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Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy
Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org
A law supposed to bring corporate killers to justice is not working, health and safety advocates have charged. Last week, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was fined £385,000 after becoming the first firm convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (Risks 494). The prosecution followed the death of employee Alexander Wright, 27, in a September 2008 trench collapse. A spokesperson for Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) said the law was not fit for purpose and big firms particularly remained beyond justice. She said: 'The law was intended to enable larger companies to be held properly accountably for negligently killing workers yet the only prosecution so far has been against Cotswold Geotech, a small company, not the 12 or so cases a year the government predicted.' Since the corporate manslaughter law took effect in April 2008, no large or medium-sized firm has faced charges. Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) safety officer Ian Tasker commented: 'This is a small company, with only eight employees, and is a similar size than those previously prosecuted for manslaughter under English law. It does not have the size or status of the type of corporate entity that the new legislation was expected to deal with.' He added: 'We have always believed the legislation to be ineffective, particularly in dealing with large corporations.' He said so far there had not been a single corporate homicide prosecution in Scotland. 'We maintain that existing legislation needs to be reviewed to ensure it is fair and equitable and that everyone in Scotland is held accountable when their failures cause death whether at work or in our communities,' he said.
The government should call an immediate halt to plans to close 10 of the UK's 19 coastguard stations and cut almost half their staff, the union PCS has said. The union was speaking out after the Commons transport select committee announced it wants to look into the issue in detail. The committee, which has already questioned the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) over its plans, last week announced a full inquiry into the government's proposals for 'modernising the coastguard'. Earlier this month, PCS called on the MCA to run a live test of its planned new centralised control system to prove the cuts will not cost lives (Risks 493). PCS, which represents 750 staff at the agency, said in light of the committee's investigation, the MCA's ongoing consultation on the plan to cut coastguard stations and slash staffing should now be scrapped. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'Our members, who are knowledgeable and highly experienced, have very real concerns that these cuts will cost lives, and so far we have seen no evidence from the MCA to the contrary.' He added: 'We have previously said the agency should prove its proposed system will work, but this new inquiry now surely means the government should accept the consultation is flawed and should be stopped.'
A train driver damaged his back at work using a faulty door his employer had failed to fix despite a series of complaints. The ASLEF member from Cardiff, whose name has not been released, was forced to take six weeks off work after he damaged his back trying to open the faulty roller door to access fuel pumps. He has now received £3,175 compensation in a union-backed claim. Colleagues at DB Schenker Rail UK Ltd had complained about the door for several weeks but nothing was done to fix the problem. On the day he was injured, the 47-year-old had twice called the control desk to ask for help but was told to go to the site and try to open the door on his own. As he tried to pull up the roller shutter he felt a back twinge and he suffered a strain. DB Schenker Rail admitted liability and settled the claim out of court. ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman said: 'Our members need to be confident the equipment they are working with is safe and in good working order - and not a trap to hurt them. A simple repair to a door which the employers knew was faulty would have avoided this member unnecessary pain and inconvenience.'
A former GMB shop steward and shipyard convenor from South Shields has received a 'substantial' payout just nine weeks after he was diagnosed with an asbestos cancer. The 81 year-old, whose name has not been released and who has the incurable cancer mesothelioma, was exposed to asbestos while working as a chipper and painter for shipyards on the River Tyne, including Redheads Ship Repairers and Tyne Dock Engineering in South Shields. He said: 'I have found it difficult coming to terms with my illness. Not so much dying but more the fact that I am losing my independence, something I was always proud of. I know that this will only get worse and it scares me.' GMB regional secretary Tom Brennan commented: 'This valued member of the GMB has developed a devastating disease through just doing a hard day's work. We are more than happy to support him in his fight for justice and that our specialist legal team have been able to settle his claim so quickly.' Andrew Venn from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to deal with the case, said: 'The rapid action taken to investigate and pursue this claim vigorously to a successful conclusion in just over two months has ensured this member can appreciate the compensation and has the peace of mind knowing that the claim has been finalised.'
Pressure is building on the government for a danger-fraught privatisation of rail infrastructure, rail union RMT has said. It is warning the business-driven move 'would drag the industry back to the days of Hatfield and Potters Bar.' The union was commenting as rumours circulated that Merseyrail and Scotrail could be the testing ground for infrastructure privatisation. In a letter to the National Audit Office, RMT general secretary Bob Crow argues private sector proponents of Network Rail privatisation are using 'poor quality research' to press their case. He commented: 'No one believes in reform of Network Rail more than RMT - we want to see the organisation transformed into a genuine public body, properly open and accountable and designed to deliver the highest quality of public service free from the greed of the private sector and the corrosive impact of big-business culture.' But he added 'all the drive at the moment from the right wing and their allies in the private sector is to rip up the publicly-owned infrastructure and re-privatise it in an action replay of the Railtrack experiment that led to a whole sequence of avoidable disasters on our railways. All the dice have been loaded to achieve that outcome and RMT will continue to expose the manoeuvring that is going on behind the scenes, unravel the distorted reviews and assessments and fight for a genuinely, publicly-owned railway system that ends the rip-off of privatisation.' Network Rail announced a restructuring this week, including the creation of 'devolved business units.'
The government has appointed a business lobbyist who is a vocal opponent of health and safety regulation and enforcement to head a review of workplace sickness absence. Ministers says the independent review, jointly chaired by David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work, 'will explore radical new ways on how the current system can be changed to help more people stay in work and reduce costs.' The government says the aim is to 'help combat the staggering £100 billion that working age ill health costs the economy every year.' It adds the review, which is jointly sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), will include a panel of experts from business, trade unions and health representatives. Ministers are linking it explicitly to a wider review of employment law 'which is looking at measures to reduce red tape and remove the burdens on business, encourage growth and maximise flexibility for employers and employees.' BCC's David Frost commented: 'I look forward to working with Dame Carol Black to reduce the unsustainable bill on both employers and the state caused by sickness absence, and making radical recommendations to achieve this.' BCC has been criticised repeatedly for 'rigging' the evidence to present an inflated figure for the cost of health and safety protections at work. At the same time it ignores entirely the benefits that accrue to business, workers and society as a whole from the use of regulation and enforcement to reduce the toll of work-related injury and ill-health (Risks 458). The critics say the government is too willing to listen to and regurgitate BCC's 'bogus' arguments.
The government's sickness absence review is not about improving the lot of workers, but about cutting the benefits bill, unions have warned. Commenting on the government announcement that Dame Carol Black and David Frost, head of business lobby group BCC, are to carry out an independent review into sickness absence, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'If this were to be a genuine attempt to support those on long-term sickness get back to work then the TUC would welcome it with open arms. However we are concerned that it will end up as just another part of the government's cost-saving onslaught on the income and rights of those at work, and those on benefits.' He added: 'The fact that the review is being conducted by a leading voice of employers' interests, with no corresponding involvement from unions representing workers affected by sickness absence, gives us little confidence in the outcome.' The union leader said rather than slashing benefits, 'the other way to reduce the number of people on long term sick leave is to prevent them from becoming sick in the first place, but the cuts in the budgets of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the fall in enforcement activity from local authority safety inspectors mean more employers can get away with running unsafe and unhealthy workplaces.' The review comes alongside a package of welfare reforms that have been criticised by poverty action and disability organisations and unions. Commenting on the new Welfare Reform Bill, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, whose members include job centre staff, said: 'The government claims its plans to fundamentally undermine the welfare state are 'radical'. But they're not, they're just cruel.' He added: 'You can't force people into jobs that aren't there. Instead of denigrating some of the most vulnerable people in our society and blaming them for being sick, disabled or unemployed, the government should be creating jobs - not cutting them - and properly supporting people with the help and training they need.'
Claims by the business lobby that pesky safety regulations and meddling inspectors are bringing the economy to its knees and are stifling job creation have been demolished in a new online publication. 'The real job killers', published by the workers' health and safety magazine Hazards, lays out evidence showing regulations don't kill jobs, but their absence can make it easier for employers to kill workers. It identifies the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) as one of the most enthusiastic opponents of regulation, routinely attacking basic employment protection from 'Neanderthal bosses', including safety regulation and enforcement. But it reveals BCC and other business lobbyists inflate (often non-existent) regulatory burdens on business and ignore systematically the much greater benefits. The Hazards guide, which forms part of its 'We didn't vote to die at work' campaign, says that absent from the business costs ledger is the quantifiable cost of the 'coughing, bleeding, crying and dying that results from the criminal neglect of worker safety. And that's no accident. Framing health and safety protections as a job killer, rather than their absence as a killer full-stop, keeps the real costs - people who get sick and die - safely out of the argument.' It concludes: 'Regulating safety is the ultimate austerity measure - it not only saves money, it saves lives.' Last week the government announced BCC director general David Frost would co-chair a review of sickness absence, with a brief to look at ways to reduce the sick leave bill.
Transport union RMT has condemned a government 'employer's charter' it says will allow employers 'to harass and bully staff without any comeback.' The union has dubbed the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills document, launched last month by Prime Minister David Cameron, a 'Bad Bosses Charter.' RMT says it 'sets out an agenda for attacking workers and paves the way for dumping staff on the dole with impunity,' and includes pointers on getting staff to work longer hours, driving through redundancies and dismissals without consultation, harassing women on maternity leave and restricting annual leave. The union argues the charter does not include a single positive measure an employer might take to make work and the situation of workers better, but it contains much to make it worse. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'With two and half million on the dole and rising this right-wing government have now issued guidance to bosses that will make it even easier for them to harass, bully and dump staff at will.' He added: 'The ConDems are determined to rip up workers rights to the point where bosses can hire, fire, bully and intimidate at their leisure as they drag us back to the era of the Victoria mill owner.'
Fundamental safety management failings were the root cause of Britain's most costly industrial disaster, a new publication has revealed. The report into the explosion and five-day fire at the Buncefield Oil Storage Depot in December 2005 relates the full story of the lengthy Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency (EA) investigation. 'The Buncefield explosion: Why did it happen?', which includes material held back by the watchdogs until legal proceedings were completed, identifies a catalogue of criminal safety failings. Underpinning the offences was a culture 'where keeping operations going was more important than safe processes, which did not get the attention, resources or priority status they required,' concluded the report from the COMAH Competent Authority Strategic Management Group. Gordon MacDonald, the group's chair, said: 'Companies that work in a highly hazardous industry need to have strong safety systems in place, underpinned by the right safety culture. Buncefield is a stark reminder of the potential result of a poor attitude towards safety. The local community was devastated and the environmental impact of the disaster is still evident today. With estimated total costs exceeding £1 billion, this remains Britain's most costly industrial disaster.' In July 2010, five companies were fined a total of £9.5 million for their part in the catastrophe (Risks 466).
Top managers at an offshoot of the Ministry of Defence have received an official ticking off after admitting criminal safety breaches linked to the death of a government scientist. However, because the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is a government agency and not subject to criminal safety proceedings, the penalty for the offences was only a Crown Censure. Under this system the lab's chief executive had only to acknowledge before the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) it had got it wrong. The official censure came after an incident where Dstl employees were carrying out classified tests on explosive compounds at Shoeburyness, an establishment owned by MOD and operated by QinetiQ Ltd, when a mixture ignited. Chemist Terry Jupp, 43, suffered 85 per cent burns in the explosion and died a week later in hospital. Dstl's chief executive, Dr Frances Saunders, attended the Crown Censure meeting and accepted the findings on behalf of the agency and the MOD. Dstl has formally acknowledged there were health and safety failings, including inadequate or poorly followed risk assessments when the possibility of explosion or ignition were clearly foreseeable. Mr Jupp and colleagues were not protected by a screen or personal protective equipment. Inadequacies were also highlighted in dynamic risk assessment, and communication issues were shown to have impeded safety procedures. Crown Censure chair, HSE's Susan MacKenzie, said: 'Terry Jupp died needlessly... The evidence brought to light by HSE's investigations would be sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of the MOD in civilian courts.' She added: 'This Crown Censure is the maximum enforcement action that HSE can take and should serve to illustrate how seriously we take the failings that led to the death of Mr Jupp.' The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) brought gross negligence manslaughter charges against two Dstl managers but both cases were dismissed before a trial, one in 2005 and one in 2007.
Network Rail has admitted health and safety failings over the 2002 Potters Bar crash, in which seven people died. The company has said it will plead guilty to charges which were brought over the condition of tracks near the station in Hertfordshire. Six passengers and a pedestrian died when a train from London to King's Lynn derailed on 10 May 2002. The company will be sentenced at Crown Court next month. Peter Palfrey, chair of the bench at Watford Magistrates' Court, said: 'In this case we have decided that the charge is so serious we cannot give punishment at this court.' Speaking outside the court, a Network Rail spokesperson said the firm was pleading guilty because it had assumed all of Railtrack's responsibilities and liabilities when it took over the company in October 2002. The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) launched proceedings over alleged breaches of health and safety law after the inquest into the crash last year (Risks 482). Louise Christian, a solicitor representing some of the victim's families, said there was anger that the process had taken so long. She added: 'The families had to go through an awful ordeal, and what still worries them is whether the safety concerns have been properly addressed for the future. This is now a prosecution that can only result in a fine. There's a query whether that will bring about any real accountability, given that Network Rail is a not for profit company.' ORR is considering whether to continue with a related health and safety prosecution against track maintenance firm Jarvis.
A security safe manufacturer has been fined after an employee was burned while fitting an under-floor safe. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Telford firm SMP Security Ltd following the incident in which Nigel Gibbon, 44, was operating a flocking machine to apply a soft lining to the safe on 28 June 2008. SMP Security failed to carry out a proper risk assessment for the work. When Mr Gibbons used an adhesive to apply the nylon flock lining, a flammable atmosphere was created inside the safe. This then ignited when he operated the flocking machine. Telford Magistrates' Court heard how Mr Gibbon suffered second degree burns to his left hand and wrist. He will require surgery to repair tendon damage to his hand and still suffers pain, particularly in cold weather. SMP Security Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002. It was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £6,000 costs. HSE inspector David Kivlin said: 'Mr Gibbon would not have suffered these injuries if SMP Security had carried out a proper assessment of the risks arising from the flocking task. This would have identified several alternatives that could have been easily implemented such as using flocking equipment specifically designed for use in flammable atmospheres, or replacing the flammable adhesive with a water-based version.'
An 'extremely foolish' health and safety manager who suffered serious burns when a can of solvent exploded has been given a suspended prison sentence. Phillip Dutton, whose employer South Essex Stockholders was fined in December for related safety offences, was engulfed in flames after he poured highly flammable cleaning liquid on to burning waste at a site in Shoebury. The 41-year-old was seriously injured and spent three months in intensive care after the incident in February 2010. The base of the can of fluid was blown off and vapour from another open can nearby ignited, causing the explosion. Heat from the blast melted parts of his safety hat to his head, Chelmsford Crown Court heard. Dutton twice died and was resuscitated in the ambulance taking him to hospital. He pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach. He was told by Judge Rodger Hayward Smith QC he had been 'extremely foolish.' The judge added: 'You were severely burned. You were in flames. Those who saw what happened suffered trauma.' Dutton was jailed for four months, suspended for two years. He was also told to pay £5,000 costs. The court heard the incident took place at South Essex Stockholders, which trades as Industrial Metal Services, while rubbish was being burned. At least one of the containers was marked highly inflammable. Dutton's barrister, Mark Roochove, admitted: 'He is the author of his own misfortune.' Dutton's employer, South Essex Stockholders Ltd, was found guilty on 9 December 2010 of a criminal safety offence. It was fined £20,000 and £7,650 costs.
A Brighton meat processing company has been fined after a 16-year-old trainee severely injured his arm in a meat mincer. The teen's employer, Malpass Direct Ltd, was prosecuted by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for not properly supervising him at its Brighton Meat Market premises. Brighton Magistrates' Court heard that the trainee, who asked not to be named, was working alone using the mincer to make sausage mix, when the machine jammed. He lifted the hopper lid to remove the blockage but his left arm became trapped between the feed paddles and the wall of the machine. He managed to free his arm, but suffered extensive bone damage and received significant muscle loss to his left forearm. His injuries required surgery and he has lost movement in two fingers. These injuries have since prevented him from undertaking a training course. HSE's investigation found that due to staff absences there was no one on site to properly supervise the trainee. It also revealed the company regularly disabled the safety interlock on the mincer lid to allow sausage mix to be made. This was because ingredients needed to be poured into the mincer faster than was possible through the standard lid. The company received an additional fine for this offence. Malpass Direct Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined a total of £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,005.20.
O'Keefe Construction Ltd has been fined after a teenager suffered horrific burns to his legs at its depot in Sevenoaks, Kent. The 18-year-old employee, who asked not to be named, was in a shed at the site on 26 October 2009, spray painting a lighting tower. He used thinners in the process and inadvertently spilled some on his trousers. When he moved across the shed to go to his locker and find a change of clothes, he walked near a gas burner which was being used to heat the workshop. His clothes caught fire. He ran outside where colleagues hosed him down and put out the flames. The worker suffered burns to both legs, his left arm and his hand. He was in hospital for 16 days, six of which were spent in intensive care. Since then the employee has undergone skin grafts and has been unable to work for six months. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had completed a risk assessment, but had not implemented the measures identified. A further management action plan, dated three years after the original assessment, re-iterated these measures, but they had still not been put in place at the time of the incident. HSE inspector Caroline Penwill commented: 'In this case, the company had assessed the risks from paint spraying and had identified measures to control the risks, but had not put them in place. It is important that the findings of a risk assessment are acted upon. Had the company done so, then this terrible incident could have been prevented.' O'Keefe Construction (Greenwich) Ltd pleaded guilty at Sevenoaks Magistrates' Court to a criminal safety offence and was fined £20,000. It was ordered to pay costs of £6,329.
A Scottish papermaking firm has been fined £260,000 after a worker was killed when he fell almost 50 feet through a fragile roof. Thomas Sturrock, 32, was working as part of a team for a contractor, cleaning the roof at Tullis Russell Papermaker Ltd's warehouse in Markinch, Fife, on 29 September 2008. Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court heard that Mr Sturrock's co-workers on the roof heard a cracking sound before becoming aware that Mr Sturrock had fallen through the roof. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that when Tullis Russell Papermakers instructed the contractor to carry out the cleaning work, it failed to make sure the work was properly planned and organised. When the contractor's employees were at work, they did not control, monitor and review the way the work was taking place, the investigation found. The contractor had advised Tullis Russell Papermakers Limited the team would be using crawling boards on the fragile roof. However, such boards were not used and in order to carry out the cleaning work, workers accessed the roof by stepping onto it. Pre-contract safety paperwork had not been filled in and workers were not wearing harnesses or ropes. Tullis Russell Papermakers Ltd was fined £260,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. The case against the contractor remains under consideration by the Health and Safety Division of Scotland's Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Following the case, HSE inspector Mac Young said: 'If Tullis Russell had ensured the contractor's activities were monitored then it is possible the incident with Mr Sturrock may have been prevented.' He added: 'Tullis Russell Papermakers had a duty to ensure the safety of everyone on their site - whether working directly for them or not.'
A court in Thailand has told the authorities to release a seriously injured Burmese migrant worker who had been chained to his hospital bed. The Southern Bangkok Criminal Court last week ordered the Immigration Bureau to release immediately Chalee Diyoo, 33. The bureau was also ordered to pay damages to the worker, who had been detained for more than two weeks at the Bangkok Police Hospital. During this time he had undergone operations to repair a ruptured intestine and a fractured thigh, injuries he sustained working on a construction site (Risks 494). Chalee's legal problems began when his Thai employer refused to pay his hospital bills, leading to his transfer to the police hospital. Once there, he was chained to the bed as he was unable to show ID papers or his work permit and was classed an "illegal". The chains were removed four days later, after the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) protested to the Royal Thai Police, but Chalee's detention continued. Somchai Homlaor, secretary general of HRDF, said after the court decision: 'Chalee's case exposed systemic failures in Thailand's systems of migration management and in particular systems for ensuring protection, treatment and compensation of migrant work accident victims.' He added: 'Migrant work accident victims continue to be unprotected, falling outside work accident protection systems created by the government for all workers in Thailand.' Migrants are still refused workers' compensation payments, he added.
At times it has appeared the US and the UK have been competing to out-do each other in their efforts to jettison decent safety rules and enforcement at work. The UK was the first to successful slash the official safety watchdog's resources, but it seems the US will not be far behind as Republicans press for a near identical budget cut. But the US has certainly reclaimed the lead with a couple of proposals so regressive they would shame Victorian mill owners. In Missouri, Republican state senator Jane Cunningham has introduced a bill to gut child labour laws. Her Bill would eliminate the ban on employment of children under the age of 14 and remove permit requirements on child workers aged 14 plus. Among a string of other leaps backwards in the senator's Bill is a clause that 'removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ.' On the national stage, Republican congressman Larry D Bucshon has set his sights on miners with black lung disease. Arguing against a proposed mine safety regulation, he told a congressional hearing last week: 'I see a lot of patients with workplace related respiratory problems, some of which, to put it bluntly, are their own issue because they refuse to wear safety equipment regardless of whether there are regulations in place to do so or not.' Celeste Monforton, a mine safety expert at George Washington University, described the congressman's comments as 'shameful.' She added if the proposed rule was put in place, the next generation of coal miners and their families would be spared 2,822 cases of coal workers pneumoconiosis, 791 cases of progressive massive fibrosis, 687 cases of emphysema and 131 deaths from non-malignant respiratory disease.
The Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, which killed 11 workers in April 2010, was the fault of all the key companies involved, a series of reports have concluded. But one other theme has emerged - BP was more culpable than the other parties. Last week Fred Bartlit, chief counsel of the presidential panel investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, released his personal final report. It provides additional detail on the lapses, shortcuts and mismanagement by BP and the other two main companies in the project ? Halliburton, a contractor, and Transocean, the rig's owner ? that investigators say led to the explosion. Bartlit concluded BP failed to address problems with Halliburton, which was in charge of the cement job that was supposed to contain the well's oil and gas. This was despite warnings dating back to 2007 about the company's work. In addition, investigators found that a reorganisation of BP's engineering department caused distractions among personnel on the rig that later exploded. BP was blamed for failing to explore the implications of a failed pressure test at the well, a clue that could have helped prevent the disaster. BP managers on shore were kept in the dark about problems that the drilling crew was facing. Bartlit's report concludes that if anyone had consulted Pat O'Bryan, BP's vice president responsible for drilling and well completions, 'or any other shore-based engineer, the blowout might never have happened,' The New York Times reported.
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