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Have a Risks free holiday! This is the last issue of Risks in 2010. We'll be back in the new year.
A culture of bullying and victimisation of staff has taken root at British Airways (BA), a new report by Unite has found. The confidential survey of nearly 2,000 BA employees reveals that nearly three in every four members of BA staff have witnessed or been subject to bullying. The bulk of the respondents to the survey were cabin crew members, reflecting, Unite says, that workforce's fears that they have been deliberately targeted by BA's management. Unite said the extent to which the bullying culture has become entrenched is a direct result of the 'war' BA's management has been waging against its cabin crew since 2009. The union says in recent months about 70 cabin crew have been suspended and 18 sacked, with only three subsequently reinstated. It believes this is the result of a BA drive to quash resistance to employment changes directly affecting cabin crew. Unite general secretary Tony Woodley said: 'BA management urgently needs to do a corporate u-turn and sit down with Unite representatives to address this bullying epidemic. That begins with lifting the sanctions imposed on over 6,000 cabin crew who took action last year and immediate agreement that a third party will analyse those cases where workers have been disciplined or dismissed, often on the flimsiest of pretexts.' A related industrial action ballot of 10,000 cabin crew members closes on 21 January. Central to the dispute are the key issues of union-busting at the airline and the creation without negotiation of a new workforce tier to be employed on poorer terms and conditions.
Birmingham City Council has been accused of providing insufficient protective clothing to agency workers unions say were brought in to undermine refuse collection industrial action in the city. Directly employed refuse collectors in the city have been working to rule since 22 December last year. The council has employed agency staff to clear the backlog of rubbish that has built up since the work to rule began, escalating tensions. The union says agency workers have been issued with insufficient equipment, with one refuse worker describing the work clothing provided as 'more suited to a nightclub' than the necessary protective clothing worn by regular council-employed workers. Speaking to the Birmingham Mail, refuse collector John Westwood said agency workers employed by the authority were being put at risk as a result of not wearing high-visibility jackets and steel-capped boots. The agency crews were instead wearing trainers and jeans while trying to clear the backlog of rubbish, he claimed. 'If we dressed like this there would be hell to pay. It is against all the health and safety principles employed by the city council,' he said. UCATT Midlands regional secretary Steve Murphy, whose union unsuccessfully tabled proposals to end the dispute back in December, told the Morning Star the council had shown 'total arrogance' during the dispute. 'It is obvious that Birmingham Council do not have the vision or the intent to grasp the opportunity to end the dispute and are instead content to watch black bags and refuse pile up on the streets of Birmingham,' he said. A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said casual staff had been provided with the necessary protective clothing to perform their roles.
RMT members working for Southeastern at the major London rail terminals of Victoria and Charing Cross have voted for industrial action over platform and gateline job cuts the union says are a 'lethal gamble' at a time of a heightened terrorist alert. RMT says under the company plans for the terminals, team leaders posts will be cut and those remaining will be taken away from dispatching trains to cover other duties, leading to more occasions where there will not be enough staff to dispatch trains safely and on time. The union adds that cuts in numbers will leave gateline staff 'vulnerable to abuse and assaults as they are left increasingly isolated as well as compromising the ability to react to an emergency evacuation.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Only days after both Victoria and Charing Cross saw their security status elevated from 'substantial' to 'severe' we now have the clearest evidence that Southeastern's cuts to station staff are compromising emergency procedures and that is a disgrace. These cuts should be reversed immediately.' He added: 'Southeastern have got the nerve to jack up fares by 13 per cent while hacking back on platform operations that will compromise safety and security, delay and disrupt the dispatch process and put their staff in the firing line as and when things go wrong.'
Staffing cuts on London Underground (LU) will leave the network 'dangerous' and in breach of official safety rules, Tube union RMT has warned. Company documents released by the union show almost a third of stations are set to be unstaffed for part of the working day. RMT says this is a 'direct contradiction' of assurances from London mayor Boris Johnson, who told the Tory Party conference in October last year that staffing cuts would leave 'no station unstaffed at any time.' RMT's analysis of the latest LU operational plans shows that of 249 LU managed stations, 76 (30.5 per cent) are scheduled to be unstaffed in the future for 'part of the traffic day' which means during passenger hours. RMT says this breaches LU's Safety Certificate and Authorisation Document. The union says the mayor, his transport commissioner Peter Hendy, transport adviser Kulveer Ranger, LU managing director Mike Brown and LU chief operating officer Howard Collins have all told the media that despite the Tube cuts 'all stations will be staffed at all time.' It says these statements are now exposed 'as totally bogus.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The time for the lies and misleading statements about the true impact of the Tube cuts must now come to an end as the harsh reality is now laid out in black and white - nearly a third of London's tube stations will be left unstaffed for part of the working day if these cuts plans aren't brought to a halt. These aren't the RMT's figures - they come direct from LU's own operational documents.' The union leader said London mayor Boris Johnson 'should call a halt to the lethal cocktail of jobs and maintenance cuts right now.'
A warehouse operative has received £4,500 in compensation after his employer admitted blame for an injury that left him unable to carry out everyday tasks and that took more than eight months to heal. GMB member Paul Pritchard, 37, was forced to take almost four months off work when he was injured whilst packing aeroplane components at the Rolls Royce Depot in Sunderland for Mitie Group. The parts, weighing around 24kg each, were stored in such a way that he had to bend down to lift them. As he lifted one of the heavy discs he strained the right side of his chest wall. Mr Pritchard said: 'I was off work for almost four months and was basically bedridden. I contacted the GMB because I felt that Mitie should have done more to make sure the job I was doing was safe.' He added: 'I still work at Rolls Royce but now have a different employer and workplace health and safety is much better.' Chris Preston, regional organiser at the GMB, commented: 'Paul didn't want to be injured and he would rather not have lost the wages that he did. A simple risk assessment of the task and small changes would have avoided this altogether.' Lyndsay Milligan from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to deal with the case, said the problem stemmed from management's failure 'to think the job through,' adding: 'The answer was to store the aeroplane components at a more suitable height to avoid straining when lifting them.'
A committee of MPs has raised 'serious doubts' about the UK's ability to combat oil spills from deep sea rigs following the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster last year. The Energy and Climate Change Committee also warned that taxpayers could pay for a major spill in the North Sea. The committee's report singled out the 'harsh conditions' off the west coast of Shetland, where oil wells are being drilled more than 1,000 metres deep. There were 'serious doubts' about the ability of clean-up equipment to function in such an environment, it added. But the committee said a moratorium on deep sea drilling would undermine the UK's energy security and is unnecessary. Committee chair Tim Yeo said safety procedures could be 'tightened up' but on the whole the industry is safe and the regulatory system 'robust', following reforms brought in after the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. 'Safety regulations on drilling in the UK are already tougher than they were in the Gulf of Mexico, but oil companies mustn't use that as an excuse for complacency. Companies cannot continue producing cut and paste oil spill response plans and rig operators must make it easier for staff to raise concerns without fear of intimidation,' he said. But Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace responded that recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures had shown an increase in both serious injuries and spilt oil in rigs operating off the UK. Major injuries offshore almost doubled from 106.3 per 100,000 in 2008/09 to 188 in 2009/10 (Risks 471), while spills of hydrocarbons were up from 61 to 85. 'They are pressing ahead regardless of the holes in their own regulatory system,' he said. 'It is like they have learned nothing from the Deep Water Horizon spill.'
Sick workers and those wanting to seek redress for unfair dismissal are among those targeted in what has been dubbed the government's 'employers' charter'. Press reports suggest ministers, responding to pressure from the employer lobby, are intending to extend the period when employers can dismiss workers without being subject to a claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years. The government is also understood to be considering introducing fees for workers taking claims to an employment tribunal and reducing the period when statutory sick pay is payable. TUC's Nicola Smith, writing in the union body's Touchstone blog, said if the sick pay changes are introduced 'this policy seems likely to be a Coalition own goal. While evidence shows that it will have no positive impact on employment rates, it does seem likely to lead to increased unemployment (as workers are required to leave jobs that they would currently have a greater chance of returning to) and a rise in social security expenditure.' Commenting on the suggested changes to the tribunal system, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The government should stand firm in the face of the intense employer lobbying seen in recent weeks and leave employment tribunals to continue holding rogue employers to account and delivering justice for all workers who have been discriminated against or treated unfairly.'
A man has died after an explosion at a Rotherham waste recycling plant which left another man seriously injured. The incident at the Sterecycle plant occurred mid-afternoon on 11 January. South Yorkshire Police said a waste incinerator had exploded, creating a hole in the factory's wall. Michael Whinfrey, a 42-year-old father of three from Rotherham, was airlifted to hospital in Leeds where he later died. Peter Lindon Davis, 51, from Barnsley, was taken to Sheffield's Northern General Hospital with serious, 'potentially life-changing', head and body injuries. Sterecycle suspended operations at the plant after the blast. The company's chief executive officer, Tom Shields, said: 'We clearly regret this incident and have advised the Health and Safety Executive. We will urgently investigate the causes of the incident and ensure that all necessary actions are taken.' The recycling giant, whose Rotherham plant is in the middle of a rapid expansion plan, was voted 'one to watch' at the Cleantech industry awards in November 2010. The case is the latest to highlight potential risks to workers in 'green' industries. This week it was revealed an investigation is continuing into an incident last year on an offshore windfarm when an 18-tonne section of turbine plunged into the sea. The £1bn Walney Offshore Windfarm is being built in the Irish Sea, nine miles from Barrow. Nobody was injured but local media reported a source had claimed two workers badly shaken by the incident later quit. Danish firm Dong Energy, which is developing the windfarm, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched investigations and work was stopped for a week after the August 2010 incident. The HSE investigation is ongoing.
There has been no improvement in over a decade in the chemical industry's control of a potent carcinogen, research for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found. The study into exposures to the cancer-causing chemical MbOCA and other chemicals used in polyurethane manufacture was undertaken by HSE's laboratory arm, HSL, and confirms the findings of an earlier study. The latest research was undertaken after the industry objected to the methodology of the previous highly critical study, whose findings were published in 2007 (Risks 334). After the industry objections, HSE removing the disputed report from its website. The updated study, however, noted the earlier survey 'provided a sound baseline on occupational exposures to MbOCA in Great Britain and was a valuable contribution towards ongoing intervention work.' It noted there had been 'no discernible downward trend in urinary MbOCA levels since 1996,' and concluded: 'MbOCA exposures in the polyurethane industry, measured by biological monitoring have not fallen' from the levels identified in the 2007 report. The new study found more than 1 in 20 measurements (6 per cent) exceeded the guidance value for MbOCA in urine, with levels in excess of this figure found at seven of the 19 sites visited in study. The highest value was approximately four times this limit. Cancer causing substances are supposed to be controlled to a level 'as low as reasonably practicable' (ALARP) below this guidance value, a legal duty the HSE-backed study found many of the companies were failing routinely to satisfy.
A Swindon pharmaceutical company has been fined after a number of its employees were exposed to a potent sensitiser and developed allergic contact dermatitis. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Catalent UK Swindon Zydis Limited, trading as Catalent Pharma Solutions, after at least ten employees developed the skin condition when working with Olanzapine. The substance is an active ingredient in one of the most commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs and is a known cause of allergic contact dermatitis. While Olanzapine had been identified by the company as the potential cause of previous cases of dermatitis, it failed to carry out an immediate review of its risk assessment as required by law. Instead, a thorough review was only started in February 2008 after two cases of allergic contact dermatitis had been confirmed on 19 October 2007 and 3 December 2007 and HSE had visited the company. Swindon Magistrates' heard how during HSE's investigation, a further eight employees were confirmed to have allergic contact dermatitis as a result of being in contact with Olanzapine. HSE inspector Joanna Knight said the condition was 'uncomfortable and irreversible' and could have been averted by a proper risk assessment, adding: 'Catalent UK Swindon Zydis failed to address the inadequacies not only in its systems for working with hazardous substances, but also in its systems for health surveillance and keeping health records. This led to a number of employees being exposed to the substance and subsequently developing allergic contact dermatitis.' The firm pleaded guilty to five criminal safety breaches and was ordered to pay a fine of £50,000 plus £50,123.10 in costs.
A steel fabricating company has been fined after a process tank weighing three tonnes fell on an employee. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Wefco (Gainsborough) Ltd for failing to ensure the safety of Edward Baxter. The 29-year-old sustained multiple fractures to his pelvis, spine and ribs, a fractured leg and ankle and head injuries as a result of the incident on 4 March 2008. A process tank was being lifted with an overhead crane, chains and a temporary lifting bracket welded onto the tank. The lifting bracket came off the tank, which then fell onto Mr Baxter. Wefco (Gainsborough) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000 at Lincoln Crown Court. HSE inspector Steve Woods said Mr Baxter's injuries 'could have been avoided had a safe system of work been followed. Employers need to ensure that difficult lifting operations are planned beforehand and that correct lifting equipment is being used.' He added: 'An incident like this demonstrates how vital it is that safe working procedures are communicated to and understood by people who carry out such lifting tasks. Supervision is also imperative and managers need to monitor the workplace of employees to ensure that safe working procedures are being followed and corners are not being cut.'
A Suffolk building contractor has been fined after a worker's finger and thumb were amputated by a moulding machine. Bench joiner David Head, 24, was shaping a piece of timber at the GJ Bream & Son Ltd joinery workshop in Chevington, Suffolk on 10 June 2010 when it caught in the cutter and dragged his left hand into the blades. Bury St Edmunds Magistrates' Court heard the thumb and index finger on Mr Head's left hand were amputated and the remaining fingers were severely cut. Reconstructive plastic surgeons at Addenbrooke's Hospital were able to reattach the thumb and finger, but Mr Head has been told he will only be able to regain half their use. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company was not using the correct work holders, known as 'jigs', to keep workers' hands clear of the cutting machinery. Inspectors also found the company had not assessed the risks associated with this task properly, nor did they supervise or train staff properly for work with dangerous machinery. GJ Bream & Son Ltd admitted a criminal safety offence and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £4,026.55 in costs. HSE inspector Ivan Brooke said: 'Incidents like this are entirely preventable with the right training, supervision and equipment. HSE will always look to take action against employers who break the law by failing to put these measures in place.'
A Rochdale food packaging firm that disabled a machine safety system has been fined £27,500 after one of its workers was badly injured when he was dragged into the machine. The 35-year-old Elliott Absorbent Products Ltd employee, whose name has not been released, was working on a laminator, used to produce absorbent pads for meat packaging, when he was pulled in by two giant rollers. He suffered severe friction burns to his arms, chest and stomach, requiring skin grafts to both his arms. He had been working for the company for just over six months. Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court heard the firm had disabled an infra-red sensor, designed to stop the machine operating when someone approached the rollers. The company, which supplies major supermarket chains across Europe, had shut off the sensor because paper dust generated by the machine had been triggering it. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the company failed to provide an alternative safety system until after the incident, when it installed a pressure mat which stopped the machine working when someone stepped on it. The court heard the firm has been served with three improvement notices in May 2008, regarding inadequate guards on three other machines at another of the company's plants. Elliott Absorbent Products Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. At Manchester Crown Court on 7 January, the firm was ordered to pay costs of £4,389 in addition to the £27,500 fine. Sarah Taylor, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'The three enforcement notices HSE served following a visit to the company's Rochdale factory in 2008 should have acted as a wake-up call to check the guards on all its machines. But the infra-red sensor on the machine at the company's Littleborough factory was disabled without considering why it was there in the first place - to prevent workers being injured.'
The deaths of five people in three separate incidents when scissor lifts overturned has lead the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to issue a safety alert. The safety watchdog is warning service and maintenance engineers and those in the construction industry who use, or lease out, JLG 500RTS and 400 RTS scissor lifts, to ensure that safety critical components are working correctly. In all three fatal overturn incidents in Europe over the past four years, the oscillating axle which allows the machine to be driven on uneven ground with the platform in the transport position failed to lock when the platform was raised. The lift/drive interlock system that would have stopped the platform being raised above 6.7m without the stabilisers being deployed also failed. HSE inspector Richard Clarke: 'Though this safety alert is primarily to warn those who own and use these specific models of scissor lift, and those with similar interlock systems, it should serve as a reminder to all users of mobile elevating work platforms that there is a need to regularly maintain, inspect and test the equipment. This isn't just recommended by manufacturers but is also required by law.' He added: 'Used as directed and with all the necessary checks, we continue to recommend the appropriate use of mobile elevating work platforms as a tool to enable work at height to be carried out safely.'
Injured workers value rehabilitation and say it allows them to get on with their lives and their jobs quicker, a survey had found. Personal injury law firm Thompsons questioned clients who had received rehabilitation in the last year. All respondents who had received rehabilitation while off sick said that the treatment had helped them return to work earlier than they would otherwise have done. The majority also said that it had reduced the amount of assistance they needed with day to day tasks (70 per cent) and helped them to return to their leisure pursuits (80 per cent).Everyone who responded said that rehabilitation had helped in their recovery, and that it had been a positive experience. The law firm is calling on government ministers to put rehabilitation for injury victims at the heart of its review of civil justice. Judith Gledhill, head of personal injury at Thompsons, commented: 'There is a rehabilitation code and if all parties act within the spirit of the code and ensure that claimant's are offered and accept appropriate rehabilitation at an early stage, the outcome will generally be better for all involved in the litigation process.' She added: 'For insurers promotion of early rehabilitation will generally result in a reduction in the amount of damages and costs paid, whilst the injured person will have the benefit of input and treatment from experienced healthcare professionals.''
The number of deaths related to asbestos exposures worldwide has been dramatically under-estimated, as some major asbestos using nations are failing to report any related cancers, a new study has concluded. A group of experts from Japan, Taiwan and the UK, writing this month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, say their analysis supports a worldwide ban on asbestos production and use. Their study, which claims to be the first to provide a global estimate of unreported cases of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, concludes that for every four to five reported cases of mesothelioma worldwide, at least one case goes unreported. The authors assessed the relationship between country-level asbestos use from 1920 through 1970 and mesothelioma deaths reported between 1994 and 2008 - there is typically a latency period of decades between exposure and development of cancer. Cumulative asbestos use in 89 countries, which accounted for more than 82 per cent of the global population in the year 2000, totalled more than 65 million metric tons during 1920-1970. The United States, Russia, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan led the group in asbestos use, defined as production plus import minus export. For the 56 countries also reporting mesothelioma data, there were approximately 174,300 such deaths during 1994-2008. When the authors extrapolated this finding to the 33 countries not reporting mesothelioma data, they estimated 38,900 additional cases may have occurred in these countries during that same 15-year period. Estimates of asbestos related lung cancer numbers are also based on the mesothelioma figure, so these deaths are likely to have been significantly under-estimated too. 'Our most important finding is the magnitude of unreported mesothelioma in countries that use asbestos at substantial levels but report no cases of the disease,' said study co-author Ken Takahashi of the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Japan. Such countries include Russia, Kazakstan, China, and India, which rank in the top 15 countries for cumulative asbestos use.
More than 44 million private sector workers in the United States - 42 per cent of the private-sector workforce - don't have paid sick days they can use to recover from a common illness like the flu, according to new research. The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) analysis found more workers lack paid sick days than government reports show because official figures discount the 4.2 million workers who have not been in the job long enough to be eligible for paid sick days. Occupational breakdowns in the new research reinforce the connection between the failure to allow workers paid sick days and public health problems. According to IWPR, the occupations most likely to have regular contact with the public - food service and preparation, and personal care and service - are among those least likely to provide paid sick days. Dr Robert Drago, research director for IWPR, said the high numbers of workers with close contact to the public, but no paid sick leave, 'raises serious public health concerns.' He added: 'The fewer the number of workers who are able to stay home when sick, the more likely it is that diseases will spread, increasing health care costs and causing needless economic losses. We saw this during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic when workers without paid sick days were more likely to go to work while infected with H1N1.'
A Las Vegas firefighter has been told by the Nevada Supreme Court she is entitled to workers' compensation benefits under the presumption that she developed breast cancer through exposure to carcinogens at work. Robin Lawson started working as a firefighter in 1992, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer five years later. She missed nine months of work for treatment, which included a lumpectomy, and then underwent a double mastectomy in 2005 when the cancer came back. After Lawson's oncologist told her to stop working because he felt her cancer was related to her job as a firefighter, Lawson filed a workers' compensation claim. The city twice denied her claim, on the grounds it was submitted too late and refutable, noting that Lawson was first diagnosed in 1997 and she could not demonstrate a connection between her cancer and the chemicals to which she was exposed while working. An appeals officer overturned the ruling, citing that Lawson's claim was timely because she did not become aware of the connection between her job and the cancer until 2005. The officer also ruled that Lawson was exposed to benzene and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) during her employment. The trial court denied the city's request for judicial review, and a three-judge appellate panel affirmed the decision with one correction. In his written judgment, Justice James Hardesty said the district court had been wrong to say PAHs met the definition of 'known carcinogens', but added that because of the benzene exposure 'the court came to the correct conclusion that Lawson was exposed to known carcinogens that were reasonably associated with breast cancer. This court will affirm a district court's order if the district court reached the correct result, even if for the wrong reason.'
A major US report into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has called for wide-ranging reforms of the oil industry to prevent a repeat of the disaster. The report from the US presidential oil spill commission said the US needed to expand and update drilling regulation and establish an independent drilling safety agency. The April 2010 blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 people and caused one of the worst oil spills in history.
The final report of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which President Barack Obama convened in May, spreads blame for the disaster widely, criticising BP, which owned the Macondo well; Transocean, which owned the rig; and Halliburton, which managed the well-sealing operation. It said the companies had cut corners to save time and money - decisions that contributed to the disaster. It also concluded regulation and legislation governing offshore oil drilling failed adequately to protect oil workers and residents affected by the spill. 'Our exhaustive investigation finds that none of the major aspects of offshore drilling safety - not the regulatory oversight, not the industry safety standards, not the spill response practices - kept pace with the push into deep water,' said panel co-chair William Reilly. Former Florida senator Bob Graham, who sat on the panel, cited 'significant errors and misjudgments' from BP, Halliburton and Transocean. Recommendations in the commission's report include increasing budgets and training for the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling and increasing the liability cap for damages when companies drill offshore. 'BP did not have adequate controls in place to ensure that key decisions in the months leading up to the blow-out were safe or sound from an engineering perspective,' the report found.
A TUC seminar on the topic of 'women and health and safety' will take place at its London HQ on Thursday 3 February 2011. The half day event is aimed at union officers and workplace reps with responsibility for health and safety, equality and women's rights in the workplace, or any union researchers or officers with an interest in gender and occupational health. The afternoon event will include a presentation on the impact of the menopause on women at work by Professor Amanda Griffiths of Nottingham University's Institute of Work, Health and Organisations. There will also be speakers from unions and the Health and Safety Executive. Workshop discussions will focus on identifying the barriers to women becoming health and safety reps and devising strategies to increase the number of women health and safety reps.
COURSES FOR JANUARY 2011 TO MARCH 2011
Newsletter (5,700 words) issued 14 Jan 2011
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