last year was up 50 per cent on the previous year. The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) analysis of the Home Office's British Crime Survey (BCS) 2008/09 figures for England and Wales concluded an estimated 327,000 workers had experienced at least one incident of violence at work in the year, with 168,000 assaulted while they were working and 176,000 threatened. The statistics represent a reversal of the long term downward trend in assaults. In 2007/08 there were 112,000 assaults and 194,000 threats, with a total violence at work toll of 293,000. According to the figures, assaults at work are up 50 per cent. The total violence at work figure is up almost 12 per cent. HSE says 1.4 per cent of working adults were the victims of one or more violent incidents at work. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The sharp increase in physical assaults against workers last year is hugely concerning. This must act as a wake-up call to both the government and employers.' He added: 'Whatever the circumstances, there must be zero tolerance to any act of abuse or aggression against a person who is engaged in their job. Employers and the police must ensure that action is taken against those that threaten or assault employees.' The long term trend was in the right direction, he said. 'The level of assaults against workers is still far lower than it was ten years ago. Much of this is thanks to the joint work that unions and employers have been doing to address the issue in sectors such as health care and retail,' said Mr Barber.
A firefighter has said workers should make sure they log all workplace injuries and incidents, no matter how minor, after developing a debilitating condition from what at first appeared to be an insignificant niggle. Fire Brigades Union (FBU) member Donavon Gooden, 43, was forced to give up his job after he slipped a disc while attending a car accident in February 2005. South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service had been called out after a car had slipped on the icy roads and hit a wall. Donavon and his colleagues were attempting to move the car back onto the road when he felt a twinge in his back. He said at the time he didn't think anything of it and just continued with his work. He didn't write the incident down in the accident book. It wasn't until a few days later when he began to feel pain down the back of his left leg and in his back that he went to his doctor and discovered he had slipped a disc. The firefighter, who had 20 years service, has since had to undergo surgery and has been told he will never work as a firefighter again. He said: 'I'd warn any firefighter who has a workplace accident, no matter how minor it seems, to log it straight away. I didn't think I needed to write down what happened to me and it later caused problems for my legal team.' In a union-backed compensation case, he subsequently received £100,000 in an out of court settlement after South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service admitted liability.
RMT has warned that a safety crisis on the rails could get dramatically worse if Network Rail is allowed to proceed with plans to shed 1,500 safety critical maintenance posts. On 27 January, the union handed a damning dossier to MPs, outlining reports of a 'serious deterioration in safety' alongside damaging maintenance cuts. Hundreds of rail workers contacted a confidential RMT email line with examples of how preparatory work for the job cuts was already leading to serious problems, including reduced track safety inspections, delays repairing faulty level crossings, and reduced safety checks on railway signals. The report was presented to MPs ahead of a 'Rail Cuts Cost Lives' lobby of parliament. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'We are sending a clear message to MPs that the rail maintenance job cuts are a lethal gamble, creating the perfect conditions for another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg railway tragedy.' He added: 'The jobs to be axed are of those workers responsible for inspecting and repairing the track, signals, level crossings and overhead lines. They work 365 days a year, day and night in all conditions to keep the railway safe.' Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: 'We need to put safety first and that means making sure maintenance work - and maintenance jobs - are a number one priority, whatever the pressures on the public purse. Lord Adonis must tell Network Rail to cancel these job cuts.' TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'Network Rail needs to listen to its workforce who work hard to keep up rigorous inspections on the UK's railway network and who know that safety could be compromised if 1,500 maintenance workers are made redundant. While senior executives at Network Rail are paying themselves huge bonuses, they seem quite happy to cut crucial jobs on the railway, potentially risking the safety of passengers and other railway employees.'
Rail firm Scotrail is bullying managerial and supervisory staff into taking a quickie training course so they can act as train guards. The courses, described by rail union RMT as 'dangerously compressed', are Scotrail's contingency plan in the event of industrial action over the imposition of Driver Only Operation (DOO) on the Airdrie/Bathgate line. The union says the rushed training package 'cannot cover the extensive knowledge needed for the safe running of trains and passenger service on the Scotrail network.' RMT adds it has received reports that members are being put under enormous pressure to attend the courses, with some even being told their jobs may be at risk if they refuse. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'We now have growing evidence that Scotrail are prepared to go to any lengths, and take any risks, in order to try and mobilise a scab army to break any industrial action by RMT in the dispute over the safety critical role of guards on the new Scotrail service. We are demanding that this bullying and intimidation of managerial and supervisory grades stops now.' He added: 'Scotrail's economic case for ditching guards has been demolished and the safety case for retaining these skilled members of the train crew is overwhelming.'
Construction union UCATT says it has won a delay in the implementation of a blacklisting law, after raising concerns about the adequacy of the measures (Risks 436). The union says it wrote to and contacted directly members of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, expressing 'grave concerns' about the proposed law. It says when the committee met on 20 January to consider the regulations, a decision was made to delay ratifying the regulations for a week, as the committee were concerned that the proposals do not comply with human rights obligations. UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: 'The pause in the parliamentary process is welcome. Outlawing blacklisting is a fundamental issue for UCATT. The government now has the opportunity to rethink and redraft regulations which as they stand are entirely inadequate to stamp out blacklisting.' The union wants the law amended to make blacklisting a criminal offence and for a wider definition of the 'trade union activities' falling in the scope of the measures. It also wants workers to be told automatically if their details are discovered to be on an illegal blacklist.
A police receptionist has received more than £10,000 in compensation after getting whiplash when her foot caught in loose wires. The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union member, whose name has not been released, was forced to change jobs as a result. The 53-year-old, who worked for the Metropolitan Police Service, was left with serious whiplash injuries to her shoulder and neck following the incident in May 2007. She was unable to continue with her job at Acton police station as it called on her to monitor screens above head height, which caused her pain. She suffered whiplash when her foot caught on loose wires underneath her desk as she was standing up. She had complained to management about the hazard three months earlier but nothing had been done to fix the problem. The Metropolitan Police admitted liability and settled the case out of court. PCS national officer John Thornton said: 'Loose wires are an obvious tripping hazard and to make matters worse our member had already warned her employers about the problem. Health and safety in the workplace should take priority. These wires should have been fixed as soon as a problem was recognised.'
A former BT engineer has received 'substantial' compensation after his employers admitted exposing him to asbestos. Unite member Vaughan Toms, 62, was diagnosed with the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in November 2008 after complaining about being breathless to his doctor. Mr Toms was exposed to asbestos while working for BT between 1971 and 1980, installing cables during the construction of telephone exchanges. As a self employed electrician he had planned to continue work until he was 67. He said: 'I had not given any thought to being exposed to asbestos until I was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I had to give up work as soon as I was diagnosed as I was too ill to continue. I was a fit and active man and did not feel my age before then. I had hoped to work until I was 67 and to support my son through university. This compensation will help me to fulfil those plans. It has also meant that I can pay for innovative treatment in Germany which may help to extend my life.' Steve Hart from Unite said: 'Many of our members were exposed to asbestos in the workplace and, like Mr Toms, were unaware of the danger. While this compensation cannot make up for his suffering the union has been there for him when he and his family needed expert legal advice which has enabled him to achieve peace of mind that his family are now provided for.'
A Labour MP is pressing for a new law to place legally binding, explicit safety duties on company directors. Aberdeen North MP Frank Doran presented his Health and Safety (Company Director Liability) Bill in a House of Commons debate on 19 January. Commenting on the existing voluntary code, produced by the Institute of Directors, he told MPs: 'Despite the enthusiastic reception of the code by business organisations, the majority of companies have not implemented its recommendations.' He added: 'The voluntary approach is not working, so more encouragement is needed to persuade employers to take health and safety much more seriously. Further research commissioned by the HSE shows how important legal regulation is in comparison with the voluntary approach.' The MP said his Bill 'will place a positive duty on all company directors to take all reasonable steps to ensure health and safety in all aspects of the company's activities - effectively to put them in the same position as all other employers and to remove a glaring anomaly in our health and safety laws. The evidence clearly shows that this will save the lives and livelihoods of people across the UK.' The Bill is scheduled to receive a second reading on Friday 23 April. The TUC, trade unions, personal injury lawyers, health and safety campaigners and victims' advocates have all called for explicit legal safety duties on company directors.
A major airport services company has been fined £90,000 following the death of an employee crushed by an electric vehicle at Heathrow airport. Maintenance engineer Mohammed Taj, 52, died in March 2008, when the 'tug' used for pulling baggage and other supplies to planes, fell on his head. The Old Bailey was told Mr Taj had jacked the broken-down vehicle up 60cm in the air to check its brakes, but had no other support under the tug. It toppled over and crushed him after he asked another worker to adjust the steering. He died at the scene shortly afterwards from head injuries. In November, Aviance UK pleaded guilty to safety offences at City of London Magistrates' Court. This week it was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,800 at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the maintenance van supplied by Aviance UK routinely carried a trolley-jack but never carried axle stands or other means of support which should be used. Aviance UK did not have an adequate system for ensuring that the maintenance van returned to the workshop for axle stands, or that defective vehicles were recovered and proper vehicle hoists used. HSE inspector Stephen Kirton said: 'Mr Taj's tragic death could have been avoided if axle stands were routinely carried in the company maintenance van and were used by staff. Mr Taj could be alive today if just £30 had been spent on a pair of axle stands.'
A Scottish oil service firm has been fined £14,000 after an explosion sent five tonnes of cement powder into the atmosphere, injuring a worker. Peterhead-based Cebo UK pleaded guilty to two failures to comply with its pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit when the case was heard at Peterhead Sheriff Court. The firm admitted it had allowed the arm of a cement silo lid to become 'severely corroded' and had failed to provide access to the lid. This prevented it from being 'inspected, maintained and repaired'. As a result of this, the silo lid failed and was 'propelled into the air' and a 'substantial quantity of cement powder' sent into the atmosphere while also injuring an employee, Norman Willox. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency said the scale of the incident on 28 May 2008 could not be understated. Investigating officer Martyn Howie said: 'This incident was both serious and avoidable, serious in that a large amount of cement powder was forcibly ejected into the atmosphere causing widespread pollution and avoidable through the correct and timeous maintenance of the silo by Cebo. It should be remembered that although in common use, cement is an aggressive powder which can cause harm to both the environment and human health and damage to property. The scale of this incident cannot be understated.' He added: 'Not only were a number of people working on and around the south base exposed to cement dust, but a significant number of complaints were received from local residents and businesses regarding cement deposits on property, gardens and vehicles indicating wider exposure to the dust.' He said the incident should serve as a reminder that 'the operation of sites to best available techniques is a requirement not an option.'
If you work in waste and recycling, you might not be reassured to hear it has a work fatality rate nine times the national average. And you might be even more alarmed when you hear some privatisation-happy local authorities are clueless when it comes to their legal responsibility to keep you safe. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it has 'identified that a contributing factor may be that some local authorities are unclear what their legal duties are and mistakenly believe that putting a service out to contract relieves them of all health and safety responsibilities.' HSE says it hopes new online guidance will help local authorities understand the importance of a sensible approach to health and safety when it comes to procuring and managing waste and recycling services, in a bid to help reduce death and injury. According to HSE figures, the recycling industry has nine times more fatalities than the national average and four times as many workers suffer injuries. HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: 'The guidance will help local authorities understand the full extent of their role when managing waste and recycling contractors. HSE wants to see occupational health and safety become an integral but common sense part of the specification, procurement and management of waste and recycling contracts.' HSE research has also found workers in the waste and recycling sector have higher sickness rates (Risks 438).
Doctors are calling for action to eliminate child labour and dangerous working conditions in the production of NHS supplies. The BMA's Medical Fair and Ethical Trade group this week launched an information campaign telling doctors about the labour abuses evident in the production of NHS medical supplies. A BMA survey of 383 doctors found that whilst eight in ten doctors are supportive of the NHS purchasing goods that are ethically sourced, only one in ten doctors is aware of fair and ethically made medical supplies. BMA adviser on the group, Dr Mahmood Bhutta, said: 'Some of the workers in the developing world making medical supplies bound for the NHS are exposed to hazardous working conditions where they risk serious injury and even death. There is also evidence that children as young as seven are risking their lives to supply us with equipment to save British lives.' He said the BMA's survey findings indicate 'two in ten doctors are involved in purchasing decisions. We want to provide doctors with information they need to encourage the NHS to look at alternatives so that the lives of workers in the developing world are not put at risk making medical supplies for the health service.' The BMA's Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group is calling on doctors to: Ask their chief executive to adopt ethical procurement into their institution's policy; ask healthcare suppliers where, and under what conditions, they produce their goods; form an 'ethical trade interest group' in their institution; and, finally, 'tell others.'
The use of pre-employment health checks could be made illegal if a Lords amendment to the Equality Bill becomes law. This week, the House of Lords introduced the ground-breaking clause into the Equality Bill that would, for the first time, prevent employers asking candidates questions about their health that are unrelated to the job role. Introducing the new clause, Lord Hunt of Wirrall said 'employers should not be permitted to make use of pre-employment health-related questions which are not directly relevant to the candidate's ability, in particular for the job for which they have applied.' The new clause would mean those with mental health issues, a medical condition or a disability would not be forced to disclose their condition prior to the offer of employment, unless it hindered their ability to do the job. Employers who asked candidates about their health pre-job offer would be required to prove at tribunal that they did not discriminate against the individual if they did not get the job. Human resources (HR) magazine Personnel Today comments that 'despite the increased risk of litigation, a number of HR chiefs are backing the proposed changes, claiming the current system enables employers to discriminate against those with medical conditions during the recruitment process without fear of any consequences.'
Spot checks on hundreds of vehicles will take place in the coming weeks in support of a new drive to ensure that loads are being transported securely. The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) new load safety campaign is focused on reducing the number of death and injuries linked to workplace transport. The watchdog says loading and unloading accounts for one in five workplace transport incidents- many resulting from loads not being properly restrained. It adds unsafe loads on vehicles injure more than 1,200 people a year and cost UK businesses millions of pounds in damaged goods. There will be eight days of spot checks at locations across the North West, with officers from HSE and the Vehicle Operator Services Agency (VOSA) inspecting the loads of vehicles that have been pulled over at random. Similar spot checks took place in April last year with close to 80 per cent of loads found not to be sufficiently restrained. HSE's Peter Brown commented: 'We hear from drivers that they were only 'going down the road' or 'they were running late' but these just won't wash, not when people's health or lives are at risk. Vehicles are at risk of overturning if a load moves and makes them unstable. Load shifts can also put those workers who are unloading the van or lorry at the other end at risk.' He added: 'Take those few extra minutes to secure your loads or at best you could face a fine or, at worst, risk death or injury to yourself or others.'
The Southern People Weekly magazine this month listed Zhang Haichao, a 28-year-old rural resident of Henan Province, as a mover and shaker in Chinese society. Zhang became famous after receiving an open-chest operation in July 2009. This attracted intense public attention not because the procedure treated a sophisticated disease, but because it put the fate of victims of occupational diseases in the spotlight (Risks 418). Zhang had been a farmer before working at the Zhendong Abrasion Proof Material Co. in Zhengzhou from June 2004 to October 2007. The dust choked his lungs, causing the classic occupational dust disease pneumoconiosis. It was just the authorities wouldn't admit it, and so he resorted to drastic measures - surgery - to prove his claim. The media reported on the operation, which also caught the attention of Henan provincial officials, who ordered the Zhengzhou City Occupational Disease Centre to complete a reassessment. This confirmed Zhang had phase-three pneumoconiosis. He was compensated 615,000 yuan (£55,500) by his former employer in September 2009. The condition is the most common occupational disease in China. Eighty per cent of the 700,000 cases of confirmed occupational diseases in the country in 2008 were cases of pneumoconiosis, said Huang Zhendong, Director of the Internal and Judicial Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress Standing Committee. 'The occupational disease rate has been on the rise since 2005,' Huang told China Daily. He said 11,159 and 14,296 new cases of occupational diseases were reported in 2006 and 2007, respectively. One other consequence of Zhang's case is a new national campaign to tackle dust and highly poisonous substances. The initiative is run jointly by the country's safety, health and human resource ministries and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.
Thousands of agate polishers in Gujarat are getting a deadly occupational disease - but missing out on compensation because they work in their own homes. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the state government to speed up the compensation process for silicosis victims in what is typically a cottage industry. However, these workplaces for now remain invisible to the authorities. The country's Factories Act deals with exactly that - factories. Working from home is every bit as hazardous, but remains entirely beyond the enforcement system. Even basic preventive measures are not used. The National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) invented a 'wet method' to reduce the dust produced when polishing agate. But while the system removed most of the dust, it also consumed more electricity. ND Vaghela, a factory inspector from Anand district, said: 'We routinely do our surveys to find if there are workers employed by these units, but it usually turns out to be their family members. Only five units [out of 300 plus] are considered factories, which entitles them to the benefits of the Employees' Insurance and other benefits.' added Vaghela.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand has welcomed new research on nerve disease and the toxic fumigant methyl bromide. Concerns were raised after port workers exposed to the gas developed Motor Neurone disease, with one port town having a rate of the disease 25 times the national average. Maritime Union general secretary Joe Fleetwood said reports of a possible link between methyl bromide and nerve damage, should be sufficient grounds for the suspension of all methyl bromide use while further research is carried out. Canterbury University professor Ian Shaw will undertake the research. But the union wants to know why the government did not act to have methyl bromide thoroughly investigated when these concerns were raised in the past. 'If there is any suggestion that lack of safeguards by employers or state agencies has resulted in preventable harm, then the Maritime Union will be considering legal action,' Joe Fleetwork said. One of the biggest uses of methyl bromide is to fumigate logs in New Zealand ports and on ships, and waterfront workers and seafarers who were members of the Maritime Union often worked nearby. Four port workers from the same town died of degenerative motor neuron disease between 2002 and 2004 and there have been ongoing concerns that methyl bromide was a common factor. The Maritime Union and the NZ Council of Trade Unions (CTU) have argued for several years that methyl bromide should be banned. CTU president Helen Kelly said humans should not be exposed to the chemical, which also had a damaging effect on the ozone layer. A European Parliament ban on the use of the chemical takes effect from March this year, and New Zealand should follow its lead, Ms Kelly said.
An overhaul of the US federal toxic chemical law to reduce the level of toxic exposures to workers, families and children is urgently required, campaigners have said. The union USW, the Learning Disabilities Association, the Cancer Institute and the Pennsylvania Nurses Association joined forces this week to call for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act. USW health and safety director Mike Wright told a press conference that being proactive would not only save lives, it would save money. The groups point to a new report from the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families alliance, 'The health case for reforming Toxic Substances Control Act,' that shows if there was a new health-based legislative framework to reduce chronic diseases caused by chemical exposure by 0.1 per cent, it would reduce health care costs by $5 billion a year. They say that's a very conservative estimate. According to USW's Mike Wright: 'It's not a matter of whether we test toxic chemicals. It's a matter of how we test them. Right now we test them in the bodies of our children, our consumers, our workers, ourselves. It's time to start testing chemicals in the lab, and to take action before anyone is harmed.' The 34-year-old law has led to required testing of only 200 of the 80,000 chemicals used in the United States. Only five chemicals have been regulated.
If you want a start-of-the-art update on occupational stress, check out the report of the National Stress Network 2009 conference, made available free online this week. Papers cover health, enforcement and prevention.
Strain injuries prevention group RSI Action is to hold its annual conference in London on 20 March. The organisers say it will provide 'an opportunity to find out about RSI conditions, RSI prevention and workplace management, treatments, therapies, how to work round the limitations of RSI conditions, how to seek assistance.' Speakers will cover ergonomic issues, treatments and the main features of the proposed EU strain injuries directive.
COURSES FOR JANUARY 2010 to MARCH 2010
Newsletter (5,300 words) issued 29 Jan 2010
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-17508-f0.cfm
printed 20 June 2013 at 04:04 hrs by 220.127.116.11