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Criticism of the government assault on safety regulation and enforcement has continued. In a move attacked by unions and campaigners, last week employment minister Chris Grayling announced that Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections are to be slashed, 'red tape' is to be cut and most firms will be assured an inspector will never call (Risks 499). Dave Bennett, health and safety adviser with train drivers' union ASLEF has prepared a blow-by-blow criticism of the minister's approach. He concluded measures to clampdown on 'rogue health and safety advisers' were a red herring as 'there is no evidence that inappropriate advice is a problem. The main issue is that far too many small companies do not seek any advice on health and safety, not that they are being given bad advice.' Grayling's aim to 'clarify and simplify health and safety legislation, and in doing so ease the burden on business' was misguided because 'without regular inspections we will not prevent accidents which can result in injury or death, only fine the guilty parties after the event,' Bennett said. 'This is a reactive step. To be effective, health and safety legislation must be proactive.' The minister's direction that a review of health and safety should 'consider whether changes to legislation are needed to clarify the position of employers in cases where employees act in a grossly irresponsible manner' was also unacceptable, said the ASLEF safety expert. 'If introduced, any such legislation will be used by employers to find fault with the employee,' he said. 'Rather than accepting responsibility for providing inadequate training, poor management decisions will be laid at the feet of the employee.' A Guardian article by Risks editor Rory O'Neill also warned that 'safety enforcement was in crisis before the latest lurch toward lawlessness.'
The shopworkers' union Usdaw is backing a 'Close the door' campaign that could both save energy and improve conditions for retail staff. The campaign points to independent research from Cambridge University which found many high street shops waste up to 50 per cent of their energy through open door policies and cause severe discomfort for shop staff who are often forced to work in cold, draughty conditions. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: 'As well as wasting money and energy, open shop doors in winter can cause great discomfort to staff who may spend all day in cold or fluctuating temperatures.' He added: 'Too many shops, including some of the big high street chain stores, still leave their doors open even in sub zero temperatures, some also insisting that their staff stand near the open door to welcome customers. The practice is unacceptable, unnecessary and damaging to both staff and the environment and we urge retailers to stop it. Closing the door when it's cold outside makes both staff and customers more comfortable and is something all shops should be doing.' Jeannie Dawkins, director of the campaign, said: 'It is clearly not acceptable to treat staff in this way, quite aside from the significant energy waste involved, and we are so pleased that Usdaw has taken this up.'
London's underground system could turn into a 'death trap' as a result of a multibillion pound cuts package, rail union RMT has said. The warning came this week after it was revealed London mayor Boris Johnson is to cut £7.6bn from the budget of Transport for London (TfL) over the next seven years. Boris Johnson said the latest cuts, from TfL's annual budget of £9bn, would deliver 'value for money'. But RMT general secretary Bob Crow countered: 'With the Tube lurching from crisis to crisis it defies belief that Boris Johnson and his officials are jacking up their cuts target from £5bn to £7.6bn. These new cuts will drag the underground even deeper into the spiral of decline with breakdowns, failures and disruption a daily fact of life.' He added: 'We can expect a threat to hundreds more jobs while maintenance takes another hit, turning the underground into a death trap and a criminals' paradise. Security and safety will be compromised in the run up to the Olympics and RMT is demanding a halt to this cuts carnage beneath the London streets out into the suburbs before it is too late.'
A civil servant who suffered a serious knee injury when a faulty lift at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) went into free fall has received a £16,500 out-of-court payout. PCS member Velma Williams, 61, was terrified when the lift in the MoD's Defence Geographic Centre in Feltham fell out of control from the third floor. An inspection report showed that the lift had previously had 43 faults but was not replaced. The MoD finally had it refurbished after Mrs Williams' ordeal. She and a colleague were using the lift when it suddenly went into free fall. The lift bounced off a safety beam three times before finally coming to a standstill. The impact caused Mrs Williams to suffer a serious knee injury, which needed an operation and means she can no longer play golf or do aerobics. She also suffered whiplash. The security operator was forced to take two months off work whilst she recovered from knee surgery. On returning to work she suffered from panic attacks when using lifts. Investigations for a PCS backed compensation claim revealed the lift had a long list of previous problems and was often out of action. Thompsons argued that the MoD should have done more to make sure the lift was in good working order. The MoD admitted liability and settled the claim. Mrs Williams, who had worked for the MoD for 22 years, said she felt 'this accident has aged me rapidly', adding: 'I didn't think the lift was going to stop. It was a relief when it hit the beam but the impact was excruciating and each time it rose back up I knew that it was going to drop hit again.' PCS safety officer Carl Banks commented: 'Health and safety is under serious threat because of the cuts and a lack of political will, but as an employer the government should learn the lessons of this accident. Cutting health and safety corners not only risks lives, but it's also expensive. Had the MoD made more effort to ensure this lift was working correctly this terrifying accident could have been avoided.'
Government changes to the compensation system will deny thousands of sick and injured workers access to justice, unions and legal experts have warned. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told the Commons this week that lawyers would no longer be able to claim 'success fees' from the losing side, and should instead receive a share of the damages. 'We are trying to deliver a civil justice system which is more equitable, accessible and just,' Mr Clarke told MPs. The government says it hopes the changes will act as a disincentive to anyone bringing 'spurious cases'. The proposals follow a review carried out by Lord Justice Jackson in 2010 at the request of the previous government. But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This review has nothing to do with justice, it is simply lining the pockets of insurers at the expense of claimants seeking compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of others. This is yet another attempt to reduce the rights of those at work to secure justice when employers break the law.' Tom Jones of leading claimant law firm Thompsons said lawyers would turn down more cases as a result of the changes. He added: 'This is the dawn of access to limited justice for the lucky few. Insurers will save tens of millions of pounds whilst injured people who have a valid claim but one that isn't absolutely open and shut, will be unable to find a lawyer able to help them. The lucky ones who can find a lawyer will be hit by deductions from their damages.' And Andrew Tucker, head of personal injury for Irwin Mitchell, said it was 'bleak day for access to justice', adding: 'Our own research shows that just under half of people (47 per cent) would not bring a valid claim for compensation if they thought that they would have to pay some of the legal costs. The proposals favour the defendant over the consumer and are a serious backward step.'
A compensation payout to a roofer severely injured in a workplace fall will fund an intensive rehabilitation and physiotherapy programme. Timothy Kirk, 42, fell 45 feet through a skylight while at work. He was knocked unconscious and left in a coma for 11 days after the incident in October 2000, which happened when Mr Kirk stepped on a concealed skylight unable to hold his weight. His son was unable to recognise him a month after the fall because of the extent of his injuries. Mr Kirk suffered a fractured pelvis, fractured femur and numerous head and facial injuries. He also had to undergo a tracheotomy to aid his breathing, as well as three operations on his stomach to reduce internal injuries. He now has difficulty walking. Mr Kirk received a £340,000 out-of-court settlement from his employer, R&K Ward Roofing Contractors Ltd, to help cover his ongoing physiotherapy and lost earnings. David Urpeth, head of workplace injuries at the law firm Irwin Mitchell, and who represented the injured worker, said: 'After the suffering Mr Kirk had gone through, it was crucial that he was able to access the care he needed in order to help him recover and rebuild his life. He has been left unable to work, and is only able to walk by using walking sticks and it was vitally important for his future life that he received the most comprehensive medical treatment possible for his many injuries.' He added: 'He has undergone extensive physiotherapy and is receiving specialist care and rehabilitation, and hopefully with this expert help will make a huge difference to his recovery and quality of life.'
A UK offshore worker with US multinational Transocean has received a £160,000 payout because he is at a disadvantage in the labour market after being injured on a rig. Martin Brand, 27, had two fingers partially amputated in May 2006 after his right hand was crushed while working on a semi submersible rig in the North Sea. Transocean, which an official report this year found shared responsibility for the US Deepwater Horizon disaster which killed 11 workers (Risks 489), admitted liability in this case. In his judgment at Edinburgh's Court of Session, Lord McEwan said: 'I am satisfied in this case that he must receive an award to recognise that if he loses his present position he will be at a great disadvantage in the labour market.' He said the injury victim 'made light of the very severe and disfiguring injury to his right hand.' Following the incident, Mr Brand returned to work offshore as a trainee driller but due to his injury returned to work onshore. He went into human resources with his employer and was later posted to Angola on a contract. In September 2010, offshore union RMT accused Transocean of compromising safety in the North Sea by 'bullying, harassment and intimidation' of its staff (Risks 473).
An RAF corporal who was left with a devastating degenerative neurological condition after he was exposed to dangerous toxins while working in 'Victorian conditions' is being forced to again defend his case for compensation, this time in the Court of Appeal. Shaun Wood, 52, was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy-P (MSAP), a Parkinson's-type condition that affects the nervous system, after exposure to a 'lethal cocktail' of solvents as a painter and finisher at RAF sites across the world. There is no cure for the condition, which has left him needing to use a wheelchair. Last year the High Court upheld his claims that he was exposed to dangerous chemicals at work and they caused this condition (Risks 457). Now the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is appealing the decision. Shaun said: 'I have been fighting for compensation for 18 years and I don't intend to give up now.' Representing Mr Wood, Andrew McDonald from Thompsons Solicitors said: 'It beggars belief that the MoD are again doing their very best to deny Mr Wood compensation. We remain optimistic that the judgment will be upheld and that Shaun will receive the compensation to which he is entitled as a result of the MoD's breach of their legal duty.' At earlier hearings, the level of Shaun's exposure to toxins during the first Gulf War was shown to have been between 10 and 20 times the recommended maximum exposure levels. The MoD accepted it had breached its duty of care in exposing Shaun to the toxins and by failing to provide him with any adequate protective equipment or ventilation but tried to argue that this exposure hadn't caused Shaun's condition. Now the MoD is appealing on the grounds that there was an error in relation to the diagnosis of Mr Wood's condition that there was an error in finding that his condition was caused by exposure to solvents and there was an error in 'implicitly' finding that the causative exposure happened after May 1987.
Managers of UK oil multinational BP could face manslaughter charges when prosecutors in the United States finally conclude their criminal investigation into the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 rig workers and triggered the worst oil spill in US history. The possibility that these and other charges may now be on the table at the US Justice Department, first reported by Bloomberg News, put new pressure on the shares of the energy giant. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not identify those managers at risk of individual charges. Involuntary manslaughter, if proven, could carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison. They also stressed that no decisions had been made and the criminal inquiry is still some way off being wrapped up. Suggestions that prosecutors are also considering opening a perjury investigation implies that investigators are re-examining testimony given by BP executives, including that of former CEO, Tony Hayward, during congressional hearings. A decision to prosecute individuals within BP as well as the company itself would be an unusual step since it is normally the corporations themselves that are targeted. It would be seen as further evidence of the Obama administration's determination to take the toughest line possible with the company and make an example of it in this case. 'They typically don't prosecute employees of large corporations,' noted Jane Barrett, a law professor at the University of Maryland. 'You've got to prosecute the individuals in order to maximise, and not lose, the deterrent effect.'
Workers who were on incapacity benefits prior to controversial new health assessments are being told they must attend training course or lose their payments, the government has said. The new rules, which also apply to job seekers, were announced this week by employment minister Chris Grayling. 'People who are looking for work but are put at a disadvantage by their lack of skills will be given the training they need to improve their prospects of getting a job,' the minister said. 'We want to give people every opportunity to move closer to employment, but those who refuse the offer of help, fail to attend, or don't finish their course could face sanctions. This is part of our new contract with jobseekers - we will give you the right help and support to get you into work and off benefits, but we expect you to play your part.' The new rules will apply to people claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and those in the Work-Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The latter category includes those who had previously been on incapacity benefit and assessed as unfit for work, but who have now been reassessed under a 'flawed' fitness for work assessment system disability campaigns, unions (Risks 494) and the government's own adviser (Risks 491) have warned is seriously dysfunctional.
A Cambridge construction company has been fined after one of its employees suffered severe head injuries which blinded him in one eye. On 3 March 2010, builder and fitter John Ingram was working outside on a project to refurbish an agricultural building in Hertfordshire. He was using a tower scaffold erected on top of a freight container and fell to the ground while trying to climb down. Mr Ingram, 55, suffered facial fractures, cuts and bruising and was in a coma for several days. He was unable to work for eight months after the incident and has since only returned to work on a part-time basis. While investigating Mr Ingram's fall, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors found that the internal works on the project had been planned and undertaken safely, with a scissor lift provided to enable employees to work at height - the same had not been provided for the external works. Mr Ingram's employer, structural steel fabricator and cladding contractor Balsham (Buildings) Ltd, appeared at Watford Magistrates' Court this week and admitted to two criminal safety breaches. It was fined £14,000 and £8,832.30 costs. HSE inspector John Berezansky said: 'Incidents like Mr Ingram's fall are entirely avoidable. Falling from height is one of the most obvious and well-known dangers on a construction site. Unfortunately, Mr Ingram is not alone. More than 4,000 British employees suffered serious injury after falling from height in 2008/09.'
A plastics factory has been fined for safety failings after a worker's left hand was severed in a defective mixing machine. Matrix Polymers was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at its factory in Prescot on 2 April 2009. Knowsley Magistrates' Court heard that Gary McKeown, 42, had been emptying plastic granules from a hatch at the bottom of a blender when his hand got caught in rotating parts and was sheared off. Doctors were able to reattach his hand but he lost his fingers and thumb. An HSE investigation found that the locking mechanism on the machine had been broken for more than a year, and that a wire mesh guard over the hatch had been tied back. The safety mechanism should have stopped the machine operating when the guard was not in place. Matrix Polymers pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined £3,500 and ordered to pay £3,500 in costs. Harry Baker, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'This was a devastating, life-changing injury for Mr McKeown who has been unable to return to work for almost two years now due to the trauma he endured.' He added: 'The locking mechanism on the machine had been broken for up to 18 months, but nothing was done by Matrix Polymers to get it repaired. The machine was in use every day, for up to 24 hours a day, so it was almost inevitable that someone would eventually be injured.' HSE says 25 workers were killed and more than 4,000 suffered major injuries in the manufacturing industry in Great Britain last year.
Two aerospace firms have been fined a total of £75,000 after a worker was crushed to death at a Lancashire factory. Allan Sanderson and Gerald Powderley were helping to push a trolley carrying more than two tonnes of steel when it collapsed on them. Both workers were seriously injured and Mr Sanderson, a father of two and grandfather of one, later died in hospital. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Brookhouse Composites Ltd and Brookhouse Tooling Ltd following an investigation into the incident at Holme Mill in Darwen on 17 December 2008. Preston Crown Court heard five workers had been pushing the trolley into a large industrial oven, known as an autoclave, when one of the pedestrian walkway panels under it collapsed. Gerald Powderley, 63, suffered severe injuries and is still undergoing treatment. He broke both his legs, his right foot and ankle, and needed skin grafts to his legs. Allan Sanderson, 50, died in hospital the following morning as a result of his injuries. The HSE investigation found that the trolley, which weighed nearly 2.8 tonnes, was not wide enough to fit on both the load-bearing rails inside the autoclave. Instead the wheels on the right-hand side of the trolley were rolled along the pedestrian walkway in between the rails. Speaking after the hearing, Mr Sanderson's widow, Lorraine, said: 'I find it difficult coming to terms with the fact that Allan went to work one day but never came home.' She added: I've lost my husband and our two children have lost their dad but I also feel Allan was cheated out of the life he wanted to live. Our little family unit that we worked on for 29 years is gone forever." Brookhouse Composites Ltd, now trading as Kaman Composites-UK Ltd, was fined £50,000 with £35,000 costs for two criminal safety breaches. Brookhouse Tooling Ltd, now trading as Kaman Tooling Ltd, was fined £25,000 and costs of £35,000 for a criminal safety offence.
A plant hire company and a construction services firm have been fined for exposing employees and members of the public to asbestos at a London block of flats. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Mansell Construction Services Ltd and subcontractor Woodlands Plant Hire Ltd failed to properly manage asbestos during a flat refurbishment job in December 2009. During the work in an occupied London Borough of Hackney block of flats, asbestos insulation board was disturbed and removed by unlicensed contractor, Woodlands Plant Hire Ltd, potentially releasing the deadly substance into the air. A previous survey, identifying the presence of asbestos insulation board in a number of the properties, had been provided to Mansell, but had not been acted upon or passed to their subcontractors. Mansell pleaded guilty and was fined £50,000 at the Old Bailey for breaching the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations. Woodlands Plant Hire pleaded guilty of breaching the Control of Asbestos Regulations, and was fined £50,000. The companies were ordered to pay joint costs of £20,690. HSE inspector Dominic Ellis said: 'Despite recent high profile campaigns on the dangers of working with asbestos, this case sadly illustrates some companies are still failing to manage the risks robustly.' He added: 'Mansell had information that asbestos was present, yet neglected to act on it, meaning a licensable asbestos material was removed in an uncontrolled manner, needlessly risking the health of contractors and members of the public.'
A Telford construction firm has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a man shattered his wrist when he fell from a youth centre roof in Solihull. Dodd Group (Midlands) Ltd's employee Matthew Dutton fell more than four metres from the unprotected edge of a flat roof. Solihull Magistrates' Court heard the 36-year-old and a colleague had been moving a piece of silver ducting up a ladder to the roof on 12 November 2009 when he fell. He shattered his wrist, where two bones disintegrated, and he will never regain full use of his hand. He also suffered concussion, a black eye and other facial injuries and was off work for four months. The HSE investigation found that the company had failed to plan a safe system of work, assess the risk, supervise Mr Dutton adequately or provide any safety barriers or other means to prevent a fall. Dodd Group (Midlands) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £20,000 and £3,511 in costs. HSE inspector Paul Thompson said: 'This entirely preventable incident is a very sad consequence of Dodd Group Midlands' failure to plan and execute a safe system of work. If the company had taken proper precautions, both while the work was in the planning stage and when the work was being undertaken, Mr Dutton's fall and resulting injuries could have been completely avoided.'
On 25 March 1911, 146 garment workers died in an inferno at a New York factory. Nearly a century later, the same abuses led to another inferno and the deaths of 29 workers in Bangladesh garment factory supplying major US retailers. In a statement to mark the centenary of the New York fire, Patrick Itschert, general secretary of ITGLWF, the global union for the sector, drew parallels between New York City's Triangle Shirtwaist fire and the 14 December 2010 Hameem garment factory in an industrial zone of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He said 'at the Triangle shirtwaist factory in New York City, 146 workers died because greedy factory owners violated workers' basic rights and ignored health and safety regulations, and the authorities turned a blind eye to these violations. When a fire broke out on the ninth floor it spread quickly across an overcrowded factory floor. Young women workers scrambled to escape and found only locked or inadequate exits. Firefighters were powerless to help because their ladders couldn't reach beyond the fifth floor.' He added: 'Nearly one hundred years later, in December 2010, the exact same scene was repeated at the Hameem factory in Dhaka, leaving 29 workers dead. Nor is Hameem an isolated incident in the Bangladesh garment industry. Over the past five years alone, some 150 workers have died in factory disasters in the garment industry in the country. Similar tragedies have occurred elsewhere throughout the global garment industry, notably in China and Thailand. All of these tragedies are eerily similar and all could have been prevented by safe working practices. The ITGLWF is calling on employers, governments and brands to protect worker safety and to ensure that where workers are injured or killed, adequate compensation is paid.' The union leader concluded: 'The Triangle factory led to rapid growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union and the introduction of tougher new laws. In Bangladesh and elsewhere, workers continue to be denied the right to organise and bargain collectively and are thus being denied the right to play a role in promoting health and safety. We must learn from the legacy of the Triangle factory fire and ensure this changes.'
In Swaziland, a country where human and trade union rights are wanting, health and safety conditions at workplaces 'remain worrying' in the construction sector, according to BWI. The global union federation for the sector cites the secretary general of the Swaziland construction union, Mtshali Selby, as proof. He sums it up simply: 'We are still using socks instead of gloves'. According to BWI, in this high risk sector it 'is no surprise that lack of trade unions rights has created a gap for employers not to provide personal protective equipment.' The message is reiterated by Zodwa Lukhele, the education coordinator of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU). 'Most of the construction workers are not aware of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the role of OHS safety representatives,' she says. BWI has been supporting the Swaziland Forestry Union (SAPAWU) on training and safety issues.
The world's largest retailer has lost its challenge to a $7,000 fine following the death of shopworker in a customer stampede, after spending $2 million fighting the penalty and sapping thousands of hours of time that safety officials could have spent making workplaces safer. A ruling last week by chief administrative law judge Covette Rooney of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) upheld the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citation and full penalty issued to Wal-Mart Stores Inc for inadequate crowd management following the November 2008 trampling death of Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old worker at one of the company's retail locations in New York (Risks 385). The death occurred as shoppers surged into the store on 'Black Friday', the USA's biggest sales day. Welcoming the decision, OSHA head David Michaels said the 'ruling supports OSHA's position that, even in the absence of a specific rule or standard, employers are still legally responsible for providing a place of employment free of recognised hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death. If not properly managed by retailers, a large crowd poses a significant threat to the lives of workers and customers.' In fighting the fine, the maximum allowed for the violation, Wal-Mart asserted that OSHA was wrongly seeking to define 'crowd trampling' as an occupational hazard that retailers must take action to prevent. OSHA said during the course of its investigation, Wal-Mart implemented crowd control measures across its stores, and the National Retail Federation also promoted the new practices to its members.
Four miners died on last week at Zambia's Nchanga open pit mine, owned by London-listed Vedanta Resources. The Nchanga open pit mine is operated by Vedanta's Zambian unit Konkola Copper Mines. The country's mines minister said production was not impacted because the site was not yet pulling copper out of the ground. 'I have just been informed about the accident which happened at a new project site. It has not affected output because the site is under construction,' mines minister Maxwell Mwale said. Media coverage made no mention of the human casualties. In August last year, Vedanta Resources was stripped of a British Safety Council (BSC) international safety award after it was revealed it had not declared at least 40 workers died in a chimney collapse on 23 September 2009 at one of its sites in India (Risks 472).
The scientists, engineers and specialists union Prospect has produced a short, very handy guide to health and safety mapping in the workplace. The union's 'factguard' includes how-to pointers, good graphics and case histories of bodymapping and workplace mapping in practice. According to Prospect: 'This factcard introduces mapping techniques: some simple steps you can take to unearth the health hazards in your workplace or business area. The technique is supported by the TUC and Health and Safety Executive and has been validated and published in peer-reviewed journals.' The approach, introduced to the UK and several other countries by the trade union-backed health and safety magazine Hazards, is used by unions working with members to identify and remedy workplace health and safety problems.
COURSES FOR APRIL 2011 TO JUNE 2011
Newsletter (5,500 words) issued 1 Apr 2011
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