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Rail union RMT has said a 72-hour strike this week by RMT guards and drivers at Scotrail in defence of safety staffing was 'rock solid'. The industrial action was in protest at the imposition of driver-only operation on the Airdrie-Bathgate line. There had earlier been three 24-hour stoppages by more than 550 staff over a Scotrail plan RMT says will undermine safety by removing guards. The union accused the Scottish government and the company of hiding behind each other and slammed the Scottish government's decision 'to bankroll Scotrail through the dispute.' An RMT lobby of the Scottish parliament on 15 April demanded action over safety, both on Scotrail and at Network Rail, where the union is also in dispute over safety, jobs and conditions. 'It is scandalous that Scotrail have been given a nod and a wink by the Scottish government to undermine rail safety when the transport minister should be telling the company to honour its agreements with us,' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said at the end of day one of the three day action. 'It is an abuse of taxpayers' money to bankroll Scotrail's strikebreaking tactics and indemnify the company against losses. Our members are quite clear in their resolve that Scotrail must stick to the agreement it has with us that it will not impose further driver-only operation, and they have today delivered another rock-solid strike. If Scotrail and Transport Scotland think this dispute will go away if they keep their eyes closed and hide behind each other they are plain wrong.'
Firefighters' union FBU has said it is starting its own inquiry into the deaths of two firefighters, killed tackling a 6 April blaze at a block of flats. James Shears, 35, and Alan Bannon, 38, died from exposure to excessive heat while fighting the fire at the 15-storey Shirley Towers in Southampton. FBU regional secretary Ricky Matthews said: 'The union's main aim in this process is to uncover the causes so as to prevent reoccurrence of a similar tragedy, and enable the families to understand the events that led to this terrible loss. The union has begun to draw a team together to assist with our investigation. This includes drawing in the support of experienced officials from other Fire Brigade Union regions. FBU local officials will be involved and all members are asked to cooperate in what will be an extremely difficult process.' FBU said it would share its findings with police. It also plans to show the report to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Mr Shears, from Poole in Dorset, had been with the service just under seven years; Mr Bannon, from Southampton, for eight-and-a-half years. A November 2008 report from FBU warned of an 'unprecedented' rise in firefighter deaths (Risks 382).
A union representing over 15,000 pilots has announced it will support parliamentary candidates who stick up for airline safety. BALPA will present candidates with a manifesto that sets out the safety standards that need to be achieved across airlines. The union says about half the people of the UK will fly during the next 12 months. 'We shall be asking candidates individually if they will work with us to avert the danger we, and their constituents as airline passengers, face,' said Jim McAuslan, BALPA general secretary. 'For decades British airlines have flown to standards set by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). They are among the highest standards in the world, and as a consequence British airline passengers have been some of the best protected. Now all that is at risk.' He said this was because responsibility for setting of airline safety standards is to move from individual national regulators like the UK's CAA to an EU body, the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA). 'BALPA welcomes the move to standardise, but only if safety is set at the kind of levels British pilots and British passengers have enjoyed and which science says is safe,' McAuslan said. 'Unfortunately the early signs are that come 2012 EASA is going to set standards for Flight Time Limitations - the fatigue avoidance rules which say when pilots can and cannot fly to maintain safety - much lower than we have at present in the UK. If this happens then British lives will be put at more risk.' He said 15 to 20 per cent of all fatal air accidents have pilot fatigue as a key contributing factor.
A dying man has received £120,000 compensation for the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, caused by his exposure to the fibre while working as a welder at the British Rail workshops in Derby. The 76-year-old Unite member, whose name has not been released, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in February 2009. He was just 15 when he first started work for British Rail and first came into contact with asbestos in the coppersmith's shop between 1950 and 1965. He said it was important to claim compensation to make sure his wife was financially secure in the future. He added he wanted British Rail to take responsibility for their negligence. Adrian Axtell from Unite commented: 'Exposure to asbestos has caused serious health problems for many of our members who worked without any protection or warning of the dangers.' David Fisher from Thompsons Solicitors, brought in by Unite to act in the case and who reached the settlement within eight months, said: 'British Rail was responsible for negligently exposing thousands of employees to asbestos and as a result many are paying with their lives.' He added: 'It was important to conclude this case quickly because of our client's very short life expectancy. He contacted his union for assistance straight away enabling us to commence the investigation of his claim immediately. This was a major factor in bringing about the successful conclusion of the case during his lifetime.'
An HGV driver has received £13,500 in compensation after developing a repetitive strain injury (RSI) doing her job for a blue chip company. The GMB member from Leicestershire, whose name has not been released, has been left with a seriously strained elbow after being forced to attach brakes on her truck twice a day. Her injuries mean she finds it painful to lift objects, stretch and carry and must take strong painkillers. She had worked for the firm for eight years when she contacted her union to find out if they could support her when her bosses refused to listen to her complaints about the work she was having to do. After she initiated a union backed compensation claim, the firm - whose name has also been withheld by her lawyers - admitted liability. The affected worker has now been moved into a different role. Lisa Phillips-Jones from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by GMB to act in the case, said: 'Where staff undertake repetitive tasks employers should be anticipating possible problems with RSI. More than one in 50 people in the UK suffer from an RSI and more often than not these have both been caused by work and could have been prevented.'
The election manifestos of the major political parties contain precious little on workplace health and safety - and what's there is less than reassuring, safety campaigners have said. Mick Holder of the Hazards Campaign commented: 'While there isn't anything positive for workplace health and safety activists in either the Labour or Tory manifestos, there is the worrying commitment to reduce regulation in the Tory one. Given the Tory's persistent and corrupt attacks on health and safety laws, including those in recent weeks, this must be an issue for those considering which way to vote in the forthcoming election.' He warned against cuts in the public sector, a target for all the major parties, which 'would further weaken the inspection, enforcement and prosecution role' of the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities, and added that it was 'most disappointing' that the Labour Party had not chosen to include a commitment to introduce legal safety duties on company directors. The Labour blueprint says it will continue to promote 'employee engagement' at work, and indicates the issue of gangmasters in construction will be revisited. Both GMB and UCATT welcomed this commitment to extend gangmaster legislation to the construction sector 'if the evidence shows that is the best way to enforce employment rights.' Neither the Tory nor the Liberal Democrats manifestos contained any positive proposals on workplace health and safety. Both, however, stress they will cut regulation - a policy plank where the Tories have made health and safety rules their for-the-chop poster boy (Risks 435). The Conservative manifesto says a Tory government 'will introduce regulatory budgets: forcing any government body wanting to introduce a new regulation to reduce regulation elsewhere by a greater amount. And we will give the public the opportunity to force the worst regulations to be repealed.' The Lib Dem manifesto mimics Tory policy, saying it will 'reduce the burden of unnecessary red tape by properly assessing the cost and effectiveness of regulations before and after they are introduced, using 'sunset clauses' to ensure the need for a regulation is regularly reviewed, and working towards the principle of 'one in, one out' for new rules.'
Corus UK was fined £240,000 this week after a young lorry driver was crushed to death at its site in Staffordshire - the steel multinational's fourth appearance in the dock on safety charges in just six weeks. The latest prosecution came after 22-year-old Ross Beddow was crushed to death when three tonnes of steel plates fell on him at the firm's base in Wombourne. In addition to the £240,000 fine, Corus (UK) Ltd was ordered to pay £112,500 costs at Stafford Crown Court on 13 April after it pleaded guilty to breaking safety rules. The court heard how on 4 January 2007, Mr Beddow, who was employed by A Hingley Transport Ltd, was helping to load steel plates onto a lorry. A Corus employee was operating a crane to lift a three-tonne pack of steel from a trailer. However the load was not level and as it was lifted it fell on top of Mr Beddow and killed him. An HSE investigation showed the system of work for loading steel was unsafe. Not all the individual tasks involved had been evaluated and there was scope for misunderstanding between workers. HSE inspector Dr Wai-Kin Liu said: 'If Corus had a safe system of working then Mr Beddow would not have been killed simply doing his job.' On 31 March, the steel giant was fined £10,000 following an explosion in a 75-metre-tall steel chimney in Scunthorpe (Risks 451). On 12 March, Corus UK Ltd was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £9,908.50 costs after a worker escaped with minor injuries after the crane he was operating at Aldwarke Steel Works in Rotherham overturned (Risks 448). And on 1 March it was fined £5,000 after a worker was seriously injured while clearing a jam in the production line at its plant in Skinningrove, East Cleveland (Risks 446).
Leaders of the main political parties are being asked to state where they stand on employers who kill and injure their workers - especially notorious repeat offenders. The Hazards Campaign question - 'When will senior directors of companies such as Corus be held personally accountable for their serial killing and injuring workers?' - follows the fourth Corus safety fine in six weeks, the latest after the death of lorry driver Ross Beddow. It asks why no senior Corus director been called to account in the courts for causing all this death, disability and injury. Campaign researchers found since 2001 there have been 16 separate Corus entries in the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) prosecutions database relating to death or injury and a further 24 separate entries in the HSE's notices database, including many stop work notices. These include court action relating to the 2001 Port Talbot furnace explosion where Stephen Galsworthy, 25, Andrew Hutin, 20, and Len Radford, 53 were killed. The Hazards Campaign says the steady stream of fines for criminal safety breaches show the penalties are not have the required deterrent effect, and argues individual directors must face the prospect of a prison term if repeat offenders are going to be convinced of the need to change their behaviour. The campaign notes: 'Fines may look large but are a drop in the ocean of the company's turnover and profits and act as no real deterrent as Corus has shown.' It adds: 'The Hazards Campaign says company directors and employers will not give due regard to preventing workplace death, disability, injury and ill-health until they are held personally liable and we want to know which political party will act to put a stop to this corporate crime wave.'
A plant hire company has been fined £200,000 for health and safety failings that led to employee Phillip Pearce falling five metres to his death. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that the company failed to follow its own health and safety guidelines for work at height. HSE prosecuted Ashtead Plant Hire Co Ltd, trading as APlant, who admitted breaching safety regulations. The company, based in Warrington, was also ordered to pay £15,698.30 in costs at Maidstone Crown Court on 13 April. Mr Pearce, 55, had worked as a fitter at the company's depot at Tovil, Maidstone - where they provide portable accommodation units to the construction industry - for less than three months when he died on 16 August 2006. Mr Pearce climbed onto the top of two stacked units to help attach lifting chains so that the top unit could be lifted down. He fell more than five metres and died at the scene. Ashtead Plant Hire Co Ltd had a written procedure for work on top of accommodation units in its depots and at customers' sites. This required people to wear a safety harness and inertia reel line and climb a secured ladder. If they slipped or fell, the line would lock and prevent a serious fall. However, HSE's investigation found that workers at the depot had not been issued with this kit or been trained to use it and most did not know the company had a special procedure for doing this work. HSE inspector John Underwood said: 'It is completely inexcusable that the company had indentified the risks, prepared an adequate procedure to manage the risk, and then failed to implement that procedure to protect their workers.' The firm was fined £75,000 in July 2006 after employee Kenneth Agnew died in a fall from a roller (Risks 267).
A Gateshead building firm has been fined £100,000 after one of its employees fell to his death while dismantling a hangar roof at Bristol International Airport. Rubb Buildings Limited was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after 30-year-old Steven Watson fell through the roof while dismantling the disused Brymon hangar on 16 December 2006. He fell approximately 30 feet onto the concrete floor below, and died at the scene from multiple internal injuries. He had previously cut through the PVC tarpaulin roof and as he went to climb back in to the mobile work platform, he fell through the section he had cut away. Bristol Crown Court heard that there were no other protective measures in place and Rubb Buildings Ltd should have ensured that Mr Watson had no need to climb directly onto the roof. Rubb Buildings Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching safety regulations. In addition to the fine, the company was ordered to pay costs of £48,795.36. Speaking after the 13 April hearing, HSE inspector Steve Frain said: 'Steven Watson should have been properly protected by Rubb Buildings Ltd, instead he lost his life. The company failed in its duty to ensure there was a properly planned and supervised means of working - there should have been no need to work directly on the roof.'
Clyde Valley Housing Association Limited has been fined £70,000 after a security guard died from carbon monoxide poisoning on a construction site in Burbank, Hamilton, Scotland. Hamilton Sheriff Court heard that on 6 February 2008 the security guard was overcome with fumes from a petrol generator used inside the site office. The Motherwell based housing association pleaded guilty last month to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which covers the health and safety duty to non-employees. The tragedy was not the first from this cause to strike a security guard. Company boss Philip Royle of Royle Security was fined £50,000 in July 2005 after the carbon monoxide poisoning of David Bleak, 52 (Risks 216). The security guard was working near a petrol heater at the unventilated site of the former Ashford Hospital on 13 November 2001 when he was killed by fumes. The heater had been used to provide security guards with light and hot water.
A speciality bread manufacturer has been fined after a worker become entangled in a bagel forming machine and broke his wrist. Leeds Magistrates' Court heard the Country Style Foods employee was removing finished bagels from the machine when he spotted a build-up of dough on a roller. He was using a scraper to remove the dough on 27 April 2009, but the absence of an adequate guard allowed his hand and wrist to be dragged into the machine and become trapped between the roller and a moving belt. The firm, which produces goods for supermarkets, bakers and food service customers, pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £4,570 in costs. During the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, the court heard the employee's injuries also included severe friction burns caused by the moving belt, which along with the broken wrist kept him off work for several weeks. Though the injured man was experienced, and familiar with the type of machine he was using, the HSE investigation found the machine itself was new to the plant and no formal training or written instructions had been completed governing its safe use. The investigation also revealed that the issue of insufficient guarding had already been raised by a hygiene supervisor, but no action was taken before the machine was put into use.
A Lincolnshire pet food firm has been prosecuted after one of its machines damaged a worker's hand. Fold Hill Foods Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £1,250 and ordered to pay costs of £1,545. Boston Magistrates' Court heard that on 7 January 2009, employee Paul Knowles, 50, of Skegness, was working on a bagging machine when the film that formed the bags was not running through the machine correctly and needed adjusting. Mr Knowles opened the door on the front of the machine, at which point a safety cut-out switch should have stopped the machine. Unfortunately, the safety device was not working but Mr Knowles did not realise that as, coincidentally, the machine had come to a pre-programmed halt in its cycle. Mr Knowles put his fingers on to a belt to test its tension. At this point the machine re-started, pulling his fingers into the mechanism. He suffered a deep laceration to his middle finger and was off work for some time. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Scott Wynne said: 'Protection device are there for a very good reason - to stop accidents such as this occurring. Mr Knowles was very lucky not to have suffered more serious injuries. I hope this case serves a reminder to other companies of the need to ensure that such devices are in good working order and are efficiently maintained.'
The former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren may have been exposed to the asbestos that killed him while smashing up Sex, his King's Road punk design shop, his partner Young Kim has said. She told The Independent on Sunday the 64-year-old, who died on 8 April of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, was exposed to the deadly material when he shattered the ceiling of Sex, the shop he shared with his then partner, designer Vivienne Westwood. 'When Malcolm created Sex he broke open the ceiling to make it look like a bomb had hit it,' Kim told the paper. 'I always suspected that shop because it was the only place Malcolm ever really spent any serious length of time in, and there was a lot of construction and changing things. Then Ben Westwood said his mother had mentioned that she'd seen asbestos there. It was board asbestos and it was in the early Seventies so there was a lot of it left, and I don't think anyone really did anything about it.' Kim also confided how angry McLaren was that British doctors had ignored the signs of asbestos-inflicted lung damage. After a routine chest scan in 2008 a doctor noticed 'benign' spots on McLaren's lungs which looked like pleural plaques from asbestos exposure. By January last year, the music impresario was convinced he had lung cancer, but doctors continued to insist nothing was wrong.
A talented chef died last month from overwork, his family suspects. Nathan Laity died on 13 March, aged 23. The sous chef at London's Tate Modern restaurant died in his sleep from blood poisoning caused by an untreated case of tonsillitis. His distraught family blame his death on the long hours he worked, considered in the industry a necessary sign of commitment. He came down with a sore throat but continued to work 14 hours a day - 98 hours a week - for 27 straight days without any time off, his family claim. His mother Tracey said: 'He had just done 27 days on the trot, working 14-hour days. He got so run down that his immune system could not cope. He may not have had the tonsillitis for a long time. His body just switched off. He just went to sleep and never woke up.' In Japan, death from overwork - Karoshi - is a recognised occupational disease, with bereaved relatives qualifying for state compensation payouts. In December 2009, the Osaka prosecutor prepared a case against the Isoji restaurant chain, alleging excessive hours caused the death of a young manager (Risks 436).
A spate of suicides among young workers has highlighted oppressive management methods at the global electronics giant Foxconn, local unions say. The local trade union federation has urged Foxconn Technology Group to take care of the psychological needs of its huge number of young employees following the suicides. The company, which makes popular products like the iPhone and the iPad for Apple and whose customers also include Nokia and Sony, has been the subject of widespread criticism over its management methods after six workers recently attempted to kill themselves, four of whom succeeded. Wang Tongxin, vice-chair of the Shenzhen Federation of Trade Unions said the suicides and attempted suicides exposed defects in the company's management system and philosophy. According to Wang, Foxconn 'developed a kind of quasi-military management system' combined with tight production schedules. China Labour Bulletin reports the Foxconn 'suicide express' is now a major topic of debate within China. It says Foxconn has been in the spotlight because of its links to major multinational companies, but warns suicides occur in factories all over China. It points to rival electronics company Huawei, which has its headquarters adjacent to Foxconn in Shenzhen, which two years ago also hit by a suicide scandal, with the Chinese media reporting six mysterious deaths in the previous two years. Reports at the time emphasised the work pressures faced by employees, including excessively long hours and Huawei's corporate 'wolf culture' as the reasons for the suicides.
Rail workers pressed the case for rail as a vital, sustainable transport resource this week, on a global day of campaigning organised by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). On the 13 April ITF Railway Workers' International Action Day, affiliates of the global transport federation around the world pressed the case for rail and warned that cost cutting and privatisation were threatening the safety and quality of services. Mac Urata, ITF's inland transport section secretary, commented: 'Railways are vital national and international resources - now more than ever given their environmental advantages. Yet, their survival and their status as a safe and user-friendly transport mode is under threat from privatisation, deregulation and under-investment.' He added: 'Only determined lobbying and promotion of their benefits and importance can protect their future. This event is part of that campaign, a time when trade unionists in particular can defend railways and railway safety for all those who work and travel on them.'
On 31 March, Park Ji-yeon, a young woman of 23, died of leukaemia. She contracted the blood cancer at the age of 20 after working at the Samsung semiconductor factory in Onyang, Korea. Her case forms one of a cluster that has hit workers at the Korean microelectronics giant. Campaigners have so far collated evidence suggesting 23 Samsung workers in Korea have suffered from haematopoietic cancer like leukaemia or lymphoma, and at least nine workers have died. Samsung workers are also known to be suffering from skin disorders, neuropathy, fertility problems including miscarriages, and chronic nosebleeds. On 2 April, following a funeral ceremony for Park Ji-yeon, Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry (SHARPS), a coalition of trade unions and campaign groups, organised a press conference at Samsung headquarters in Seoul, calling the company to account for semiconductor related cancer deaths. The police broke up the press conference and detained seven activists who had levelled a clear accusation at Samsung, shouting: 'You are responsible for the death of Ji-yeon Park.' They were detained until 5 April, when they were released without charge. SHARPS, Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), Asian Network for the Rights Of Occupational Accident Victims (ANROAV), and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT) are seeking support for a petition to the president of the Korean government Gee-sung Choi, the CEO of Samsung Electronics, the Korean minister of laborr, the president of the Korea Workers' Compensation & Welfare Service and the CEO of the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency. The campaign is also supported by the global union federation IMF, and is to be a focus for 28 April Workers' Memorial Day activities in Korea.
The money men on Wall Street really do not concern themselves with anything other than the bottom line, recent disasters suggest. Just days after 29 workers died at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch coalmine in West Virginia, Standard and Poor's Equity Research - a respected adviser to stockbrokers and other financial market players - upgraded the stock of the serial safety offender to 'buy' as the mine disaster was 'immaterial' to the company's profitability. The 12 April Massey Energy upgrade note to clients said: 'We believe that the financial impact of the Upper Big Branch mine tragedy to Massey Energy will be immaterial.' It added: 'Our opinion is based on our analysis of industry mining accidents, Massey's indemnification to litigation via insurance, and our belief that the company has ample capacity to mitigate most of the 1.6 million tons of production that was expected to be sold from Upper Big Branch.' According to Firedoglake blogger Michael Whitney: 'This is the bet that Blankenship [Don Blankenship, the Massey Energy CEO] made with the lives of 29 miners: that he could risk their lives without risking his profits.' Whitney cites Richard Trumka, head of the US union federation AFL-CIO and himself a former miner, who called the disaster 'the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct' (Risks 451). According to Whitney: 'He couldn't be more correct.' Massey is not the only company whose directors and shareholders have emerged unscathed from multiple fatalities. Business Week last week noted that BP continued to turn a profit every year after the Texas City refinery catastrophe that killed 15, even though it paid more than $2 billion for legal costs and fines and for remediation programmes at its US refineries. And BP continues to collect record safety fines as the profits roll in (Risks 431).
COURSES FOR APRIL 2010 to JUNE 2010
Newsletter (5,200 words) issued 16 Apr 2010
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printed 20 June 2013 at 03:45 hrs by 126.96.36.199