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Splitting up Britain's rail infrastructure among private rail operators would be a costly recipe for disaster, rail union RMT has warned. It says handing back responsibility for track and signalling to train-operating franchises 'could only result in the return of the spectre of Railtrack, with further dangerous fragmentation undermining safety as private interests sweat the assets for profit.' RMT was commenting as the government prepared to publish Sir Roy McNulty's interim report on rail spending. The union warned that any resulting move to undermine rail workers' safety, jobs and conditions would be resisted. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'It is bad enough that we have a score of different train operators, without divvying up the infrastructure as well.' He added: 'We have already seen with Railtrack the deadly consequences of turning rail infrastructure into a cash cow, with assets being sweated and safety corners being cut by contractors whose sole interest is profit. For safety's sake alone we need to maintain the integrity of rail infrastructure, but splitting it up would almost certainly lead to even more freight being priced off the rails and back onto the roads and another bonanza for our learned friends. The only way to achieve real vertical integration is to re-unite infrastructure and operations in a single entity with a single command structure with safety as its core principle, and what the private sector calls 'vertical integration' is the opposite of that.'
Tube union RMT has rejected as 'totally meaningless' management proposals for a safety review it says would still see current staffing cuts bulldozed through regardless of the 'review' outcome and regardless of the safety implications. The union, which offered binding arbitration at ACAS ahead of last week's 24 hour strike action, said internal London Underground (LU) documents confirmed its safety fears for the service. Commenting ahead of the walkout, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The proposal to conduct a station by station safety review is one that we have been calling for but to carry it out while maintaining that you will implement the planned station staffing cuts regardless renders the whole exercise meaningless and RMT will not participate in such a farce and LU are well aware of that. The idea that the safety review could be completed in 21 days in the run up to Christmas, and with the Tube lurching from crisis to crisis on a daily basis, just shows us that LU management are not taking the safety issue seriously. ACAS have said that it would take six to eight weeks to do the job properly.' Mr Crow added: 'RMT remains totally committed to a negotiated settlement of this dispute which protects safe staffing levels and maps out a safe and secure future for the London Underground. We have offered binding arbitration on ticket offices and exposed the LU 'safety review' as meaningless.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'It should be remembered that tube staff are not striking over pay and conditions but over ticket office closures and the impact of cuts on passengers. They are sacrificing another day's pay in the interests of passenger safety.' He added: 'The unions have now taken a bold initiative in proposing independent binding arbitration on the issue at the heart of this dispute, staffing at ticket offices. The ball is now firmly in the Mayor's court, and Londoners will be hoping that he accepts the unions' fair and reasonably proposal to bring this dispute to an end.'
Construction union UCATT has condemned Lord Young for belittling workplace safety in an address to the Lords. The Tory peer, who was forced to resign as a government health and safety and enterprise adviser last week (Risk 484), was responsible for the government's deregulatory focused health and safety review (Risks 478). Commending his report to the House of Lords in a debate last week, he again addressed 'over-zealous health and safety rules.' He said: 'There is the by now infamous case of the pancake race last Shrove Tuesday in St Albans where a local authority health and safety official arrived just before the off and decided that, as it had been raining the night before, he would stop the race. In the end, he let them proceed provided that they walked.' But UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie told the Morning Star: 'Just days after Lord Young published his report, seven construction workers were killed in a week. By talking about banning pancake races, Lord Young is once again belittling the dangers that workers can face. If Lord Young was serious about improving safety, he would be campaigning against the government's plans to cut the Health and Safety Executive's funding by 35 per cent [Risks 481]. Those cuts will inevitably lead to an increase in workers being killed and injured at work.' Speaking in the debate, Lord Brougham and Vaux, honorary vice president of safety professionals' institute IOSH, said: 'Enterprise is to be encouraged, but surely not at any cost. In encouraging growth, there is a very real risk for any government of creating an environment in which it is easier to die, be injured or fall ill at work.'
The probation service is being pushed to breaking point by a toxic cocktail of staff cuts and increased workloads, public sector union has UNISON warned. The union's survey of probation workers found that 69 per cent of workplaces in the sector were already suffering from staff cuts, with 80 per cent saying that workloads had increased in the last year leading to higher stress levels and a "collapse" in morale. Nearly 70 per cent felt more insecure in their jobs that they did a year ago, with a "worrying number" raising concerns over lack of management support. The union also warned that plans to privatise parts of the service could spark a race to the bottom over service quality and the terms and conditions of staff. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: 'Our survey shows a clear link between staffing cuts and rising stress levels. And now the government's plans are set to make matters worse by piling on the pressure. There is only so far the service can be stretched before it reaches breaking point. The government should take another look at its plans and take into account the risk they pose to offenders and to communities.' Mr Prentis added that privatising parts of the service "will take vital lifeblood away from probation trusts and see private companies making money out of offenders' hard work."
British Airways should end the 'culture of fear' in the company and enter constructive negotiations, the union Unite has said. General secretary-elect Len McCluskey last week launched a drive to discover the level of 'bullying and harassment' against cabin crew. He said the behaviour of the airline's management had been 'disgraceful' in the wake of the bitter 14-month-long dispute over pay and conditions which remains deadlocked, adding: 'We have launched a survey asking whether our members have been subjected to or have witnessed bullying, harassment or intimidation.' Unite confirmed this week that a fresh ballot for industrial action at the airline is soon to get underway. Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said: 'BA told us it was a business in crisis. It demanded structural change. These changes have been made and this business is now in profit with senior management filling their wallets with the spoils. Yet BA is determined to continue with this vicious war against its workforce.' He added: 'This airline has conducted a year-long assault on cabin crew collectively and on many of them as individuals. We will not stand by while this airline bullies our members out of their jobs, and if it takes strike action to bring BA management to its senses, then that is the road we must, regretfully, travel. Our door is open to negotiations with BA, but it must understand the depth of feeling among our members. Nothing short of the fairness and decent treatment they deserve will be acceptable.'
A printer was crushed to death after being dragged into a machine at a Wakefield firm after a string of safety lapses, an inquest jury has ruled. Unite member William Aveyard, 49, became trapped after trying to clear a blockage in a hand-fed press at printing firm Bezier. Wakefield Coroners' Court returned a narrative verdict on the 8 May 2008 tragedy. The inquest jury found a catalogue of health and safety regulations were not followed. There was no written system of work for dealing with misfeeds, the risk assessment had not been cascaded down to the workers, there was no evidence that Mr Aveyard had been trained in the use of the machine, any instructions given were verbal and not written and the machine had been reported as unsafe by other workers but had not been fixed. Mr Aveyard's daughter Helen Aveyard said the family were still coming to terms with the 'devastating' loss. 'The inquest has made clear that there were shortcomings by my father's employers, Bezier. Without a doubt his death was entirely preventable,' she said. 'It is now clear, as we always suspected, that inadequate steps were taken following the death, 13 months prior to my father's, of a Mr Kennedy also on a hand fed platen machine at another company. If our father's horrific death is going to bring any good it must be that lessons really are learned and no other family has to go through what we have been through.' Davey Hall, Unite regional secretary, said: 'There were safety issues at Bezier. We must ensure that no one in the future should be fatally injured in this way as a result of lack of training or instruction, for the sake of his family and for all his former colleagues'. Marion Voss of Thompsons Solicitors, who represents the Aveyard family, said: 'Bezier have to face the family and should face the full force of health and safety laws.'
Rolls Royce has agreed to pay £5,500 compensation to an employee who developed painful dermatitis after he was exposed to a corrosive coolant at work. The 42-year-old Unite member, identified by his lawyers as Mr Pattison, was exposed to the coolant while working as a turner on aircraft turbines. In February 2007 he was assigned to cover for workmates on a drilling machine. The job involved picking sharp metal off-cuts out of coolant that had built up in the base of the drill. Mr Pattison was provided with gloves with a plastic lining to protect his hands, however the protective gloves were unsuitable and were easily punctured by the metal off-cuts, bringing his hands into contact with the corrosive coolant. After a few days working on the machine Mr Pattison noticed his hands had become red and his skin was starting to crack and flake off. These were the first symptoms of the irritant dermatitis that would cause him six months of pain, including 13 weeks off work. 'It got to the point where I couldn't even turn a tap on,' he said. 'I had to use my wrists. My hands were so painful red and raw it was just unbearable, they've never really been the same since.' Mr Pattison, who continues to work at Rolls Royce, received the payout as a result of a union backed compensation case. He said: 'You put on the protective gear that's been provided and if it's not up to scratch it's only fair that the company is liable, but you'd think a big outfit like Rolls Royce would have had the sense to put money into preventing the accident in the first place.'
More than 3,000 people develop asthma because of their work conditions but the state and the individual share the costs, with employers picking up just 3 per cent of the bill, researchers have said. The thousands of new cases of occupational asthma diagnosed every year in Britain are mostly in people working with insulation, paints, flour, foam, carpentry and adhesives. The NHS and the patient themselves bear the costs burden, the researchers said in the journal Thorax. They concluded about 49 per cent of the lifetime costs of occupational asthma are borne by the individual, 48 per cent by the state and just 3 per cent by the employer. The team, which included experts from the University of Birmingham, said: 'The cost to society of occupational asthma in the UK is high. Given that the number of newly-diagnosed cases is likely to be underestimated by at least one-third, these costs may be as large as £95-£135 million.' They added: 'Each year a new stream of lifetime costs will be added as newly diagnosed cohort is identified. Approaches to reduce the burden of occupational asthma have a strong economic justification. However, the economic burden falls on the state and the individual, not on the employer. The incentive for employers to act is thus weak.' Co-author Professor Jon Ayres, of Birmingham University's Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said that there is scope for huge savings to be made if steps are taken to reduce the levels of exposure to agents which cause workplace asthma. 'The findings also suggest that the employer should bear more responsibility for establishing approaches to disease reduction by introduction of appropriate exposure control interventions and changes in work processes,' he said. A November report from Hazards revealed employers were guilty of this kind of 'cost-shifting' for all occupational injuries and diseases.
Sick workers are increasingly reluctant to take time off for fear of being sacked or made redundant, a survey has found. The poll of union reps and safety reps carried out by the Labour Research Department (LRD) in October 2010 found recent changes in workplace sickness absence and sick pay procedures introduced by many employers had been 'designed to make sickness procedures tighter and in some instances, potentially harsher in operation.' The survey of 800 union and safety reps found that some managers in private firms were setting 'zero' absence targets or cutting bonus pay if people were off sick. Some council workers said they were losing sick pay if they were off ill for more than four days a year. LRD cites cases where the first two days of sick pay were docked where absence target were not met. Other employers cut year-end bonuses for workers failing to meet absence targets, or stopped contractual sick pay if an individual was off sick on more than three separate occasions in a calendar year. LRD says the cases are featured in its new handbook, 'Sickness absence and sick pay - a guide for union reps', which also documents a rise of 'presenteeism', or working when sick.
Government plans to see more sick or injured people backing in work could be undermined by a 'patchy' provision of medical rehabilitation services, a report from medical experts suggests. 'Medical Rehabilitation in 2011 and beyond', the report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine (BSRM), says ongoing access to high quality rehabilitation services would deliver substantial benefits to patients with disabilities arising from injury or long term conditions. However, the report is critical of current practices which are 'often too focused on clearing beds at the expense of supporting a fully staffed acute rehabilitation service as part of the early continuum of care.' The report notes provision of rehabilitation medical services 'continues to be patchy, with the quantity of service provided often falling far short of the known need.' Changes to the benefit system and the introduction of the GP fit note system in April form part of a government push to get more adults with health concerns back in to work. However, critics have argued the absence of the necessary expertise and support could result in workers having their benefits cut while having little realistic prospect of reintegration into work.
A government commitment to remedy flaws in its work capability assessments (WCA) has been welcomed by the TUC. Problems identified by unions and disability rights advocates in the operation of the system, which has seen people with debilitating and chronic illnesses wrongly told they are fit for work, were confirmed by the government commissioned Harrington Review of WCA. Professor Malcolm Harrington said: 'I have found that the WCA is not working as well as it should. However, this is not about ripping up the current system and starting all over again. So I am proposing a substantial series of recommendations to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the WCA.' These include ensuring better standards of assessments by Atos, the provide company tasked with the job, an enhanced role for Jobcentre staff, and 'improving communications and the level of support provided to those who undergo a WCA.' Employment minister Chris Grayling pledged to accept all the recommendations from the review. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'While the devil will be in the detail when it comes to implementing the recommendations, particularly at a time of sharp spending cuts across the Jobcentre Plus network, the approach that the government has taken is welcome.' He added: 'It is encouraging that the government has accepted the recommendation that research is undertaken to understand whether the assessments could and should incorporate more work-focused elements, considering the real-world chances that disabled people have of actually moving into work. However, the government still needs to do more to challenge disabled people's employment chances more widely. Employer discrimination remains widespread and much needs to be done to tackle ongoing labour market inequalities.'
David Cameron's roundly ridiculed hopes of introducing a 'happiness index' (Risks 484) received another blow last week. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported a rise in job satisfaction against backdrop of government spending cuts - but suggested it was the 'fixed grin' seen in the recession and not joy that had returned to the workplace. The findings came in CIPD's quarterly Employee Outlook survey of over 2,000 employees. CIPD said it represents 'a bleak picture of employee attitudes throughout the UK,' following the £81bn of cuts to public spending announced by the government in the Comprehensive Spending Review. In the public sector, one in four (25 per cent) workers believe it is likely they will lose their jobs and 63 per cent say stress has increased as a result of the economic downturn, compared to 54 per cent last quarter. Despite this gloomy outlook, job satisfaction - which is calculated in the survey by subtracting the percentage of employees satisfied from the percentage dissatisfied - has climbed across sectors to a net score of +42 from +35 for the previous quarter. Ben Willmott, CIPD senior public policy adviser, said: 'The findings echo what happened during early Spring 2009 against the backdrop of recession, when job satisfaction hit +46, before falling as economic and employment conditions improved. Both then and now there was talk of job losses and bleak economic commentary, suggesting that - when faced with an uncertain outlook - employees place more value on simply having a job than they do during more benign economic times.'
A carpenter who was given a false negative cancer result at an Eastbourne hospital died of an occupational tumour, an inquest has heard. Roy Taylor died at his home on Christmas Day 2009 from cancer of the nose. At a November inquest at Eastbourne Magistrates Court into the death of the 67-year-old, coroner Alan Craze was told Mr Taylor had been transferred to the hospital by his doctor after complaining of sinus problems. After various examinations and tests by the ear, nose and throat team at Eastbourne District General Hospital, samples from the tumour in Mr Taylor's nose were sent off for analysis. The tests came back as benign but two-and-a-half months later Mr Taylor was diagnosed with cancer. Dubba Reddy, associate specialist of otolaryngology, said he took samples from the abnormal area and was relieved when it came back as benign. He added: 'I have done hundreds and not had this before. It is very, very rare. The benign result was reported to Mr Taylor on 10 August but it wasn't until 27 October he found out, after suffering from headaches and double vision, that the tumour was malignant. Anne Taylor said her husband had worked as a carpenter for much of his working life. She said he had worked with hardwoods such as oak and mahogany. The pathologist said there was a well-documented link between carpentry and the type of cancer Mr Taylor had suffered. Coroner Alan Craze asked the hospital to find and keep the samples which led to the false negative biopsy and suggested Mrs Taylor may wish to make a claim against Mr Taylor's previous employers. He recorded a verdict of industrial disease and told the family the delayed diagnosis and any civil action that might be taken was out of his remit.
The TUC has reissued its call for union safety reps to make sure their employers are meeting new legal duties on workplace chemicals. The union body, which in September published an online safety rep guide on the REACH regulations, says safety reps in firms using chemicals should check with the employer whether: Their classification should be changed under the new rules; they are labelled in line with the rules; all uses are covered by updated safety data sheets; and the required risk assessment measures have been implemented. The regulations required many of the high volume and most hazardous chemicals to be registered with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) by 30 November. There was also a 1 December deadline for notifying ECHA of the revised classification and labelling of hazardous chemicals. ECHA said by the REACH deadline of 30 November 2010, 24,675 registration dossiers had been successfully submitted for 4,300 substances including nearly 3,400 phase-in substances. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) alert issued this week reminds firms that from December, within one-month of placing a chemical substance on the market, all companies involved in their manufacturer or import will need to notify the ECHA for their inclusion in the new Classification and Labelling Inventory.
A cycle of 'decay' in offshore safety has afflicted the sector in the past and must be resisted by the industry and its regulators, the chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. Judith Hackitt, speaking at the North Sea Offshore Authorities Forum (NSOAF) in Aberdeen, told senior executives of offshore oil and gas companies operating throughout the North Sea the commitment to safety 'must be sustained in the long term and it must be spread more broadly if we are to ensure that we don't see history repeat itself with another cycle where improved short-term performance leads to complacency and reduced investment.' She added HSE and other regulators 'have a role to play in ensuring that this cyclical 'decay' does not happen. We too need to lead. By setting the standards and explaining clearly what we expect. The more that we can work together to: develop consistency, learn from one another, and promote the sharing of good practice - particularly after Deepwater Horizon - the more effective we will be as leaders and as regulators. This will allow us to demonstrate stronger leadership to the industry as a whole.' Ms Hackitt said extending the life of old facilities and newer technologies like carbon capture and storage and wind energy created their own challenges. 'Life extension and new uses for old equipment are all perfectly possible ? provided the equipment is properly maintained and that design integrity is not compromised by new requirements or applications. Many of these decisions and challenges will be easier to address if we pool our knowledge and resources and as far as possible adopt common standards and approaches.'
The latest steps towards improved dangerous dogs legislation have given a 'cautious welcome' by the Communications Workers' Union (CWU). The union statement came after publication by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of responses to its consultation on dangerous dogs legislation. Defra animal welfare minister Lord Henley said that he would be announcing the government's approach to dangerous dogs early in the New Year. 'Dangerous dogs are a major issue affecting many people,' said the minister, adding: 'We are also working with groups such as the RSPCA to look at other issues raised in the consultation, such as breed-specific bans, micro-chipping and attacks on private property.' CWU national health, safety and environment officer Dave Joyce said that he was 'encouraged' by Lord Henley's statement on dangerous dogs and urged the government to 'act now' to introduce new laws. 'The Minister's statement and the summary of responses to the consultation, showing around 80 per cent support for new dangerous dogs legislation, were both extremely encouraging,' he said. 'Key for us was Lord Henley's confirmation that the government will look closely at attacks on private property. This has been the primary objective of the union's campaign, because 70 per cent of dog attacks on our members occur on private property where owners are immune from criminal prosecution.'
The European Parliament (EP) last week adopted reports calling on the European Commission (EC) to include clauses on human rights, labour standards and environment standards in international trade agreements. Kader Arif, trade spokesperson with the parliament's Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) welcomed the move. He said: 'The Parliament adopted the progressive positions of the S&D group. We managed to send a strong signal to the Commission and we will keep up the pressure to make sure that EU values are not left aside when it comes to trade policy. The inclusion of legally binding social, environmental and human rights clauses in all free trade agreements concluded by the EU was one of the priorities of the S&D Group. It is now an official position of the European Parliament and this is a great achievement.' John Monks, general secretary of the Europe-wide union body ETUC, welcomed the adoption of the reports. 'The European and international trade union movement has long called for the inclusion of social clauses in international trade agreements,' he said, adding it sent 'a strong message' to other governments 'that the respect of International Labour Organisation standards and the inclusion of Decent Work objectives must be at the centre of those agreements'.
Unions, safety and labour rights campaigners are demanding that clothing giants stop selling sandblasted jeans, a process linked to deadly occupational lung diseases. At a press conference in Istanbul last week, the Solidarity Committee of Denim Sandblasting Labourers of Turkey and the Clean Clothes Campaign, supported by dozens of trade unions and labour rights organisations, also called on governments to consider a ban on sandblasted products. Jeans are sandblasted to give parts of the fabric a faded, worn out or bleached look. It's a money making process, as the retail price of sandblasted jeans is often significantly higher. But campaigners warn of a hidden cost: sandblasting operators working in the countries where most of our garments are produced - including China, Mexico and Egypt - contract an acute and frequently fatal form of silicosis. They say the multinationals placing the orders use long subcontracting chains involving firms 'based in countries where occupational health and safety (OHS) procedures are routinely violated.' This, they say, 'makes it impossible for jeans producers to guarantee the highly complicated and technically advanced safety procedures necessary to sandblast jeans in a safe way. Considering the very high OHS risks and fatal consequences of jeans sandblasting, we call on the jeans companies to phase out all jeans sandblasting from their supply chains.' The campaign has scored notable successes. Turkey banned the process after a high profile media push. And this year both jeans producer Levi-Strauss and fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) announced they will stop selling sandblasted jeans (Risks 474).
A group of activists from Asia will descend on Quebec this month to warn the Canadian province's government about the deadly price paid as a result of its asbestos exports. The delegation, which includes asbestos victims and union representatives, has sent a letter to the province's premier, Jean Charest, urging him not to underwrite the cost of a massive expansion of asbestos mining at the Jeffrey mine in the town of Asbestos. The activists have requested a sit-down meeting with Charest in early December. Government financing would allow the mine to expand underground operations, extending the mine's life for another 25 years. The open-pit reserves are almost exhausted but the deeper deposits are among the biggest in the world. Laurie Kazan Allen, of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), said: 'We're trying to bring to the attention of the Quebec people what the effect will be on India and the Philippines of this new mine. People in Quebec have not been told the truth of how these products are used.' The prospective buyers of the mine are led by Baljit Chadha, a Montreal-based financier of Indian extraction. The group also includes investors based in India. 'I am going into this with an absolutely clear conscience,' said Chadha, president of Balcorp Ltd. For the past 15 years, he has been an asbestos middleman, buying chrysotile asbestos from the Jeffrey Mine and selling it to about a dozen large cement manufacturers in India. Balcorp Ltd is an international trade and marketing firm with offices in Canada, New Delhi and Mumbai.
Thailand's Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision to award compensation to a group of 38 textile workers suffering from occupational lung diseases. The ruling brought an end to a 15-year legal battle led by Somboon Sikhamdokkae on behalf of staff of Bangkok Weaving Factory. They have been diagnosed with byssinosis also known as 'cotton lung' or 'brown lung', an occupational respiratory disorder found among textile workers. The Supreme Court rejected the textile company's appeal against the lower court's ruling which ordered a compensation payment of 8 million baht (£270,000) including interest to the ailing workers. The management of Bangkok Weaving Factory was found guilty of violating the Environment Act for failing to provide a safe working environment. Chiang Mai University law lecturer Somchai Silpapreechakul, however, said the case fitted the term 'justice delayed is justice denied'. He said it was about time to revamp the legal procedures in the Labour Court. 'After splitting the money, each will get less than 1,500 baht (£50) a month,' he said. Somboon Sikhamdokkae, who headed the campaign, said: 'Compared with our health loss, physical and mental, the amount is such a really modest sum. We have become fragile, easily exhausted and vulnerable,' she said. She called for the establishment of a special labour court to process complaints involving work-related injuries which are a 'matter of life and death. These cases need to be processed swiftly to ensure prompt actions or solutions. There is a wide range of occupational diseases and hazards,' she said. The Bangkok Weaving Factory case was filed with the Labour Court on 9 May 1992.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER 2010 to DECEMBER 2010
Newsletter (5,800 words) issued 3 Dec 2010
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