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The London Olympics next year should be 'sweat free', a campaign coalition has said. Playfair 2012, which brings together unions and campaigning groups, this week called on International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to ensure all workplaces in the many Olympic and sportswear supply chains are free from poverty wages, insecure employment and excessive hours, and that the workers are allowed to join unions. IOC members were in London this week for a two-day board meeting on the London Games. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber handed the IOC representatives letters from trade unionists around the globe calling for fair treatment for workers producing Olympic merchandise. The campaigners want the IOC to include a clause in the Olympic charter and in its code of ethics ensuring that all companies involved in the manufacture of sportswear and other Olympic branded products do not exploit or abuse their workforce. They warn that workers in China, Indonesia and Turkey who were employed to make goods for previous Games complained of extreme pressure to meet production quotas, dangerous working conditions, extremely long hours and low wages. TUC's Brendan Barber said: 'We want British sports fans who are applying for tickets to Olympic events in 2012 to be able to do so safe in the knowledge that no worker has suffered making any sportswear or merchandise going on sale between now and next summer.' He added: 'There has been exploitation and ill-treatment in the run up to every previous Olympic Games, and we fear that such abuses are unlikely to have disappeared completely. Only the IOC can stop those abuses for good, and we want them to put the Olympic ideal of fair play into practice in their code of ethics.'
The decision by a major rail contractor to slash jobs will jeopardise safety and standards, rail union RMT has warned. The union was speaking out after contractor Thales revealed it is to cut 80 members of staff from its workforce. The union says this, on top of hundreds of jobs 'already slashed from the tracks', makes 'a mockery of government claims to be investing in rail infrastructure'. Thales has blamed the job cuts, which will take effect at the end of June, on a 'number of business challenges' and a drop in orders. Workers could be affected at a number of depots, including York, Ashford, Glasgow and Edinburgh. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This latest hammer blow to the UK rail industry, adding to hundreds of jobs that have already been lost, makes a mockery of the government's claims to be investing in our railways. These are skilled workers who face the prospect of being dumped on the dole because of the shambolic and disjointed management of the UK's rail infrastructure.' He added: 'These cuts will mean that essential works at the heart of delivering a safe railway are shelved or scrapped with potentially dire consequences for the travelling public.'
Tube union RMT has served notice on London Underground (LU) it intends to ballot for strike action in an escalation of on-going disputes over the victimisation of union activists. One of the affected members, Tube driver Eamon Lynch, is the RMT Bakerloo Line drivers' health and safety rep. He was sacked by LU, but remains on full pay following the union's victory on Eamon's behalf at an 'interim relief' Employment Tribunal hearing (Risks 487). The union says the company has subsequently 'shown total contempt for the Tribunal process' by upholding his dismissal. It adds that interim relief 'is only ever granted where there is the clearest possible evidence that an employee has been dismissed on the grounds of their trade union activities.' RMT adds another victimised Tube rep, Arwyn Thomas, was also granted interim relief at a tribunal. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the victimisation formed part of a cuts strategy employed by Tube bosses 'to attack and victimise union representatives and activists in an effort to try and bulldoze through their de-staffing plans across London Underground.' He added: 'The attack on Eamon Lynch and Arwyn Thomas is the clearest cut case of victimisation on the grounds of trade union activities that you will ever see and it's no wonder that the Employment Tribunal was swift to see through the management lies and grant both these members 'Interim Relief' - an award which requires the strongest possible proof that their sackings were down to their union activities. Eamon and Arwyn have been victimised for fighting cuts to jobs and services that would turn the Tube into a death trap. We are balloting all of our drivers to send out the clearest signal that workers who stand up for tube safety will get the full support of RMT members.' The ballot will close on 27 April 2011.
The Health and Safety Executive is moving away from a dedicated mission seeking 'the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities' and adopting a new plan that also aims to 'enable innovation that brings economic growth'. In a preamble to its new work plan, HSE chair Judith Hackitt says the changes have been driven by the government's new safety strategy. This has slashed HSE's budget, down from £227.7m in 2009/10 to £198.7m by 2011/12, and demanded a dramatic cutback in inspection activity (Risks 499). The HSE chair notes: 'Change is never easy, but standing still is not an option.' In response to the new government safety strategy, Hackitt says HSE's Delivery Plan for 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012 outlines the steps the safety watchdog will take to 'enable innovation that brings economic growth while ensuring that risks are managed properly and proportionately'. The plans are grouped under four main headings: Transforming our approach; Avoiding catastrophe; Clarifying ownership of risk and improving compliance; and Securing justice. Critics say there's plenty of government departments and agencies promoting business innovation and growth, but only one intended to have protecting the life and limb of the workforce as its sole concern.
Regulations on the design and management of construction projects are cost-effective and beneficial, research for the Health and Safety Executive has found. Over two-thirds of firms questioned (69 per cent) in the evaluation of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM 2007) said the benefits of the regulations were 'moderate' or 'better than moderate'. Almost nine out of 10 (86 per cent) rated the costs of the regulations as 'low', 'low to moderate' or 'moderate'. And almost all firms responding said the law was an improvement (87 per cent) and they clearly understood its requirements (96 per cent).Most of the respondents (85 per cent) also agreed the regulations assist in managing health and safety. The pilot evaluation found 'positive signs' the regulation were meeting their five key objectives, with evidence of three being met and two being partially met.
A former top director in the power industry is to head the new nuclear safety watchdog. Nick Baldwin has been named as chair of the new Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), established this week as an agency of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE says ONR will bring together the relevant nuclear regulatory functions of HSE's Nuclear Directorate and the Department for Transport. It adds the organisation 'will ensure that those authorised to carry out nuclear activities, in both the civil and defence sectors, do so in a safe way - from power stations and radioactive waste to transport of materials and submarines.' ONR staff will also regulate the security of civilian nuclear installations. Announcing the appointment, HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: 'The safety of nuclear power is more in people's thoughts now than it has been at any time for the last 25 years - ONR has an important job to do in ensuring that operators in the UK uphold the highest standards of safety.'Nick Baldwin said he looked forward to playing a part in creating an independent regulator 'that delivers our mission of protecting people and society from the hazards of the nuclear industry.' He was until recent months a director of Scottish and Southern Energy, a power firm with no interests in nuclear power. Baldwin is the former chief executive of Powergen and E.ON - which is now part of Horizon Nuclear Power, one of the major players developing new nuclear power plants in the UK. The government's decision to keep ONR within HSE was welcomed by unions (Risks 493).
Executives at Transocean, the multinational offshore drilling contractor at the centre of last year's deadly Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, have said they will give away bonuses they got for the company's 'exemplary' safety record that year. The decision came just days after the company disclosed the bonuses deep in a submission to a regulator, triggering intense criticism. The safety bonuses covered the period that included the April 2010 explosion on Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and spilled 200 million gallons of oil (Risks 495). The company said last week most senior managers were given two-thirds of their total possible safety bonus for the year. Transocean noted 'the tragic loss of life' in the Gulf when the rig operated by BP PLC exploded last April. But it said the company still had an 'exemplary' safety record because it met or exceeded certain internal safety targets concerning the frequency and severity of its accidents, according to the filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Safety accounted for a quarter of the executives' total cash bonuses. The total bonus for CEO Steve Newman last year was $374,062. However, after a storm of criticism, Newman and four other executives said they would donate safety bonuses worth more than $250,000 to the Deepwater Horizon Memorial Fund, set up by Transocean for the victims' families. 'The executive team made this decision because we believe it is the right thing to do,' Newman said, adding 'it was never our intent to diminish the effect the... tragedy has had on those who lost loved ones.' He said: 'We offer our most sincere apologies and we regret the impact this matter has had on the entire Transocean family.' In September 2010, UK offshore union RMT accused Transocean of compromising safety in the North Sea by 'bullying, harassment and intimidation' of its staff (Risks 473).
Clocking up extra hours at work can increase markedly the risk of heart disease, UK researchers have found. The research team from University College London warned people who work an 11-hour day compared with those who work a standard seven or eight hours increase their risk of heart disease by 67 per cent. The findings, reported on 5 April in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are based on the ongoing 'Whitehall' study of 7,095 civil service employees whose health they have been tracking since 1985. They suggest GPs should now be asking their patients about working hours. Lead researcher Professor Mika Kivimäki said: 'Considering that including a measurement of working hours in a GP interview is so simple and useful, our research presents a strong case that it should become standard practice.' He added: 'This new information should help improve decisions regarding medication for heart disease. It could also be a wake-up call for people who overwork themselves, especially if they already have other risk factors.' Over the course of the 11-year study, 192 of the participants suffered a heart attack. People who worked 11 hours or more a day were more than half as likely again to have a heart attack than those who worked shorter hours. Professor Stephen Holgate of the Medical Research Council (MRC), which part-funded the investigation, said: 'This study might make us think twice about the old adage 'hard work won't kill you'. Tackling lifestyles that are detrimental to health is a key area for the MRC, and this research reminds us that it's not just diet and exercise we need to think about.'
Unions and disability groups have warned a nationwide crackdown on incapacity benefit claimants will leave vulnerable people in danger. The one-and-a-half million people who claim incapacity benefit started to receive letters this week requiring them to be tested on their ability to work. The new assessments, which we take place at a rate of 10,000 every week, are part of government plans to reduce the number of long-term claimants in a rolling programme through to 2014. Those deemed unable to work because of sickness or disability will be entitled to the highest rate of employment and support allowance (ESA), and will not be expected to look for work. A middle section - those who have been long-term unemployed but judged capable of doing some form of work - will receive benefits, but be placed in a 'work-related activity group'. The remainder would lose disability-related benefits. Unions and campaigners have warned repeatedly the work capability assessments (WCA) on which decisions are made are rushed and flawed (Risks 500). STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: 'The government is pushing ahead with plans to subject tens of thousands of people to work capability assessments, a process that is deeply flawed, is operated in draconian fashion and places many thousands of vulnerable people in danger.' These concerns were echoed by disability groups. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, commented: 'The government's fitness for work test provides no information on the barriers that prevent individuals' moving into work, making it highly likely that they end up on the wrong benefit and unable to access to help they need. The high number of successful appeals against WCA decisions further underlines its inadequacy.'
Scotland's record on workplace injuries is due for a 'thorough investigation,' MPs have said. The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee this week launched an inquiry into the country's poor health and safety record, amidst concerns about the impact of government cuts on safety. In 2009/10, there were 0.9 fatalities in Scotland per 100,000 employees compared with 0.4 per 100,000 for England and Wales. Last month, employment minister Chris Grayling announced an unprecedented reduction in the number of workplace safety inspections, an end to proactive inspections for the majority of firms and new quickie risk assessments for millions of businesses (Risks 499). Committee chair Ian Davidson said it was of great concern that Scottish figures for workplace deaths and serious accidents were substantially higher than in England and Wales. A report by the National Audit Office (NAO), prepared ahead of the inquiry, found that HSE does not have an accurate record of the outcomes for each of the cases it referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), which deals with workplace safety prosecutions in Scotland. As a consequence, it cannot determine the conviction rate in Scotland. HSE recommended 43 cases for prosecution in Scotland in 2009/10, only just over half the level in the preceding two years. There was also a reduction in the proportion of major injury cases investigated in Scotland, from 11 per cent of cases in 2007/08 to 6 per cent of cases in 2009/10. According to the NAO, the HSE holds no information on what impact these reductions have had on safety. The committee is expected to examine the effectiveness of the relationships between the COPFS, the HSE, the Scottish government, local authorities, and other relevant bodies. Ian Davidson said: 'This is the launch of what we hope will be a very thorough investigation of the hazards faced by workers in Scotland. Every death or serious injury is a human tragedy and we want to work with both sides of industry and the HSE to see what could be done to reduce this toll.'
A property developer has received community service and a suspended prison sentence after ordering the unsafe removal of asbestos from a former nightclub in Wrexham. Michael Murton, 35, admitted removing the asbestos from Scott's nightclub, endangering workers and the public. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) called it a 'serious incident.' Judge Philip Hughes, sitting at Mold Crown Court, said it was clear high levels of asbestos contamination were present inside and outside the building. Contaminated material was dry-scraped by the defendant and his workers creating large quantities of dust. 'The toxic material was simply disposed of down a chute out of an upstairs window to an unsealed skip on the ground below,' he said. 'The risk to health was extended to the street outside and therefore to members of the public.' Murton, who admitted removing the materials without necessary safeguards, received a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months. He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service and to pay costs of £10,000 over two years. The penalties related to criminal breaches of asbestos, environmental and hazardous waste regulations. HSE, which brought the prosecution, was alerted when fire proofing was removed from the building in February 2010. Specialists were drafted in to seal the site and make it safe in a clean-up operation costing more than £200,000. The removal of all the asbestos will cost an additional £70,000. The fibre levels were found to be up to 1,000 fibres per millilitre - about 10,000 times the control limit. After sentencing, HSE inspector Debbie John said: 'This is a serious incident and one that could have easily been avoided.'
A man employed by a multibillion pound minerals multinational was seriously injured when he was drawn into machinery used to flatten bags. China clay company IMERYS Minerals Ltd pleaded guilty to a charge brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after failing to ensure the safety of staff engaged in manually loading bags onto conveyors at the European Milling Centre site at Par Docks. The company was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £45,124 at Truro Crown Court after admitting a criminal breach of safety law. The prosecution followed an incident on 14 August 2008, when Gerald Dahlstrom, then 45, was loading bags of china clay onto a conveyor belt. He was drawn into a six inch gap between the conveyor and another belt mounted above, a system intended to flatten bags of china clay. He suffered multiple injuries including serious head, shoulder and chest injuries. He was off work for over a year and is still suffering from the effects of the incident. After the hearing, HSE inspector Jo Fitzgerald said: 'The serious injuries suffered by Gerry Dalhstrom could easily have been avoided by Imerys if they had carried out an assessment and looked at the risks being taken by employees at the site. All employers have a duty to manage health and safety properly and protect their staff as far as possible.' The firm's global parent company, Imerys Group, had sales in the region of £3 billion last year.
Supermarket firm Tesco has fined £48,000 for safety shortcomings and failing to report injuries to staff. Bracknell Forest Council prosecuted the multi-million company at Bracknell Magistrates' Court for a string of health and safety offences. The charges related to the unloading and loading of vehicles at its Warfield store and failing to properly report three staff injuries at two different stores in the Bracknell Forest area. Tesco admitted the charges and was fined a total of £48,000 plus £25,000 in legal costs. Safety inspectors from the council found Tesco has poor safety systems for loading and unloading of vehicles and inadequately trained and supervised staff. The company also failed on three occasions in less than a year to notify the council of legally reportable injuries to employees Michael Cooper, Anne Edmunds and Vishnu Parupati. David Steeds, head of environmental health at the council, said: 'I'm pleased Tesco admitted the charges in court and that the magistrates sitting agreed the charges were serious enough to warrant a £48,000 fine plus £25,000 costs. I hope this sends a warning to all companies that health and safety measures should be in place and followed or else we will prosecute them on behalf of the welfare of their staff.' Tesco had sales of over £62 billion in 2010.
A Cheshire motor component manufacturer has been fined after a worker was injured when a 31-tonne load was dropped from an overhead crane. Mitras Automotive (UK) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at its factory in Winsford on 21 May 2009. Chester Crown Court heard that Andrew Burrell and two other employees were working the night shift when chains on the overhead crane gave way. Part of the crane was pulled from roof mountings and fell nearly five metres to the ground. The crane's hook landed on Mr Burrell's left leg, shattering his thigh bone. The 43-year-old had to have a metal rod inserted in his leg as a result of his injuries. His two colleagues escaped unharmed. A subsequent HSE investigation found the chains were only designed to lift a maximum of 17 tonnes - just over half the weight of the load - and the crane itself was only capable of lifting a 27-tonne load. Mitras Automotive (UK) Ltd admitted failing to ensure the lifting capacity of the chains was clearly marked, and failing to look after the safety of its workers. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £8,792 in prosecution costs for criminal breaches of safety law. Martin Paren, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'It's incredible no one was killed. Mitras regularly expected its workers to lift loads well over the lifting capacities of both the chains and the overhead crane.' He added: 'Lifting capacities exist for a reason and it's vital that manufacturers who use overhead cranes make sure employees aren't put a risk from falling loads.'
An inquest jury has returned a verdict of unlawful killing into the death of a farmworker who was crushed by a tractor with a defective handbrake. Father-of-four Tom Phizacklea, 33, was pinned by the wheel of a tractor and a mound at Aurora Park Farm, Scales, near Ulverston on 2 July 2009. Police forensic vehicle examiner PC Shaun McKeown said the maintenance of the tractor at the farm, co-owned by Stuart Webster, was 'very poor'. Health and Safety Executive inspector Peter Hamer agreed that the maintenance of the tractor was poor. The inquest heard Mr Phizacklea had left the vehicle running when he got out at a fuel tank to refuel, but the handbrake was well worn and did not click to secure. The trailer was on a slight incline and on the edge of a puddle which increased the momentum of the vehicle. PC McKeown said the handbrake problem was 'historic' and the total weight of the tractor and trailer and contents could have been seven or eight tons. Mr Phizacklea's widow, Laura, was in tears as she gave evidence. 'He used to complain quite a lot that the machinery was not very good,' she told the inquest. HSE's Peter Hamer said that maintenance of vehicles at the farm was 'reactive rather than proactive'. The jury forewoman returned the unlawful killing verdict. She said: 'The deceased was crushed by the tractor which had not been stationed correctly due to a defective handbrake. There is no clear evidence that the tractor involved had been maintained adequately.'
The 'abusive' behaviour of Chinese firms operating in Africa has stirred new controversy in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Prosecutors in Zambia this week announced they had dropped all charges against two Chinese managers accused of attempted murder for the shooting and wounding of 11 coal miners during a protest over pay. The shootings last year at the Collum Mine, about 325 km south of the capital Lusaka, sparked public outrage (Risks 479). Chinese companies have not enjoyed an easy ride in Zambia, where workers, unions and opposition politicians frequently accuse them of abuses. In 2005, five Zambians were shot and wounded by managers during pay-related riots at another Chinese-owned mine. Concerns have also been raised in Zimbabwe. Last month, government minister Samuel SipepaNkomo condemned poor working conditions and abuse of employees by a Chinese contractor, China Nanchang, working on the Mtshabezi-Umzingwane dams link pipeline. He was speaking after the death of worker Charles Moyoin a trench cave-in, and complaints by some of the workers that company officials in charge of the project were abusive. Moyo's colleagues told local media the company exposed them to dangerous working conditions and made them work without protective clothing. One worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NewsDay: 'At times we do rock-blasting without any form of protective clothing. Some even work without shoes. A number have sustained cuts on their hands from carrying fragments of rocks with bare hands while others have sustained various injuries because we are not given any form of protective clothing.'
New penalties for workplace bullying to be introduced by an Australian state government have been welcomed by unions - but they are warning employers must be accountable for providing safe workplaces in which bullying does not occur in the first place. Ged Kearney, president of the national union federation ACTU, said employers, governments and workers had a shared responsibility to make workplaces safe, secure and free of harassment. She added that the new Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act, to be introduced this week in the state of Victoria, was an important signal and would mean bullies could face up to 10 years' jail. 'These laws will hopefully help deter people from undesired behaviour but it shouldn't suggest to employers that it's no longer their job to provide a safe workplace for all employees,' Ms Kearney said. 'Every workplace should have policies and procedures to deal with bullying and harassment, as it's essential for employers to provide a safe and harassment-free environment for all their workers.' Ms Kearney said she hoped the increased penalties would deter people from bullying, but she wanted the government to also send a strong message to employers that holding individual bullies to account would not absolve workplaces of their obligations.'Bullying is a scourge in the workplace which unions are determined to wipe it out,' she said. 'We must all work together to stop it occurring, but employers cannot shirk their responsibility and turn a blind eye.' The union leader concluded: 'Ultimate responsibility for providing a safe workplace is with the employer and in no way should new laws absolve them of that responsibility, or of their liability. Criminal sanctions alone will not necessarily change a poisonous workplace culture.' The law, which only applies in the state of Victoria, was introduced after the suicide of 19-year-old BrodiePanlock, a waitress who jumped to her death from a building after being bulled in the café where she worked.
The family of a worker who died of a stroke can receive industrial disaster compensation since his death was caused by stress arising from a warning of dismissal, a court has ruled. The man, who had worked at the fish processing company since 1998, collapsed at work and died from a cerebral haemorrhage in 2008. Court officials gave his surname as 'Ji', but did not give further details of his identity. After his death, his family requested the state-run Korea Workers' Compensation and Welfare Service recognise the case as an occupational death, which would mean they qualified for related medical expenses. They said he died from stress as a result of his employer threatening to fire him after he saw Ji arguing with a colleague. The claim was turned down, but the family appealed to the Seoul Administrative Court. This recognised the link between his disease and stress at work, noting Ji died the day after receiving the job threat. Medical evidence was supportive. Reports said the fatal stroke was caused by a sudden jump in blood pressure believed to be linked to emotional stress, not to chronic disease. 'Because his employer warned him that he would be fired if he kept having quarrels, he is believed to have come under much pressure and stress,' the presiding judge Kim Do-kyun ruled. 'The court acknowledges a causal relationship between his disease and work.' In 2003, UK trade union health and safety magazine Hazards warned that heart attack, suicide and stroke would be major 21st century work-related killers (Risks 118).
A year after the deadly blast at a West Virginia coal mine that killed 29 miners (Risks 451), the USA's top mine safety official called for tougher laws and bigger penalties for safety violators. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Joe Main told the US Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee: 'No mine operator should be risking the lives of its miners by cutting corners on health and safety. For those operators who do knowingly engage in such practices, we need to send a message that their actions will not be tolerated.' Main also called for stronger protections for miners who speak out about unsafe practices and conditions. 'Miners know best the conditions in their mine. But miners are afraid to speak out because they fear they'll lose their jobs,' he said. After the explosion at the Massey Energy operated Upper Big Branch mine, MSHA increased its enforcement efforts, created new mine safety screening procedures and conducting 228 'impact' inspections at mines with poor safety records or other warning signs of problems. Main urged Congress to give MSHA more authority to shut down problem mines. 'Legislation is still needed to fully protect our nation's miners,' he said. 'This committee has never subscribed to the myth that mining fatalities are an inevitable aspect of the business. I am asking you to again stand up for miners and pass new and needed mine safety legislation.' Republicans voted down a previous effort to introduce improved mine safety laws sought in the wake of the Massey Energy disaster.
Workers' Memorial Day, the annual 28 April event when union and campaigners highlight workplace health and safety, was officially recognised by the government in 2010 and the current government is pledging to promote it. Unions and campaign groups in the UK and globally are now gearing up for the annual event - the world's largest annual health and safety activity.
COURSES FOR APRIL 2011 TO JUNE 2011
Newsletter (5,600 words) issued 8 Apr 2011
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