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The TUC has said it will 'strongly oppose' any government moves to undermine workplace health and safety protection. The statement comes in a written submission to the government commissioned Löfstedt review of workplace health and safety (Risks 507). Ministers have directed the review to concentrate on 'easing unnecessary burdens on business' (Risks 504). In response, TUC states: 'It does not support regulation for the sake of it, and has worked closely with the HSE on its simplification programme because that was a genuine attempt to ensure that the regulatory regime was effective.' But it adds the TUC 'does not believe however that regulation imposes any kind of burden on business. It is a responsibility, just as paying taxes is a responsibility, and no business should be able to operate unless it can do so safety.' The submission concludes: 'Regulation needs enforcement to be effective and the current level of enforcement activity is clearly inadequate.' TUC says the review 'should confirm that health and safety regulation should be developed by an independent Health and Safety Executive, making recommendations to the government on regulations. This will ensure that regulations will have the support of all sides of industry and continue to be effective and simple.' It adds: 'The TUC will strongly oppose any attempt to reduce the level of protection at a time when over 20,000 people are killed every year as a result of work and 2.1 million are suffering from an injury or illness caused or made worse by work.' The TUC submission notes that voluntary, 'self-regulation' approaches are not a viable alternative to regulation and enforcement, and have 'failed' where they have been tried.
The government is more interested in saving money that providing genuine assistance so those that are sick or have disabilities can move into work, the TUC has said. New claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) must undergo Work Capability Assessments (WCA) to see if they are capable of some sort of employment. Latest government figures show of 1.3 million tests between October 2008 and November 2010, just 88,700 (7 per cent) were considered unfit for any work. A further 17 per cent were assessed as able to do some sort of work given the correct support, and 39 per cent were deemed to be fit for work and were moved onto jobseeker's allowance. Commenting on the figures, released this week by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The new incapacity benefit assessment is a much tougher test than previously and is designed to save the government money by excluding more people. It is therefore unsurprising that more disabled people have been declared fit for work. These figures certainly don't suggest that thousands of disabled people are suddenly 'trying it on'.' He added: 'The government needs to do much more to help disabled people back into jobs, rather than cracking down on the benefits they get when they are unable to work.' He said Access to Work statistics released the same day show that in 2010/11 the number of disabled people helped by this scheme fell by just over 1,400 on the previous year. The DWP figures came as a report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee concluded that some vulnerable benefit claimants had payments stopped because of administrative errors in work assessments. The private French company given £100 million a year to carry out the tests, Atos Healthcare, received stern criticism in the committee's report. Its work 'has often fallen below the standard claimants rightly expect. This has contributed significantly to the widely felt mistrust of the whole process,' the report said. Atos staff are currently testing around 11,000 incapacity benefit claimants a week, to help judge whether they are eligible for benefit payments. The TUC, charities and MPs say they have been contacted by large numbers of people who felt their test results were simply wrong.
Reports that the vast majority of disabled claimants are fit for work should not be trusted, the union representing workers in the benefits system has said. PCS, which has thousands of members in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said the tests for claimants fail to address many serious health issues. The union was commenting after a House of Commons select committee report into incapacity benefit re-assessments concluded the system 'does not accurately assess claimants' employability and needs in the workplace.' PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'This exercise is just about saving money by bullying people who are sick or disabled onto lower levels of benefit. It is not about finding people work - because there is no work available.' He added: 'The government is failing to create jobs, while cutting thousands of posts in the public sector. The government has given £100 million to a private health care company to do these flawed assessments - instead of using the health service which is already there and trusted by the public. The government have set up a system that demonises disabled people and will encourage bullying and hate crimes. Disabled people need more support - not less - to lead independent lives, including working lives.'
A London refuse worker was fired for 'excessive sick leave' just two weeks before he was due to have brain surgery. GMB member Bradley Reay, 41, was fired by Islington council contractor Enterprise. The union is demanding his reinstatement as a driver with the multinational. Mr Reay is current awaiting the outcome of an appeal against his dismissal. The operation for a life threatening cyst on the brain took place last week and he is now recovering in hospital. Colleagues of the father-of-five say they are outraged at the 'callous' treatment and have not ruled out industrial action if the dismissal is not rescinded. The union described the decision to fire Mr Reay as 'cruel and unacceptable.' For the last two years Mr Reay, who is receiving no pay from the company, has survived on handouts and collections from his workmates while awaiting surgery. Gary Doolan, GMB branch secretary, said: 'Two weeks before his brain surgery a GMB shop steward was called to a sickness meeting... At the meeting the shop steward was asked to get hold of the surgeon within 20 minutes to confirm how long Mr Reay would be off sick.' When this proved impossible, Mr Reay 'was sacked for excessive sickness two weeks before his brain surgery operation was due to take place,' the GMB branch secretary said. 'The government states it wants to look after sick and disabled people and get them back into work yet here we have a large employer doing the opposite and sacking them.'
Communications companies are being urged to withdraw dangerous equipment which is leaving engineers deafened or with hearing damage. It is thought thousands of engineers have been deafened after using British Telecom's (BT) 'green set' and 'yellow set' oscillators, which are widely used in the sector. The devices transmit a constant high pitched sound through a headset, allowing the user to listen for changes in tone to track faults in the cables. Tony Rupa, head of legal services at the Communication Workers Union (CWU), commented: 'People traditionally associate hearing damage with heavy manufacturing and music industries, but there are many people who work in the communications sector who are exposed to loud, continuous and high pitched noises.' He added: 'The Communication Workers' Union is assisting around 2,500 members with claims arising from the use of oscillators/amplifiers in their work, many of which are suffering with tinnitus.' Although BT has now admitted that the equipment is dangerous and has withdrawn both types of oscillator from use, personal injury law firm Irwin Mitchell says it is concerned that other companies, who have been sold the old devices by BT, are still putting workers at risk. Associate director Mark Allen said: 'We have already received enquiries from engineers who work or have worked for other companies, such as Kingston Communications, who have used the unsafe devices.' He added: 'Action must be taken immediately. People are being left with serious hearing damage through no fault of their own and the safety of workers needs to be the main priority. They have the right to expect to go to work and carry out their duties without fear of injury.'
A GMB member who was injured in the workplace twice in a period of weeks has received £8,000 in compensation. The 42-year-old from Brownhills in Walsall, whose name has not been released, had received no manual handling training in his job as a trainee furnace man for Castings plc. His job involved carrying 40 heavy bags of graphite per shift, seven days a week. The bags were in sacks and did not have handles. He was provided neither lifting aids nor help from colleagues. The bags needed to be carried several metres and then lifted up to shoulder height to be offloaded. In August 2009 he was on his 13th day of working without a break and as he lifted up a bag of graphite he suffered a strain to his lower back. He was advised by his doctor to wear a back support. When he returned to work a few days later he was put back into the same job. But 15 days after his original injury he was instructed to use a type of jack hammer above head height. The heavy tool caused him to suffer a strain injury to his upper back. His injuries meant the member was forced to take three months off work. He was on a rolling 12 week contract with Casting plc and he was soon told they would not be renewing his contract. In a union backed compensation case, Castings plc admitted liability and settled both claims out of court. The member received £3,000 for the first injury and £5,000 for the second injury.
Rail union RMT has called for tighter regulation of company directors as it emerged that Paris Moayedi, the boss of rail maintenance company Jarvis at the time of the Potters Bar train smash, is floating a new 'green energy' company on the stock market. The union says after the disaster, in which seven people died (Risks 506), Jarvis subsequently went bust. It adds 'not a single Jarvis director received any punishment for their role in the seven deaths at Potters Bar even though the company were found partly responsible.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'It is outrageous that the bosses of Jarvis at the time that they were up to their eyeballs in the Potters Bar disaster have not only got away without any punishment but are now back out there floating new companies on the stock market. That shows just how lax the law is in this country when it comes to regulating company directors and we will be working with our Parliamentary Group to demand tougher legislation.' He condemned employers' organisation CBI for calling this week for lighter workplace regulation. 'We are up for a fight to protect our members and at the same time shine a light on how company bosses get away with absolute liberties,' he said. CBI has been a vocal opponent of legal safety duties on company directors.
Confirmation from Network Rail that it intends to reduce dramatically the number of signallers it employs has been met with concern by rail union RMT. The rail firm told the union it is looking to reduce signallers from the current level of 6,000 to 2,000 over the next 30 years. The company believes it will be able to do this by centralising signal boxes and by use of new technologies. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the negotiations were at an early stage, but was adamant the union would not accept any compulsory redundancies. He added: 'RMT wants to make it absolutely clear that we will not agree to anything that compromises the job security, safety or standards of living of our members. We are not opposed to new technology but we are clear that any changes that may arise should be accommodated through a shorter working week, additional annual leave and the right to retire at 55 on full pension.'
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is seeking views on its proposals for 'cost recovery', the scheme it hopes will help fill the gaping hole in its finances left by a massive government cut. HSE this week opened a three-month consultation on how 'cost recovery for intervention' will operate, having already agreed the underlying principle with government. The new scheme could come into operation from as early as April 2012. Gordon MacDonald, HSE's programme director, said: 'The government has agreed that it is right that those who break the law should pay their fair share of the costs to put things right - and not the public purse. These proposals provide a further incentive for people to operate within the law, levelling the playing field between those who comply and those who don't. Compliant firms will not pay a penny in intervention fees.' Under the proposals, HSE will recover costs at current estimates of £133 per hour. Costs of any specialist support needed by HSE would also be passed on. Invoices will need to be paid within 30 days. HSE also confirmed that the new system would not replace existing cost recovery arrangements such as those covering offshore oil and gas installations, some chemical and petrochemical sites and licensed nuclear installations. Critics of the proposals say it could lead to less reporting of dangerous occurrences, injuries or ill-health, as companies fear inviting a hefty bill from the safety watchdog. Similarly, they may be less inclined to ask for HSE advice. An HSE impact assessment on the proposed regulation to introduce the fees system admits the watchdog is seeking to plug a the funding hole resulting from the 35 per cent cut in government funds being introduced over four years. It admits without securing make up funds, the expected 'lower level of enforcement' would mean 'a consequent decrease in health and safety standards throughout Great Britain, with ensuing costs to society.'
Growing up on a livestock farm seems to be linked to an increased risk of developing blood cancers as an adult, new research suggests. The risk of developing a blood cancer was three times as high for those who had grown up on a poultry farm, the study published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows. Previous research has suggested that farmers are at increased risk of blood cancers, the possible explanations for which have focused on exposure to pesticides or infections as a result of contact with farm animals. But most of this research has focused on adults, say the authors, with little information on potential early life factors. The authors base their findings on an analysis of more than 114,000 death certification records from 1998 to 2003 for those aged between 35 and 85 and resident in New Zealand. Information regarding the usual job of the deceased and that of at least one of the parents was extracted for 82 per cent (94,054) of the records. During the study period, just over 3,000 deaths were attributed to blood cancers, and growing up on a livestock farm was associated with a higher risk of developing such a cancer. This association was not apparent for those who had grown up on arable/crop farms, although working on one of these farms as an adult was associated with a higher risk. The analysis showed that the overall risk of developing a blood cancer, such as leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, was 22 per cent higher for those growing up on livestock farm compared with those who had not grown up in this environment. Poultry farms conferred the greatest risk, with those who had grown up in this environment three times as likely to develop a blood cancer as those who had not. Working on a livestock farm as an adult seemed to lessen the risk, with the exception of beef cattle farming, where the risk was three times as high.
The widow of a Birmingham worker, who died aged 50 from occupational lung disease, has launched a search for former colleagues who may be able to help in their battle for justice. Flame cutter Timothy Alfred Dawes died on 16 July 2009 after suffering from the chronic lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans. A February 2010 inquest into Mr Dawes' death recorded a verdict of respiratory disease in keeping with the consequences of welding. Mr Dawes worked as a flame cutter at a series of Birmingham firms from 1975 until he was forced to take ill-health retirement in 2005. His widow Diane said: 'I used to pick my husband up from work and after a while I noticed his face was pale and his lips looked white. He eventually had to take early retirement as any form of physical exertion was just too much for him.' Ronan Hynes, from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors in Birmingham, is representing Mr Dawes' family. 'In order to gain justice for Mr Dawes' family, we are trying to trace former colleagues who may be able to recall working conditions at the time,' he said. 'I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone who can recall working practices at Stanley Profiles Limited 1975-1984, Flamecut Blank Fabrications Limited 1984-2000, Taylor Steel Plc 2000-2002 and Brook Welding Company Limited 2002-2005.'
A skip hire company from Salisbury has been fined £150,000 after one of its employees was killed on his 33rd birthday. Salisbury Crown Court heard how on 12 February 2008, Jozef Trhan, from Slovakia, was fixing the split rim wheel on a large industrial waste removing machine called a loading shovel when the incident happened. His employer, C Bialek Ltd, trading as CB Skips, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law at the waste-sorting yard. It was fined £150,000 plus £55,000 costs. The court heard that Mr Trhan was employed to sort through skip rubbish brought back to the yard, but he had become involved in repairing the tyres and wheels of large industrial waste-moving machinery. CB Skips were aware of this but had not checked whether Mr Trhan had any training or experience in tyre repair, even though this is a requirement for any work on split-rim wheels. On the day of his death, Mr Trhan followed the established routine and welded the sections of the wheel together before inflating the tyre. As Mr Trhan was knelt in front of the tyre, the welds suddenly failed causing the inner-tube to rupture. The blast of compressed air propelled the metal components outwards striking him in the head and body. Mr Trhan was launched into the air by the blast and struck a nearby excavator loading shovel headfirst. He did not recover from his injuries and was later pronounced dead at hospital. Liam Osborne, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, said: 'CB Skips failed to protect Mr Trhan in a number of ways; essentially, they didn't know what was going on in their own yard.' He added: 'It was pure chance that nobody else was near the wheel when it exploded as this incident could have easily led to more deaths and injuries.'
A roofer who plunged through a school roof narrowly avoided landing on pupils who had walked underneath moments earlier. Ploughcroft Building Services was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at Reddish Vale Technology College on 14 June 2010. Trafford Magistrates' Court heard that 24-year-old Chris Buck was helping to make the roof waterproof when he tripped on some cables and fell through a fragile skylight. He fell 2.6 metres to the concrete floor below at the Stockport secondary school, suffering injuries to his back and neck, and has been unable to return to work. The court was told the company had failed to provide a cover or barrier for the skylight, despite being told to do so in a report by a health and safety consultant less than six weeks earlier. Ploughcroft Building Services admitted a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £10,000 plus £10,937 in prosecution costs. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Sandra Tomlinson said: 'Despite surviving, the injuries he's suffered mean he has lost the confidence to be able to return to work as a roofer. There were children walking under the skylight just minutes before he fell through it, so other individuals were also put at risk by Ploughcroft's actions.' Chris Buck said: 'I had a very lucky escape and I don't like to think about what might have happened. I could quite easily have landed on my head or on children below which could have led to serious injuries.' He added: 'Due to the accident I now have to consider other careers. My confidence to do this job again is not there anymore and I feel I would be frightened and scared to get on a roof or even climb a ladder.'
A Carlisle man who punched a nurse while she tried to treat him at the city's Cumberland Infirmary has been jailed for 90 days. Edward Partridge, 39, was told his behaviour was 'extremely unpalatable' and that prison was the only option. He pleaded guilty to assault by beating when he appeared before Carlisle Magistrates' Court. Prosecutor Adrianne Harris said he had been taken to the accident and emergency department after accidentally overdosing on prescription medication on 7 July. When a nurse in the resuscitation room was cutting off his clothes so she could take his blood pressure, he punched her in the breast. The prosecutor said: 'She was only doing her job and did not deserve to be treated in this manner.' The magistrates said the assault was on a public servant carrying out her duties and trying to help Partridge. They told him: 'That is extremely unpalatable from our point of view.' A spokesperson for North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust said: 'The trust has a zero tolerance policy in place and we work closely with our colleagues in Cumbria Constabulary. We will not tolerate any verbal or physical attacks made against our staff as they are providing care and on all occasions we will take appropriate action.'
A Somerset firm has been fined after a man broke his back, arm and ribs after falling three metres whilst working on a barn conversion at his boss' home. Mark Clarke was helping to renovate Heathfield Barn at North Petherton, Bridgwater when the incident occurred on 11 October last year. Taunton Magistrates Court heard he was working on a gable end wall when he fell from a trestle work platform. Although some measures had been put in place to prevent such a fall, these were described as inadequate. Mr Clarke, aged 55, is no longer able to work in the construction industry as a result of the injuries he sustained. UK Storage Company (SW) Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,680 costs. After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Steve Frain commented: 'Employers need to ensure there is adequate supervision and fall protection in place while renovation activity of this nature is undertaken. UK Storage Company (SW) Limited failed to do so, and had not taken suitable steps to prevent Mr Clarke from falling from the platform. Mr Clarke's injuries were so severe that he may be unable to work in the construction industry again.'
Health and safety and employment laws have dropped down the list of the business lobby's moans about regulation. The Forum of Private Business (FPB) says its survey found administering tax has become 'the top regulatory burden' for small business owners. Tax-related regulation was deemed to be the most costly area of red tape, leaving smaller employers with a bill of £5.1 billion per year. Employment law was second at £4.2 billion, with by health and safety law trailing at third in the small business grumbles list, at £3.8 billion. FPB says these results are 'quite different' compared to its 2009 Cost of Compliance survey, which put employment law in first place, followed by health and safety in second and tax third. The business lobby's complaints about safety regulation have been criticised by unions and safety experts, for over-estimating costs and for ignoring entirely the benefits (Risks 495). These benefits include savings to business in reduced lost time and in keeping skilled workers on the job (Risks 508). The business figures also take no account of the human and financial costs of work-related injuries and ill-health borne by the public purse, communities and affected workers (Risks 507).
The head of one of Cambodia's biggest independent union's has called for a government investigation into the fainting spells that have affected thousands of factory workers this year. Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, sent letters to the ministries of Health, Environment and Labour, requesting they look into conditions at factories that are harming the health of workers. This year alone, some 2,300 workers have reported fainting in five Cambodian factories for reasons that are not fully explained, he said. In the latest incident on 22 July, more than 100 workers fainted at the Hung Wah (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing. Likely factors responsible for the incidents include toxic fumes from clothes, too many hours of overtime work, poor ventilation or other factory conditions, Chea Mony said. 'I want the three concerned ministries to hold acceptable inspections of workers' fainting, with professionalism and independence and without corruption,' he added. Bun Ying, a spokesperson for the International Labour Organisation (ILO), said a number of factors are leading to the fainting episodes. 'We've observed problems relating to working conditions, chemicals in the clothes and the workers' health,' he said. 'There is the fear among workers when many other workers are fainting and having their health affected.' Among the big Western firms selling clothing produced in Cambodia are Marks and Spencer, Tesco, H&M, Next and Inditex, the world's biggest clothing retailer and owner of Zara. Swedish fashion brand H&M said it was consulting state agencies, workers and independent factory inspectors to find out what happened at Hung Wah last week. 'Workers' health and safety in our supplier factories is of high priority to H&M. Accordingly, we have immediately started investigations as soon as we received information,' the company said.
Italian fashion giant Versace has become the latest brand to back a drive to end a deadly sandblasting process that gives denim a fashionable worn look. A succession of major global retailers had already banned the process (Risks 490), after a high profile campaign by workers' rights groups. These had warned that sandblasting was causing the rapid onset of silicosis, a devastating and frequently fatal occupational lung disease. Earlier this month, Versace blocked public access to its Facebook site after the Clean Clothes Campaign bombarded the page with calls for a boycott of the company's jeans, after claiming that some of its clothes had been produced by sandblasting. Last week the company announced it had 'decided to take a more proactive approach and join other industry leaders to encourage the elimination of sandblasting as an industry practice.' The decision was another notable victory for campaigners. 'It would send a really big message out if the influential fashion names in Italy... said they too would stop selling these products,' said Laura Carter global garment workers' union federation ITGLWF, which is calling for a voluntary industry-wide ban. Dominique Muller, of the Clean Clothes Campaign, welcomed Versace's new position, but added: 'I would, however, ask Versace and all other companies joining the ban on sandblasted denim to be transparent about their supply chains and to explain how they are going to enforce the ban,' she said. ITGLWF's Laura Carter said she hoped several other big clothes companies might be persuaded to ban sandblasted products at a meeting planned for September. Campaigners are now setting their sights on Dolce and Gabbana, which so far has resisted calls to end sandblasting of its lines.
Workers at IKEA's only US factory overwhelmingly voted to unionise amid complaints they have been injured more, paid less, and treated worse than the thousands of Europeans who work for the Swedish furniture giant. The vote among workers at IKEA subsidiary Swedwood in Danville, Virginia, was 221-69, according to IKEA and the union that will represent them in collective bargaining, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). 'Everything's on the table,' said Bill Street, who led the successful union drive in this rural community of 43,000. Swedwood acknowledged the vote and said it would honour its workers' wishes. Street had listed a litany of grievances ? lower pay than their Swedish counterparts, unsafe working conditions, racial discrimination ? that was in stark contrast with IKEA's vaunted global reputation as labour- and environment-friendly. IKEA's corporate conduct is guided by its so-called IWAY Standard, which outlines safety, environmental, social and working rules. The company has also signed a worldwide framework agreement with IAM's global union equivalent, BWI. Street, who had predicted a close vote, was surprised by the margin. He said what may have tipped it for the union was the heat spell, which he said workers had to endure without relief from management. 'It's not just what a reasonable person would do to another human being,' Street said. 'The weather was just the icing on the cake.' IKEA's selection of Danville for its first US factory came with $12 million in incentive grants and the goal of ultimately hiring 780 people.
Major global companies including Kraft Foods Global are among the 147 employers identified by the US government's workplace safety watchdog OSHA as 'severe violators' of worker health and safety standards. Earlier this month, federal OSHA posted on its website a document listing employers in 30 US states who meet the agency's criteria of 'recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law.' Kraft Foods Global, Tyson Foods, Sea World and Lucas Oil Production Studio earned a place on the list after receiving a wilful violation in 2010 related to a worker death. OSHA implemented the "Severe Violators Enforcement Program" (SVEP) a year ago in response to a March 2009 Inspector General report that was critical of the agency's Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP). This said the EEP failed as a targeting programme for bad-actors employers. According to safety expert Celeste Monforton, writing on The Pump Handle blog: 'When OSHA inspections found that an employer's health and safety practices put workers' lives were at risk, the EEP failed to compel follow-up inspections at that site or others controlled by the same employer. Under SVEP, OSHA says that when an employer meets the 'severe violator' criteria, the agency 'will conduct inspections at other worksites controlled by the same employer where similar hazards may be present'.'
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER 2011 TO DECEMBER 2011
Newsletter (5,700 words) issued 29 Jul 2011
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