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Union members must 'act now' to protect workplace health and safety rights and standards from an unprecedented attack, public sector union UNISON has said. Its short guide on 'The threat to health and safety' says the system protecting workers 'is under greater threat now than at any other time.' In addition to cuts to the Health and Safety Executive's funding and a significant reduction in official workplace safety inspections, it warns 'hard-won health and safety legislation is on the chopping block and people are becoming more vulnerable to issues such as stress, bullying and violence.' With an estimated 500,000 public sector workers set to lose their jobs, UNISON adds, insecure workers will be less likely to raise safety concerns and will be reluctant to take sick leave. 'The impact of this is that workplaces become both more dangerous and unhealthier,' the guides notes. With many UNISON workplaces now classified as 'low risk' and exempt from preventive, 'proactive' HSE inspections, workers are losing essential protection. 'Studies show that over 90 per cent of employers improve their health and safety policies either immediately before or after an inspection,' the union points out. It says UNISON reps should encourage members to keep on reporting and recording health and safety incidents. It adds they should raise concerns about the cuts to health and safety with their local MP and should tell their story through the local media, highlighting how the cuts are affecting people in particular workplaces.
Construction union UCATT believes health service employers in Wales will escape criminal proceedings for safety offences, as a result of legislative errors made in a recent NHS reorganisation. The union says the problem came to light after it was revealed that senior managers at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth failed to take proper action after a survey in 2004 found amosite (brown asbestos) in stair wells and lift shafts. A number of former employees at the hospital have died of asbestos related conditions. UCATT says it is already aware of similar issues relating to asbestos at another NHS Trust in Wales. It adds that the legislative barrier to prosecutions is a result of errors in the drafting of regulations to enable the creation of seven NHS health boards in October 2009. These failed to ensure that matters of previous corporate criminal responsibility should be transferred to the new health boards. This means the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) cannot undertake criminal proceedings even where there is clear evidence of negligence. Commenting on the Bronglais Hospital case, an HSE spokesperson said: 'HSE has investigated the matter and has concluded that breaches of health and safety legislation had occurred. However, having sought independent legal opinion, we have concluded that the failure to transfer criminal liabilities from NHS trusts to the successor health boards means there is no prospect of a successful prosecution.' UCATT has written to Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales, demanding an inquiry into how the 'legislative blunder' occurred and calling for urgent action to plug the loophole. UCATT regional secretary Nick Blundell said: 'This is an intolerable situation. Workers have been systematically exposed to asbestos and yet they will be denied justice due to a bureaucratic muddle.' He added: 'Carwyn Jones needs to act quickly to resolve these problems in order to restore confidence among workers.'
Retail union Usdaw has become the latest to take to the walls in a bid to improve workplace organisation around health and safety. Two new posters present bald messages for the workplace noticeboard: 'Let's work together for health and safety'; and 'Put health and safety first.' The union notes both posters are an 'ideal aid for reps to help with recruitment in the workplace.' The initiative comes as unions increasingly recognise a grassroots appreciation for the union safety role should be used to boost recruitment and the union's profile. And there is the added benefit of the union effect - unions make workplaces safer. Earlier this year, public sector union UNISON announced it was putting health and safety at the centre of a recruitment and organising drive (Risks 509).
Moves to speed up the justice system following the death of a worker have been welcomed by construction union UCATT. The union says under the current process it often takes between four and five years following a worker's death for the company responsible to be convicted. But the union says changes to the Work Related Deaths Protocol (WRDP) to take effect in October 2011 may significantly reduce this time lag. The key change will mean that in some cases - where there is an extremely low probability of a coroner's inquest returning an unlawful killing verdict - charges relating to health and safety offences can proceed before the inquest has taken place. UCATT says under the current protocol, no charges can be made until a coroner's inquest has concluded. A National Liaison Committee, which includes representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service, the police, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Local Government Association, administers the protocol. George Guy, UCATT's acting general secretary, welcomed the changes, adding: 'The current situation where a family loses a loved one and then has to wait for many years before justice is done, is simply wrong.' The union says it hopes the reforms will increase the conviction rate of employers whose workers are killed. It says at the moment only around 30 per cent of companies are prosecuted and convicted following the death of a construction worker. The new guidance will outline measures to ensure prosecutions brought prior to an inquest are those in which the probability of a coroner subsequently issuing an unlawful killing verdict is likely to be extremely low. These means early prosecutions for criminal health and safety offences will be possible, with only those more likely to result in manslaughter or corporate manslaughter charges having to wait on the outcome of an inquest.
Health and safety legislation is neither excessive nor damaging to innovation, Prospect has told an independent review ordered by the government. The review, headed by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt and due to report in the autumn, has been told by ministers to concentrate on 'easing' burdens on business. Prospect, which includes 1,500 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors and specialists in its membership, is warning, however, that it is not regulation but non-compliance and poor interpretation of the rules that should be of greatest concern. The union is sceptical whether the review will carry any weight given the wider deregulatory agenda being pursued by government. Prospect deputy general secretary Mike Clancy said the government's 'Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone' blueprint, launched in March 2011, 'provides further evidence of its deregulatory agenda given the removal, without consultation, of swathes of industry from HSE's preventive inspection regime. This is an irresponsible tactic that is designed solely to meet the cuts targets set by the comprehensive spending review.' Prospect says the safety system could be improved through measures to make health and safety simpler, with clear, concise, sensitive guidance, rather than being driven by the 'pejorative premise that health and safety is a burden to business.' According to Clancy: 'Shoddy interpretation and application of the law is at the heart of much of the negative media attention when, in fact, poor employer behaviour and management neglect are the main causes of the toll on the workforce.'
The police and employers must ensure that if there is any repeat of last week's riots the safety of shopworkers, customers and local residents is their number one priority, the retail union Usdaw has said. In the wake of the disturbances, the union has asked employers to review their security measures and has reminded its members they should never put themselves in physical danger to prevent shoplifting, looting or damage to property. It has also called on retailers to consider closing stores early if there is 'any threat or possibility of trouble' and has urged all employers to continue to pay workers their contracted hours, even when they have been unable to open because of damage or as a precaution. Usdaw also wants employers to take the same approach with workers who have problems getting to and from work because of traffic delays and disruption to public transport related to disturbances. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: 'Shops are at the heart of our communities and I applaud the special efforts many of our members and other workers have made to ensure stores remain open for the local community. However, the safety of shopworkers, customers and local residents must remain the number one priority and the police and both employers and employees must make every effort to ensure any risk to personal safety is minimised at all times.' Similar calls have been made by business bodies the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Retail Trust.
The extent of David Cameron's antipathy to rules protecting people from sometimes deadly injuries and diseases at work has been exposed this week. Campaigners have accused the prime minister of being 'crass and insulting' after he claimed 'health and safety' bore some of the responsibility for last week's riots. He used a 15 August speech to attack what he claimed was the 'obsession with health and safety that has eroded people's willingness to act according to common sense.' Cameron added that 'as we urgently review the work we're doing on the broken society, judging whether it's ambitious enough - I want to make it clear that there will be no holds barred... and that most definitely includes the human rights and health and safety culture.' Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said the prime minister's attempt to link social unrest to health and safety rules 'is not only complete rubbish but completely crass and scraping the bottom of the daft ideas barrel.' Citing the case of a satellite dish firm Foxtel Ltd, which was fined £1 this week after the death of employee Noel Corbin, she said: 'Noel's employers went into liquidation therefore avoiding any accountability or paying the penalty for the crime. There's not a get-out clause available to rioters, so why should it be available to killer employers?' She said company safety failings cost society billions each year, adding: 'The government's answer to this is to let employers get away with even more killing, injuring and making workers ill, as well as looting our economy by attacking and cutting health and safety provisions.' Stirling University regulatory policy expert Professor Andy Watterson was also critical of the prime minister. 'It's the lack of a safety culture, as espoused by failing unfettered market principles, that does so much damage, year after year, to public health in the UK, not health and safety,' he wrote in a letter to The Guardian. 'This is particularly disturbing as evidence rolls in week by week about the health and safety failures of deregulated workplaces and the successes of regulated ones.'
Satellite TV installation firm Foxtel Ltd has been fined £1 following the death of a worker who fell while working on a roof. Engineer Noel Corbin, 29, suffered fatal head injuries after falling 13.5 metres from a four-storey house onto a side patio in Belsize Park, London on 3 February 2008. The Old Bailey heard safety equipment found in Mr Corbin's van was unsuitable for the type of work he was undertaking. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation after the incident exposed a number of failings at Foxtel Ltd, including a failure to ensure work at height was properly planned, organised and monitored. The Old Bailey was told when Mr Corbin was first employed by Foxtel Ltd, references were not sourced from his previous employer, nor were any training certificates provided. Mr Corbin was not accompanied on any initial visits, so no assessment could be made of his competence. As a result, the HSE investigation concluded as soon as Mr Corbin stepped onto the roof, he was at high risk of slipping, tripping or falling. Most of the work on satellite dishes Mr Corbin undertook involved work at height on large properties with more than two storeys. Foxtel Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence - but, because the firm is no longer trading and has no assets, was fined just £1. HSE inspector Charles Linfoot commented: 'Mr Corbin's death has had a devastating effect on his family made all the more tragic by the incident was easily preventable. Owing to the foreseeable risk of falling and the lack of suitable access equipment, the work should have been cancelled.' The Hazards Campaign has argued cases like this demonstrate the need for individual company directors to be held accountable for criminal health and safety offences.
A major sweet manufacturer that was last year convicted and fined £300,000 after the death of worker has been fined again after an employee had a finger severed. Both employees were clearing machine blockages. Tangerine Confectionery Limited was convicted in April 2010 of two criminal safety breaches after a February 2008 incident in which 33-year-old Martin Pejril was crushed to death in a sweet-making machine (Risks 454). The machine at its Poole factory was not properly isolated from the power as he cleared the blockage. This month's prosecution relates to a September 2008 incident at the same firm's Blackpool factory. The employee was trying to remove a blockage in one of the sweet-making machines when his left hand was pulled in, severing his index finger to the top knuckle. The worker had been able to reach the rotating parts in the machine while the power was still on. He needed five months off work to recover. The firm pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 after it failed to make sure the machine stopped operating when the guard was not in place. The company was fined £3,400 and ordered to pay £4,568 in prosecution costs on 10 August 2011. The latest prosecution suggests the company, which claims it is 'home of the nation's favourite sweets', failed to learn the lessons of the earlier fatality, after which HSE inspector Simon Jones commented: 'If the machine in this case had been properly isolated from the electrical power source before Mr Pejril attempted to clear the blockage, this accident would never have happened.' Speaking after this month's amputation prosecution, HSE inspector Anthony Banks, said: 'The risk of injury from these types of machines are well known in the industry and Tangerine Confectionery has since installed a new guard over the machine which cuts the power as soon as it is lifted. If this guard has been in place at the time of the incident then one of the company's employees would not have lost part of his index finger.'
A BBC Newsnight sound recordist died 27 years after inhaling mustard gas while covering the war between Iran and Iraq, an inquest has heard. Cyril Benford had been with colleagues in 1984 when an Iranian soldier opened a shell releasing the gas. He died on 16 January 2011, aged 78. Changes in his lungs were consistent with mustard gas damage. Coroner Richard Hulett recorded a verdict of industrial disease as he said the condition was contracted whilst he was at work. The inquest, held at Wycombe Law Courts, heard that Mr Benford, who had worked as a sound recordist and cameraman for the BBC for 38 years, had gone to Iran in 1984 for Newsnight. A statement made by Mr Benford before he died was read out at the inquest. He said he was on the border with three other BBC colleagues and toxicologist Aubin Heyndrickx, who was there to carry out an investigation for the UN to try and gain evidence and report on the use of chemical weapons. While they were recording an Iranian guard opened a shell which released mustard gas and he was standing nearest to it. As well as being near the shell that released the gas, Mr Benford had also sat next to an Iranian soldier on a plane journey who was holding a jar of mustard gas, stoppered with cotton wool, Mr Hulett confirmed. The inquest was told Mr Benford had seen an RAF physician who had examined his lungs and noted the gas agent damage. Home Office pathologist Dr Ashley Fegan-Earl told the inquest Mr Benford had died from respiratory failure from scarring of the lungs. A BBC spokesperson confirmed legal proceedings were ongoing with Mr Benford's family. She said: 'We note the findings of the inquest and once again extend our condolences to Mr Benford's widow and family.'
A Burnley handyman escaped with his life when he fell through a fragile roof at a factory in the town. Engineering firm Lupton and Place was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident on 23 September 2010. Reedley Magistrates' Court was told the company, which employs almost 150 people, allowed the contractor to work along a section of the roof without anything in place to stop him falling. The 67-year-old, who has asked not to be named, was fixing a leak on the roof when he lost his balance, stepped backwards and fell through one of the roof panels. He escaped injury after landing on a machine cover more than four metres below. Lupton and Place Ltd, which produces parts for the automotive, defence and electronics industries, admitted a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £6,250 in prosecution costs. Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at HSE, Matt Lea, said: 'The contractor had been employed by the firm for more than 30 years, but nothing was done to monitor or control the work he was doing. A company the size of Lupton and Place should have requested method statements and risk assessments from him to make sure the work could be done safely. It would have been much more sensible to use a cherry picker to fix the leak, instead of allowing someone to walk along the roof and work on the fragile surface.' The inspector added: 'The handyman was very lucky to come away from the incident with just bruising. He could easily have suffered a major injury or even been killed in a fall of that distance.'
The UK's biggest producer of pork products has been fined after a worker severed two fingers in an unguarded mixing machine. The 60-year-old, from Branston, Lincolnshire, lost the index and middle fingers on his right hand and damaged his ring finger in the incident at Tulip Ltd's factory in Ruskington on 10 December 2009. The incident happened as he reached into the mixing bowl to remove a piece of blue plastic that he had spotted as he was adding seasoning to the mixture. After several operations and 10 months off work, the man returned to work but due to the loss of nerve endings in his damaged fingers, is unable to do the same job. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the mixing machine was not guarded, unlike others at the site which all had an electrically locked gate at the top of a set of access steps. If gates had been in place, they would have prevented the paddles inside the machine from turning as the seasoning was added. Grantham Magistrates' Court was told Tulip Ltd had identified the potential dangers of the machine being unguarded during a risk assessment in February 2009 but did nothing about it. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,076. HSE inspector Dr David Lefever said: 'This incident has had a profound effect on the worker. Simple, everyday tasks such as tying shoelaces or doing up buttons have become difficult. He has also had to give up playing cricket for his local team and faces the prospect of further surgery to repair his damaged fingers.' He added: 'The risk could have been removed at no cost to the company by removing the access steps and only using the machine for tasks that did not require feeding from the top. Alternatively they could have provided a new set of locked steps at a cost of £960.' In May 2008, Tulip was fined £265,000 for a series of offences at another of its UK factories, including an incident where a worker lost parts of three fingers (Risks 358).
A recycling firm that failed to show 'basic consideration' for its workforce has been fined £80,000 after an incident where a worker was crushed between two skips. Steven Graham, 46, was trapped between the skips at a recycling centre in Ayr, run by Lowmac Alloys, after an 18-tonne shovel loader hit one of the skips. He was treated for a broken pelvis and continues having difficulty in walking. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the firm had not undertaken a proper traffic management risk assessment on site. It also found Lowmac Alloys had not provided and maintained a safe system of work in that there were no barriers or road markings to separate pedestrian workers from the shovel loader or other vehicles on site. The investigation also discovered the shovel loader was too big for the area where it was operating, and the drivers had never been formally trained, were not supervised, and had been given no training at all on health and safety issues. HSE inspectors found other offences contributed to the incident. The one portable toilet on site was found to be unhygienic, with no running water. Several employees told HSE the toilet was so filthy they preferred to urinate in the yard, and this was a practice accepted by management. It was this situation that led to Mr Graham being between the skips. Following the prosecution at Ayr Sheriff Court, where the firm pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches, HSE inspector Aileen Jardine said: 'Mr Graham suffered horrendous injuries that will affect him for the rest of his life - but this incident was entirely avoidable.' She added 'if the company had shown basic consideration for the welfare of their employees by providing a toilet that was fit to use, Mr Graham would not have been left in such a vulnerable position.'
The impact of workplace fatalities on the families left behind has been considered for the first time by researchers. A team led by Michael Quinlan, a professor in organisation and management at the Australian School of Business, will shortly publish their findings in two academic papers, 'Traumatic death at work: Consequences for surviving families' and 'The adequacy of institutional responses to death at work: Experiences of surviving families'. Dr Quinlan says the papers will document a significant impact on families, both emotionally and financially. 'It's not often recognised that when the primary income earner dies, it places a family in quite a perilous state, their whole life changes and their family just takes a turn,' he added. Co-author Lynda Matthews of the University of Sydney's Work and Health Research Team, says the procedures and processes involved in workplace deaths are hard to navigate and 'by the end families are pretty exhausted'. The researchers contacted seven bereaved families through the Workplace Tragedy Family Support Group. 'The family weren't kept in the loop, and often they didn't know that a prosecution or coronial inquest was occurring until almost after the event,' Quinlan said. 'Or they felt, and I think justifiably, that not enough investigation had occurred after the incident. There's a sense that justice hasn't been done.' The researchers found cost-shifting to the public purse made it difficult to accurately measure the real financial costs of work-related deaths. In 2004, Australia's National Occupational Health and Safety Commission estimated work-related injury and illness cost the Australian community A$34.3 billion (£21.9bn), or 5 per cent of GDP. However, this figure did not include a detailed breakdown for work-related death or the financial costs for families or dependants of deceased workers.
An asbestos widow in Canada has been threatened with legal action after using the logo of the ruling Conservative party in an online advert critical of its support for global asbestos trade. The threatening letter to Michaela Keyserlingk appears to have backfired on the government, and has ensured her crusade against asbestos has become a major news story worldwide. Keyserlingk lost her husband, Robert, a retired university professor, to the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in December 2009. He ran marathons, never smoked and pounded the pavement for his Conservative candidate at election time. After watching her husband die a 'horrible' death, Michaela Keyserlingk continued her husband's letter-writing campaign to the federal government, decrying its hypocrisy in exporting chrysotile asbestos to the developing world, while guarding against its use at home. When she was largely ignored, her son designed an online banner ad which reads 'Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos!'' She pays more than $300 (£185) per month out of her own pocket to maintain the ad online. It links to her website and features the Conservative Party of Canada logo. This prompted an email warning from the party's executive director, Dan Hilton, who told her the use of the logo was unauthorised. 'This usage... must cease immediately. Failure to do so may result in further action. Please govern yourself accordingly.' Keyserlingk says she will only take it down after a senior member of the Conservative government meets with her to explain the export policy and hear her story. She says she expects the next move will be the Conservatives issuing a court order. 'And wouldn't you ? and everybody else at every major newspaper ? love to know about that?' she told the Toronto Star.
A safety pact between unions and the world's largest steel producer has resulted in a dramatic reduction in workplace injuries. A report launched this week by metals giant ArcelorMittal and union bodies the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF), United Steelworkers (USW), and the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) reviews how unions and management have been working together to deliver better safety results for ArcelorMittal. 'Together for safety, global agreement, local impact' chronicles the work undertaken since signing the steel industry's first ever global agreement on health and safety. Since signing the agreement in June 2008, the number of fatalities in ArcelorMittal workplaces has been reduced by one third, although the report acknowledges deaths 'remain unacceptably high despite progress.' Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IMF, commented: 'This report demonstrates our commitment to improve health and safety in ArcelorMittal. The Joint Global Health and Safety Committee have carried out a lot of good work, but achieving zero fatalities remains our highest priority.' Prior to signing the agreement the company had its worst year for fatalities and unions and management identified safety as their number one priority. The global agreement sets out standards that every site must adopt, including the creation of a joint health and safety committee. Lakshmi Mittal, chair and chief executive officer of ArcelorMittal, stated: 'The Joint Global Health and Safety Committee set a new benchmark in steel, and its leadership has improved cooperation with unions and helped us to make progress on our Journey to Zero in Health and Safety.' He added: 'I count on all our joint committees to further boost progress in health and safety to reach the challenging objectives the company has set itself, since health and safety remains top priority. Innovation and not being afraid to make bold decisions are at the heart of our success.'
Unions in New Zealand have welcomed the creation of a new High Hazards Unit in the official health and safety enforcement agency, focusing on petroleum production and mining industries. The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) saying a beefed up inspectorate is absolutely necessary, as has been evident from the first phase of the official inquiry into the November 2010 explosion at Pike River in which 29 miners died (Risk 514). But CTU president Helen Kelly added that the real concern, inadequate regulation and the absence of worker inspectors in mines, remained to be addressed. She added 'in the first phase of the inquiry it was plain to all except perhaps the minister that the regulation of mining is inadequate and the removal of standard practices such as check inspectors had been a major error. Having a site inspector for the purpose of enabling inspections to be carried out at a coal operation on behalf of the people at work at the coal operation is a core part of good mining regulations and these inspectors will always be more available, more alert and are completely complementary to Labour Department inspectors.' She said CTU had been calling for improvements to mining regulations and inspection since well before the explosion at Pike River. The CTU leader added 'we can't wait and risk another disaster when we already know that other measures are also necessary, we need to do everything we can to make sure this does not happen again.' The unit will be created with a NZ$15 million (£761,000) annual funding boost to the official safety inspectorate.
Five major US workplace health and safety rules, most of which were initially opposed by industry, have saved thousands of lives, prevented tens of thousands of injuries and in at least one case dramatically improved productivity, a new report has shown. The analysis by thinktank Public Citizen comes as the US business lobby ramps up efforts to gut the USA's regulatory system. Public Citizen says these corporate interests claim that rules are burdensome and costly, but they fail to acknowledge that the rules have benefits. Regulations often yield enormous advantages, sometimes at minimal costs to industry, Public Citizen's analysis found. The five major worker health and safety rules outlined in the report include a rule requiring the cotton industry to reduce dust in textile factories. This lowered the prevalence of brown lung disease by 97 per cent in the first five years. In addition, when factories upgraded their equipment to comply with the rule, they found the new machines were seven times faster than the old ones. A rule requiring manufacturers to place locks and warning labels on powered equipment continues to prevent 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities per year. Another rule on excavations at construction sites has reduced the fatality rate from cave-ins by 40 per cent. The report also points to a standard for grain-handling facilities that reduced the number of fatalities caused by dust-related explosions by 95 per cent. Finally, a mine safety standard and a law instituting inspections in coal mines led to a rapid 50 per cent decrease in the coal mine fatality rate. 'Corporate interests love to bash regulations in the abstract, so it is important that we recognise the benefits that we - the public - enjoy from particular safeguards,' said Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen's Congress Watch division. 'These are rules that keep us healthy and keep our friends and family members alive.'
The National Work Stress Network annual conference is to take place in Birmingham on the weekend of 26-27 November. The network says increasing economic and job insecurity is leading to more stress at work. The theme of the conference is 'From recession to depression?'. The network says its conference is aimed at union health and safety representatives and shop stewards, company safety and human resources specialists, stress management consultants and others with an interest in the topic.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER 2011 TO DECEMBER 2011
Newsletter (5,800 words) issued 19 Aug 2011
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