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More than one hundred events involving thousands of workers took place around Britain to commemorate Workers' Memorial Day. The 28 April event also saw record numbers around the world participate, with over 60 countries having already filed reports. Commemorations were also held throughout England, Scotland and Wales, with well attended events in towns and cities including Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Keighley, Goole, Immingham, Sheffield, Telford, Manchester, Liverpool, Sunderland, Durham, Hartlepool, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff. Unions and campaigners held protests, rallies, marches, wreath-laying ceremonies and observed a minute's silence to mark the event. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey commented: 'As the coalition's cuts to people's living standards become a grim reality and the wave of public sector job losses ebb into homes throughout Britain, never has it been more important to celebrate International Workers' Memorial Day and the achievements hard won over the last century for working people.' UNISON's general secretary, Dave Prentis, who participated in a minute's silence at midday, said: 'The government's cuts will cost lives. Too many workers are still suffering because of workplace injuries, yet the government is adding to the risks by piling pressure on staff and enforcement agencies.' Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, said 'we face a huge challenge as budgetary cuts imposed on the HSE by the coalition government will mean less proactive enforcement will, we believe lead to more accidents, greater risk of exposure to dangerous substances such as asbestos and more incidences of occupational ill health.' GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: 'The road to recognition of Workers' Memorial Day is paved with the broken bones, the blood, shattered lives and premature deaths of thousands of working people.'
Unions and safety campaigners have taken the fight for safer work to the government's doorstep. As part of Workers' Memorial Day activities on 28 April last week (Risks 503), union reps and members of the Hazards Campaign and the Construction Safety Campaign protested outside the London HQ of the Department of Work and Pensions, the government ministry pushing through a dramatic erosion of safety enforcement and rights in the UK. Simon Hester, a union rep with Prospect's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) branch, confronted employment minister Chris Grayling on the DWP steps. He questioned the minister's decision to cut 35 per cent from HSE's budget, a move he said meant inspections on major construction sites would only now take place after a death or serious injury had occurred. The union rep added that workplaces in the public, health, education, local government, transport, quarries and agriculture sectors would also no longer be inspected unannounced. Significant elements of the manufacturing industry will also go without inspections in future, he said. 'The role of the HSE is being undermined,' the Prospect rep said. 'We won't be the last line of defence anymore, we will be coming in to pick up the pieces,' he said. 'If we are going to fight for the living we have to get off our knees and organise.' The visibly shaken minister responded: 'My door is always open.'
The union campaign calling for better working conditions in the tobacco fields of North Carolina took a step forward at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the London-headquartered multinational British American Tobacco (BAT). Union protests at both the 28 April London AGM and in the US led to BAT asking the TUC to organise a meeting, where US unions could get face-to-face with the company's top brass. In the US, national union federation AFL-CIO organised protests outside the UK Embassy and consulates across the USA, and handed in letters calling on the UK government to press BAT to deliver better working conditions. Representatives of TUC, AFL-CIO, the US farmworkers' union FLOC and global foodworkers' union federation IUF were at the London AGM to protest about the conditions facing farmworkers in North Carolina who supply BAT's North American subsidiary, RJ Reynolds, with tobacco leaf. The mostly migrant workforce endures low wages, terrible health and safety risks, and appalling accommodation. BAT claims the absence of a direct employment relationship - farmworkers are employed by growers contracted to the tobacco companies - absolves them of responsibility for or power over the farmworkers' conditions. However ahead of the protests, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez, who presented the London AGM with the key findings of an upcoming human rights study on abuses of workers in the US tobacco supply chain, said: 'We are urging the company to back up its words of support for human rights with monitoring and enforcement. Through its control of Reynolds, BAT has the power and the moral obligation to take action to end these abuses.' Workers suffer from debilitating 'green tobacco sickness', a serious form of nicotine poisoning, and other work-related health problems.
RMT has revealed details of a series of Tube strikes due to start in less than two weeks in defence of two union reps. The union says safety rep Eamon Lynch and fellow union rep Arwyn Thomas were targeted for their trade union activities, after challenging cuts that could turn the underground system into a 'death trap' (Risks 503). The first walkout is planned for 16 May, with another five scheduled over the following month. Transport for London (TfL) has previously denied the two drivers were unfairly dismissed, but both have received 'interim relief' at employment tribunals, something suggesting there is clear evidence the men were victimised for their union activities. RMT has instructed drivers who are members of the union not to turn up for shifts on the six periods in May and June. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'It is the abject failure of London Underground (LU) to recognise that their policy of victimisation of union activists has been well and truly rumbled... that has left us with no choice but to name these dates for strike action.' He said LU should 'accept they have been found out, get these drivers back to work doing the job that they are being paid to do and bring an end to the constant harassment of union activists whose only crime is fighting cuts to jobs and safety.'
Working conditions at Britain's largest greenhouse complex are being investigated by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) after the union Unite claimed agency workers at the vegetable growing site in Kent are being treated like 'sweatshop labour.' Protests organised by the union were held on 28 April outside the Broadstairs branches of Tesco and Marks and Spencer, two of the supermarket chains supplied with vegetables from the 220-acre Thanet Earth. Unite has submitted allegations to the GLA, the body responsible for regulating agency labour practices, including claims that workers have been systematically denied holiday pay, denied work as a result of taking holidays, and been employed for years on a casualised basis without fixed contracts. Thanet Earth, part of the Fresca Group Ltd, grows cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes that are supplied to Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Marks and Spencer. It has been employing more than 250 workers in recent weeks to meet demand. In a statement, Thanet Earth insisted that the agencies supplying its labour were fully audited and licensed by the GLA. The agencies used by Thanet Earth are Kent Staff, HRGO, Worldwide Recruitment and Red Eagle. Unite said the vast majority of the agency workers have no permanent contract, no job security and work through four different agencies in a system of permanent casualisation. Unite regional officer Dave Weeks said: 'We're taking our fight to the top of the food chain - those supermarkets that employ Thanet Earth. They have an obligation to make sure workers who help generate their healthy profits are treated fairly from root to basket. We know that many shoppers think if you buy local you buy ethical - that's the message Thanet Earth might have you believe - but these workers have being treated like sweatshop labour.' Local trades council representative John Flaig added: 'Thanet Earth claims to be green but a green job should be an ethical job, with workers treated with respect.' The GLA is expected to announce its findings in May.
British and French trade unions are to push for improved employment conditions for European nuclear workers at a European Union-funded conference in Paris next month. The GMB and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) have invited major nuclear companies to attend. The Independent reports EDF Energy and RWE, the energy giants planning to lead the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK, are likely to take part. A union source told the newspaper: 'The event should debate a charter about cross-European standards in nuclear. The trade unions want to ensure that employees are treated properly from construction phase through generation and decommissioning of sites.' Pan-European nuclear safety standards are expected to be a major discussion point following the Fukushima plant disaster in Japan. The EU is planning to 'stress test' Europe's nuclear plants by the end of the year to ensure that they are tough enough to withstand major events, including tsunamis. The conference is likely to see the big companies inform unions of outcomes of these stress tests. Amec, the London listed engineer, and Areva, the French nuclear reactor builder, are among the other major nuclear employers likely to attend.
A health and safety review to be completed by the autumn will look at 'easing unnecessary burdens on business.' The terms of reference of the government commission review, to be led by industry-favourite Professor Ragnar Löfstedt of the King's Centre for Risk Management at King's College, London, were published on 20 April. The government says the initiative 'is part of package of changes to Britain's health and safety system to support the government's growth agenda and cut red tape.' These changes include slashing HSE's budget, dramatically decreasing the number of HSE inspections and exempting most businesses from any safety inspections at all. Commenting on the review, employment minister Chris Grayling said: 'By rooting out needless bureaucracy we can encourage businesses to prosper and boost our economy.' Professor Löfstedt's advisory panel includes three MPs, one from each from the main parties, two representatives of industry bodies and just one union voice, Sarah Veale from the TUC. The review will 'explore the scope for consolidating, simplifying or abolishing regulations', but will also 'examine whether a clear link exists between regulation and positive health and safety performance' and will consider if 'lessons can be learned from comparison with health and safety regimes in other countries.' However, none of the 16 Acts 'owned and enforced' by HSE fall under the review team's remit, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 - the big daddy of all workplace safety law - and the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008. One of the two employer reps on the panel is Dr Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). BCC is an avowed opponent of health and safety regulation that has been accused of using 'rigged statistics' together with 'deadly omissions and gobsmacking lies' in its arguments against safety laws (Risks 495). The Löfstedt review is expected to report in the autumn.
The UK version of a European Union-wide law on asbestos safety is to be amended after the European Commission (EC) ruled it is illegally lax. In a 28 April statement to the trade union magazine Hazards, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 'confirmed its agreement' with the EC's finding that the UK had actually under-implemented Europe's asbestos law. Unions had maintained from the outset the UK law fell dangerously short of the legal controls required by a 2003 EC directive 'on the protection of workers from the risks of asbestos.' The February 2011 'reasoned opinion' from the EC, in response to a 2006 complaint from the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association, gave the government two months to amend the law or face possible action at the EU's Court of Justice. In response to an approach from Hazards, HSE issued a statement admitting the UK asbestos law was not good enough. The 28 April statement noted: 'The UK has confirmed its agreement to a reasoned opinion by the European Commission. Discussions are under way with the Commission about next steps.' The EC found the UK had misinterpreted requirements on 'sporadic and low intensity exposure to asbestos' to justify the exclusion of considerable amounts of asbestos work from asbestos licensing, health assessments and exposure recording requirements. Commenting on the original EC reasoned opinion, TUC said it nails the myth the UK 'gold-plates' Euro laws (Risks 487), one of the claims by the government and the business lobby to be examined by the Löfstedt review of health and safety.
Metals multinational ThyssenKrupp, whose top bosses in Italy have just been handed jail terms for murder and manslaughter at a steelworks in the country (Risks 503), are to face Crown Court charges after a death in a UK workplace. On 15 April, Harald Espenhahn was sentenced to 16.5 years in prison for the murder of seven workers in a fire at the German multinational's steel factory in Turin on 6 December 2007. In addition to the jailing of Espenhahn, the company's chief executive officer (CEO) for Italy, five other company officials were convicted on manslaughter charges and sentenced to up to 13.5 years in prison. The company also received a 1 million euro (£885,000) fine. On 27 April, the firm was again before the courts, this time in the UK. At Bishop Auckland Magistrates Court, Thyssenkrupp Tallent Ltd faced criminal charges relating to the death on 8 July 2009 of Paul Clark, 52. He was crushed to death while working alone below ground as he tried to unjam a transport carriage that fed a 20-year-old press at the car parts manufacturer. The Health and Safety Executive, which is bringing the prosecution, issued a prohibition notice after the incident, prohibiting entry to the area. Bishop Auckland magistrates said the case should be heard in the Crown Court, where higher penalties are available. The hearing was adjourned to 25 May for formal committal proceedings. No plea has yet been entered.
A company and a mechanic at a plant hire company have been fined after a forklift truck driver was killed - but those running the firm faced neither a prosecution nor a fine. Morgans Plant Hire Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation into the death of employee Keith Nappin, who died at its site in Thame Road, Buckinghamshire, on 10 April 2007. Aylesbury Magistrates' Court heard 42-year-old Mr Nappin worked as a heavy goods driver for Morgans Plant Hire Ltd. On the day of the incident he was operating a forklift truck, transporting and loading digger buckets onto flatbed lorries, when the forklift overturned and Mr Nappin suffered fatal injuries. The HSE investigation found Morgans Plant Hire Ltd failed to ensure that the forklift truck was in good working order when Mr Nappin came to use it. Company mechanic Matthew Edwards had previously incorrectly modified the brakes on the forklift truck Mr Nappin was operating. Morgans Plant Hire Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £15,000. Mechanic Matthew Edwards pleaded guilty and was fined £2,000 and £2,000 costs. Commenting on the penalties, Hilda Palmer of campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) said: 'It is indisputable that criminal negligence contributed to the tragic death of Keith Nappin. But how could there be sufficient evidence to prosecute a faceless company and one of its employees, but no cause to prosecute those responsible for running the criminally negligent outfit?' She added: 'This is not just a problem of the law, it is a problem of a law enforcer that treats the boardroom as wholly insulated from the consequences of its management decisions and its failure to properly manage.'
The boss of a defunct scaffolding firm where a scaffolder fell to his death has been fined £3,000 for criminal safety offences, including making up a job spec after the tragedy. Shaun Stevens, 41, fell 13ft (4m) to his death when dismantling a racking area at Kingswood-based Flook Scaffolding, Bristol Crown Court was told. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the firm in breach of safety regulations, although these were not directly responsible for the tragedy. Anna Vigars, prosecuting, said Flook showed HSE the company's method statement for work - a document he had actually created on 5 October 2006, the day after the death. The court heard Flook Scaffolding ceased trading in September 2010 and was wound up with debts of £160,000. He said the smaller Boss Scaffolding was set up in its wake, but that had accrued debts and Flook himself had mortgage arrears of £5,000. Shaun Stevens' wife, Tanya, said after the case: 'Shaun's death has left a huge void in our family: our daughters have no father to support them through life, and he is missing seeing our granddaughter grow up. Four and a half years on, we all still feel the loss of Shaun every day.' She added: 'I hope that Russell Flook has learnt from this and takes health and safety seriously on site, making sure his workers wear harnesses and work safely, so that no one else has to experience what we have gone through.'
A car mat manufacturer has been fined £20,000 after a worker was killed while repairing a rubber-mixing machine. Balbir Rayatt, 55, was hit on the head by the steel beam while repairing the machine at Cannon Automotive in Tottenham, London. He suffered fatal head injuries in the 20 May 2008 incident, when the heavy steel fabrication barrier fell on him. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the barrier had been stored vertically and unsecured against rubber compound powder containers. City of London Magistrates' Court heard Cannon Automotive Limited did not supervise, manage, monitor, audit or review its arrangements regarding maintenance operations on the mixer to ensure they met health and safety standards. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,100. Speaking after the prosecution, HSE Inspector Neil Fry said: 'This tragic death was utterly preventable. Poor standards and failure to keep working environments in a good condition are a major cause of these types of incidents and also occupational diseases. Maintenance is a process that affects every aspect of safety and health and when a tragedy such as this occurs it demonstrates the importance of planning when carrying out maintenance work.' The inspector added: 'Unfortunately it is too late for Mr Rayatt, but I would hope employers in London and around the UK will take note.'
Vehicle manufacturer Land Rover has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to take into account the risks facing workers using vibrating hand tools. Ten workers at its Solihull plant are believed to have developed a vibration related occupational disease as a result. Land Rover pleaded guilty and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £60,606 for the criminal breaches. The firm was prosecuted after an HSE investigation in 2007 into the working practices used by two employees in the weld destruct section, where air chisels were used to undo welds on cars to test their strength. Two cases of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) had been reported in December 2006. The subsequent HSE investigation found vibrating hand tools were being used across the plant with a lack of assessment and management of risk. When a health surveillance regime was made effective, other cases came to light. Solihull magistrates also heard there was no system in place to measure how long each employee was using the tools or the levels of vibration. The recommended amount of time for one of the tools to be used was one hour per day per person, but this tool had been in use for three hours per day. In all, 10 employees are thought to be affected by vibration related ill-health at the Solihull plant. HSE inspector Gareth Langston said: 'The fact that sister plant Jaguar had addressed the issues, does suggest that this particular instance was an oversight on the part of the company.' He added: 'Employers must ensure that the use of vibrating hand tools is properly managed, and it is unacceptable that Land Rover did not do this - as this is a disabling condition involving pain and significant loss of hand function, and is usually irreversible in later stages.'
Threequarters of sickness benefit claimants are found fit to work or abandon their claims before completing their medical assessment, latest figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have revealed. However, initial assessments of people's fitness to return to the workplace have been overturned in almost four in 10 cases in which individuals appealed. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) replaced incapacity benefit and income support for new claimants in October 2008, and was accompanied by a work capability assessment (WCA) - a computerised test the government's own advisers last year conceded was seriously flawed and 'a complete mess' (Risks 496). If found fit to work, an individual can no longer claim ESA, but they can ask for the decision to be reviewed or launch an appeal. The DWP figures, which cover the period from 27 October 2008 to 31 August 2010, show that 887,300 of the 1,175,700 applicants for ESA failed to qualify for any assistance. Of these, 458,500 (39 per cent) were judged fit to work, while 428,800 (36 per cent) ditched their claim. A further 16 per cent were placed in the "work-related activity group", where individuals are deemed able to take on some level of work but still receive a level of ESA support. They are also required to undertake training and face pressure to find suitable work (Risks 500). Over one-third (36 per cent) of people who made a claim for ESA between October 2008 and February 2010 and were found to be fit to work at assessment have appealed, with the original decision overturned in almost four in 10 cases (39 per cent). Employment minister Chris Grayling said: 'We now know very clearly that the vast majority of new claimants for sickness benefits are in fact able to return to work. That's why we are turning our attention to existing claimants, who were simply abandoned on benefits.' He added: 'That's why we are reassessing all of those claimants, and launching the Work Programme to provide specialist back to work support. We will, of course, carry on providing unconditional support to those who cannot work, but for those who can it's right and proper that they start back on the road to employment.
The business lobby in Australia wants to see safety rules relaxed because it doesn't believe safety is a top priority, unions have charged. Ged Kearney, president of the national union federation ACTU, said unions would resist moves by 'self-interested business groups' to water down proposed national health and safety regulations. 'When the government last year released its draft legislation, which will harmonise nine jurisdictions' sets of health and safety laws into one national set of rules, it was welcomed by the same business groups that are now complaining the laws are too onerous,' she said. 'In the past these business groups have complained about the separate state and territory laws. Even though they got what they wanted, they now want to reduce workplace safety further.' The union leader said workers shouldn't be surprised business and industry wanted to water down the laws, citing a 2008 Australian Industry Group publication. 'It is often suggested that OHS should be the top priority. While this is a worthy ideal every organisation should strive for, the reality is that making a profit will always be the highest priority of a business,' the business publication said. ACTU's Ged Kearney said the draft laws need to be improved, not weakened. 'Unions don't think they are tough enough. Every three minutes someone in Australia is injured seriously enough to lodge a workers' compensation claim. The economic cost of work-related injuries and illnesses is more than $50 billion (£33bn) a year,' she said. 'But you cannot put a value on saving a human life and any push by business to do so is deeply concerning.'
The leader of Canada's national union federation has slammed the country's prime minister for promoting asbestos in a bid to win votes. In a letter ahead of federal elections, which this week returned Stephen Harper's Conservative Party with a substantial majority, Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Kenneth Georgetti condemned the prime minister's vocal support for asbestos trade in a bid to win votes in Quebec, the region with the asbestos mines. 'Your crass attempt to get votes, while demonstrating complete disregard for human life in developing countries, is deeply disturbing,' Georgetti's letter said. 'Canada must end its support for the deadly asbestos export trade.' A resurgence in Canada asbestos production, helped by federal and Quebec government support, will see millions of tonnes exported to Asia. In results announced this week, Conservative candidates won seats in asbestos mining towns. Harper's stance on asbestos attracted considerable critical press in the country, but didn't appear to affect the election outcome, with his two-time minority government returned with a majority.
'The Clearwater Paper Corp in Lewistown, Idaho, chose the king cobra to symbolise its workplace safety programme,' writes Leo Gerard, leader of the United Steelworkers union (USW). 'A cobra. One of the deadliest snakes on the planet.' In a blog commentary, the US union president says every day on his way to and from work at Clearwater, John Bergen III drove past a billboard in the company parking lot sporting a picture of a king cobra and the explanation that it represented the company's behaviour-based safety programme - Changing Our Behaviour Reduces Accidents - COBRA. 'Bergen, a devoted father, a gifted artist and a conscientious worker who urged everyone to observe safety rules, died last summer after inadvertently stepping through a gaping opening in the floor of the Clearwater Paper mill,' the commentary says. 'Behaviour-based workplace safety programmes like COBRA are attempts by corporations to shirk responsibility to eliminate hazards by blaming workers instead. When workers die, behaviour-based programs disrespect the deceased by blaming them for their own deaths.' The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited and fined Clearwater for not covering the hole or providing a railing. 'Clearwater's COBRA did not work because the philosophy behind blame-the-worker programmes is fatally flawed,' concludes Gerard. 'Clearwater, and employers across America, must stop trying to cover their culpability with 'blame the worker' programmes and, instead, cover dangerous floor openings ? which means pursuing life-saving and worker-respecting workplace hazard elimination and control.'
Conrad Fedler is suffering from inoperable, terminal lung cancer. He worked at the Roquette USA plant in Keokuk, Iowa from 1996 until June 2010, when his illness forced him onto disability. On 28 September 2010 - the day the company locked out hundreds of BCTGM union members for insisting on their right to negotiate a collective agreement - Roquette raised his health insurance premiums by over $1,000 a month - from $380 (£228) to $1,467 (£880) per month. Doctors have told Felder the hazardous substances he had to deal with on a daily basis at Roquette could be responsible for his lung cancer. He estimates he handled 35,000 pounds of powdered sweetener in an eight-hour shift, usually a 50-pound bag at a time. In March 2000, Fedler transferred into the germ dryer/evaporation department, where germ is taken off the corn and put through dryers. The finished product is a tainted yellow dust, which is blown into rail cars and sent off to customers. 'The control room is covered in dust,' he said. He added there was a constant smell of sulphur dioxide and caustic detergent. The detergent is considered to contain a cancer-causing chemical, Fedler said. But he added it was only five years ago when Roquette made full-face respirators available to employees - but their use was only required for one particular task. Since the lockout, Roquette has been staffed by 'scabs' supplied by Last, Best & Final, says the union. The firm specialises in providing replacement workers during industrial disputes. Roquette has also been advertising a position for a 'Safety Leadership Manager', whose job will be to implement 'a plant-wide culture change towards self-directed Behavioural Based Safety.' According to the union: 'The idea is to divert attention from the organisation of work and its methods and materials to locate the source of blame with the individual worker.'
The union fight against workplace violence is being bolstered by a new film. The four-minute YouTube clip, launched as part of global union federation ITF's Workers' Memorial Day activities, 'aims to empower urban transport workers to say no to violence at work.' ITF's Mac Urata explained: 'This is the latest tool in our and our member unions' long running campaign against violence. We are determined that no one should have to work in fear of assault, harassment or bullying.' The film was released in tandem with a special activists' guidance pack. This contains the latest version of an ITF booklet, 'It's part of our job but it shouldn't be,' which sets out how workers can combat what is a growing problem worldwide, as well as case studies of how unions have confronted violence against staff. ITF campaign materials on violence at work have encouraged unions to approach the issue with workers so that they can talk openly about violence, report and confront it.
The union GMB has organised a parliamentary lobby and rally to expose the impact on workers of the government's changes to health and safety policy. Invited speakers include Peter Hain, Jim Sheridan, Chuka Umunna, former Labour safety minister Lord McKenzie of Luton, union leaders Paul Kenny, Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis and the Hazards Campaign's Hilda Palmer. The organisers say the government-commissioned review of health and safety legislation, combined with the budget cuts to the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities, will have far reaching consequences for workplace health and safety. The rally will hear views from across the labour movement, and identify priorities for political action.
COURSES FOR APRIL 2011 TO JUNE 2011
Newsletter (5,500 words) issued 6 May 2011
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-19539-f0.cfm
printed 22 May 2013 at 19:21 hrs by 126.96.36.199