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Workers are facing an 'onslaught' by the government on their ability to claim compensation, the TUC has warned. The union body says compensation is facing a triple whammy, with for workplace injury and ill-health victims, victims of criminal violence and those unfairly dismissed all set to lose out. For those suffering work-related injuries and ill-health, 'the government seems hell-bent on making it as hard and expensive to claim as they possibly can,' a TUC bulletin warns. It dismisses government claims of a 'compensation culture', pointing out the number of personal injury claims for employer negligence 'has fallen by a staggering 63 per cent over the past ten years.' Under a planned law, millions will be deprived of the ability to claim or will lose damages, says TUC. The government is also proposing to slash payments under the criminal injuries compensation scheme, with an estimated 17,000 victims of violent crime every year to be excluded from the scheme. This includes many injured on the public services frontline. 'Finally the government wants to make it more difficult, and expensive, to get compensation if an employee is unfairly dismissed, victimised for being a safety representative or if the employer refuses to agree to safety representatives training,' the TUC briefing says. It adds 'it is not only dismissal and victimisation claims that will be affected. For example, the only way that a health and safety representative can seek to challenge a refusal by their employer to give them time off for training is by taking a case to an employment tribunal. The representative will now be charged for trying to get the training they need to help their fellow workers.' The TUC briefing is the latest in a series for use by union reps in the build-up to a 28 April 'Day of Action to defend health and safety.'
Rail union RMT has marked the eighth anniversary of the disaster near Tebay in Cumbria, where four rail workers were killed by a runaway wagon, with a renewed call for action to stop a repeat of the safety failure. In the early hours of 15 February 2004 a 16-tonne wagon broke free and travelled at speed three miles down Shap Summit, taking the lives of Colin Buckley, Darren Burgess, Chris Waters and Gary Tindall and leaving a further five workers suffering a 'horrendous range of physical and psychological trauma', says RMT. Since the incident RMT says it has worked with Network Rail on developing a secondary protection and warning system aimed at preventing another Tebay. But the union says 'eight years on such a mechanism still hasn't been introduced leaving rail workers out in the safety critical environment of the railways at continuing and unnecessary risk.' Commenting on the 15 February anniversary of the Tebay tragedy, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Today we remember our colleagues who so tragically lost their lives because of the safety failures at Tebay on that dark, early morning eight years ago. But remembering those men is not enough. RMT members up and down the country are rightly angry and disgusted that a secondary protection system, which has been the subject of countless meetings, still hasn't been introduced eight years on. Today we are demanding that Network Rail stop prevaricating and give us a definitive timetable for the guaranteed introduction of the secondary protection system. On this day, of all days, we will accept nothing less.' Network Rail announced on 15 February it was to spend £5m to improve the safety of its road-rail vehicles, including the development of the secondary protection system demanded by RMT.
Journalists are being bullied by newspaper management and put under huge pressure to deliver the story at all costs, the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics has heard. Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the media union NUJ, gave evidence compiled from personal interviews with journalists that reveals what NUJ describes as a shocking catalogue of bullying and abuse in the newspaper industry. Those who came forward were guaranteed anonymity, after Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, failed in a court bid to prevent the evidence being brought to the Inquiry. Michelle Stanistreet said: 'The range of issues the journalists have raised with me include, but are not restricted to - endemic bullying, huge pressure to deliver stories, overwhelming commercial pressures which are allowed to dictate what is published and the overweening power and control of editors over their journalists and of employers over their editors.' She explained why the journalists had needed to give their evidence anonymously: 'Those who have experienced or witnessed bullying of a vicious and engrained nature have largely been too fearful to speak out in case they lost their job or were forced out. Those who have witnessed first-hand unethical behaviour or been pressured into working in a way that is unethical are frankly terrified about being identified.' The union is calling for a conscience clause for journalists, enabling them to cite the NUJ Code of Conduct as a safeguard against being forced to use unethical methods. The NUJ Parliamentary Group has consistently supported the call for a conscience clause for journalists to protect journalists and journalistic standards. John McDonnell MP, secretary of the NUJ Parliamentary Group said: 'The NUJ's evidence just shows how bad the atmosphere of bullying and intimidation has been in newsrooms. The reign of terror by certain editors left journalists vulnerable to being forced to survive by employing dubious and, at times, illegal practices. This is why journalists need the protection of a conscience clause in their contract.'
A union investigation of working conditions in the North Sea oil and gas sector has found evidence of the 'exploitation and humiliation' of Romanian workers in the port of Hartlepool. The Offshore Task Force Group convened by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) says it plans to ask the UK government's Low Pay Unit and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate the alleged abuses, which include workers 'so frightened' they are working for food only. According to the task force, the abuses involve 48 Romanian workers contracted by Romanian company Grup Servicii Petroliere, a member of Upetrom Group, to work on their offshore rig GSP Britannia. The rig is currently berthed in Hartlepool's Able Seaton Dock. An ITF inspection found many of these workers appear to have been paid half the UK minimum wage - receiving only around £3.50 per hour for a 12 hour day, seven days per week. The workers have no contracts of employment. ITF believes a number of workers who have been send home from the rig will not receive owed wages. ITF Offshore Task Force Group chair Norrie McVicar has been working to negotiate a deal with the company. He said: 'This is social dumping at its worst. We call upon all right minded people and trade unions in the region to get behind the campaign to stamp this exploitation out.' He continued: 'The sad thing is that many of these workers have families with bills to pay and are being bullied out of receiving their just wages, being denied their rights, and are not being paid in accordance with the UK minimum wage. We are being told by these men that the Able Dock Yard is witnessing human beings so frightened to speak out they will work for food just to survive. This type of company should never be trusted to work in the North Sea.'
Dog attack deaths will continue unless there is a comprehensive overhaul of dangerous dogs laws, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has said. The union was commenting on the death of an 83-year-old man following an attack by a neighbour's dog. CWU renewed its call for urgent changes to the country's dangerous dogs laws. The union said signals from the government that it may make microchips compulsory for all dogs were 'welcome', but warned that a far more comprehensive approach is needed. Union records show two postal workers suffered serious dog attacks in the last month in and 6,000 are attacked by dogs every year. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: 'Compulsory microchips must form part of a comprehensive package of measures, as supported by animal charities, enforcement agencies, CWU and businesses. A piecemeal approach will not do. We need a change in the law to happen now. How many more tragedies will have to occur before the government takes firm action to protect workers, the public and children from dangerous dogs?' In addition to compulsory microchipping, CWU wants to see the law extended to cover attacks on private land, where 70 per cent of attacks on postal workers occur. CWU is also calling for increased police and dog warden powers, the introduction of Dog Control Notices, better enforcement and stiffer court penalties.
A bakery worker who was approached directly by an insurance company after suffering disabling injuries at work could have lost almost £150,000 had he not turned to his union for advice. The 53-year-old from Birmingham, whose name has not been released, was initially offered just £69,000 for his injuries by his employer's insurer. Insurance giant Royal and Sun Alliance contacted the worker directly with the offer and also made him a number of payments to cover his lost wages and expenses. This made him feel the insurer was looking after him. But when his trade union BFAWU brought in its own personal injury experts, he found out this wasn't the case, with the union lawyers securing a £211,000 settlement - more than three times the original offer. The member was reversing a roller truck on the flat bed of an articulated lorry moving baskets of bread as part of his job for Premier Foods when the lorry driver drove off without warning. The roller truck fell five foot to the floor causing the worker's hip bone to be forced up into his pelvis, shattering both. He has been left with a limp, cannot stand for long periods of time and is unable to undertake heavy manual work. Two years after the incident, the bakery worker returned to his job but soon found he was physically unable to cope. He now works as a security guard. He said: 'Initially I didn't realise how complicated the claims procedure could be. When my employer's insurers offered me £69,000 I had no idea if that was a fair amount for my injuries and sought advice from my trade union.' BFAWU's Haroon Rashid said: 'This case proves how important it is for members to receive independent advice from legal experts when claiming compensation. Premier Foods was willing to settle this case for a third of its value which, considering the financial and physical impact of the injuries caused at work to an employee, is almost unbelievable.' Warinder Juss from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm that took up the case for BFAWU, said: 'Sadly for all their cuddly TV adverts this case shows insurers will try and take advantage of those who are acting on their own. For our client this would have meant losing out on more than £140,000 in damages.'
A self-employed worker who fell from a faulty scaffolding platform, breaking his hip and leg, has received compensation after help from his trade union. GMB member Michael Ramsey, 66, wasn't trained to work at height. He was injured while working as a self-employed contractor for SGB Weldings. The scaffolding platform, which had not been bolted down correctly, collapsed under his weight when he leaned on it. It was six months after a major operation on his hip and leg before Mr Ramsey could bear his own weight again. He was unable to walk properly for 18 months. Shortly after suffering the injury, Mr Ramsey turned 65 and he was informed by SGB the company would no longer be using his services. As an injured self-employed worker, Mr Ramsey had no sick pay and was out of work when he did recover enough to work again. He has been left with a limp and suffers pain from the metalwork in his leg. Faced with a compensation claim backed by Mr Ramsey's union, SGB Weldings admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for more than £28,000. Paul Hayes, GMB regional secretary, said: 'Failure to train staff in putting up scaffolding correctly and working at height meant that Mr Ramsey was extremely vulnerable and the worst happened. As a self-employed contractor Mr Ramsey was particularly financially exposed when he was injured and couldn't work. I urge all self-employed contractors to join GMB so they can benefit from our services in the unfortunate event of an accident.'
A Unite member who damaged his knee at work was then left even more seriously injured when private surgery funded by his employers went wrong. The 58-year-old maintenance fitter from Cheshire, whose name has not been released, has been left with a limp and unable to undertake heavy work after the injury suffered at Albion Inorganic Chemicals Ltd in Sandbach and the subsequent operation. He suffered a tear to his right knee when a manhole cover he stepped on gave way. His employer offered to pay for private surgery to help with his recovery, but this made the injury worse. His mobility suffered and he ended up needing 20 months off work. When he did return he could only perform light duties. The firm subsequently closed down and he was made redundant. A Unite backed a personal injury claim was taken against Albion Inorganic Chemicals and a clinical negligence claim against the surgeon, Mr Gillies, who carried out the surgery at South Cheshire Private Hospital in Crewe. They agreed a 'substantial' out of court settlement. Unite regional secretary Paul Finegan commented: 'His disabilities are now much worse than what they were before surgery, costing him his mobility. We are pleased our legal services have been able to negotiate with all parties involved to achieve a successful solution for this member.' Mike Duffy from Thompsons Solicitors, brought in by Unite to act in the case, said: 'This was a complicated claim which involved a number of parties but we were determined to make sure that this member was fully compensated for the unfortunate circumstances he found himself in. These damages will make up for the considerable wage reduction he has had to accept as a result of his disabilities.'
Victims of negligent employers have been left in the cold by the prime minister, who has held a Downing Street 'summit' with insurance industry top brass and employers' organisations to discuss cutting the compensation bill. The only non-industry invitee at the 14 February meeting was Health and Safety Executive (HSE) chair Judith Hackitt. Business lobby groups CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) were both in attendance, with the other invitees all from the insurance industry. A Downing Street 'statement on outcomes' on the summit, which was led by David Cameron, notes: 'There was a commitment from the prime minister that the government will take action to tackle the compensation culture, reduce legal costs and cut health and safety red tape.' It added the meeting agreed 'to tackle the issue identified by the Red Tape Challenge of health and safety 'myths', insurers will provide short guidance to all clients at the point of purchasing insurance setting out clearly what SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] need to do, and critically what they don't need to do, to comply with health and safety law and get insurance cover, to ensure that businesses are not asked to go beyond what is actually required by law.' Insurers agreed they would 'challenge more vexatious health and safety civil claims in order to tackle the compensation culture,' the statement said. TUC said the sole beneficiary of these measures would be insurers. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'This is nothing to do with trying to end a 'compensation culture' or to 'free up businesses from the stranglehold of health and safety red tape', it is a cynical attempt to prevent working people from getting compensation when they are injured by another person's negligence. The only winners here will be the insurance companies.' He asked why no representatives of the victims of poor workplace conditions had been invited to the summit. 'Clearly they seem to have been written out of this process which is all about helping increase the profits of the insurance industry and stop people with legitimate claims from getting the compensation they should be entitled to.'
The prime minister continues to make damaging policy about health and safety at work based on a business wishlist and not the 'massive costs and burdens on families of people killed by negligence', Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) has said. The campaign group, formed by relatives bereaved in tragedies at work, was commenting after a 14 February Downing Street summit hosted by David Cameron saw industry and insurance lobby groups invited, but no workers' groups or victims' organisations. FACK spokesperson Hild Palmer commented: 'The prime minister and whole government continue to ignore us, the families of people killed at work because of far too little health and safety regulation, backed up by inadequate, toothless enforcement.' She added: 'The contempt shown to us, the victims of poor regulation and lax enforcement and business criminality, is quite disgusting, but very much in line with this government's utter contempt for ordinary people. The government is racing ahead to cut the lifelines for workers, based not on evidence or fact, but on the myths, lies and fairy tales peddled by their moneyed business friends.' According to FACK, the government is removing health and safety protection and 'allowing business to get away with as much as possible.' Ministers have held a series of workplace safety related meetings with insurance and business lobby groups. But repeated requests from FACK for a meeting have been declined (Risks 526). FACK's Hilda Palmer said: 'Cameron failed to reply to a letter we sent him expressing concern at his new year's resolution to 'kill off health and safety culture?' yet holds a summit with the insurance companies and only hears the side of the story he wants to.'
A school cleaner and caretaker died as a result of exposure to asbestos throughout her career, an inquest has heard. Brenda Ann Butcher, 65, was diagnosed with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma on 7 March last year. She died on 26 April 2011. Gwent coroner David Bowen recorded a verdict of death from industrial disease. The Newport hearing heard how between 1978 and 1988 Mrs Butcher was employed by Caerphilly council initially as a lollipop lady but went on to work as a cleaner and caretaker at Pengam Primary School. In a statement written before she died which was read to the court, Mrs Butcher described how she was responsible for cleaning the heating system, including a boiler and pipes, which were lagged with asbestos. She told how when she cleaned, dust would fill the air and she would breathe it in. The non-smoker said she was never told the dangers the potentially deadly substance posed, nor was she given any protective equipment such as a face mask when working with it. The court heard Mrs Butcher worked throughout her career in a number of places where asbestos was present, including factories in Newport and the Gossard underwear factory in Pontllanfraith, before she gave up work to care for husband in 1988.
The managing director of a St Helens gas supply firm has been convicted of a criminal safety breach after he and an employee suffered multiple burns in an explosion where the fact no-one died 'was simply down to luck'. Liverpool Crown Court heard that John Webster, 55, and another worker, who has asked not to be named, had been attempting to remove the valve on an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinder at North West Gases Ltd on 10 April 2008. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Mr Webster had failed to ensure the cylinder was empty and there was no ignition source present before starting work. Subsequently, gas escaped from the cylinder and ignited. The resulting fire and explosion set Mr Webster's clothing on fire and his employee was thrown across the building. Both men were treated in a specialist burns unit and the employee suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. A third man who was working outside the workshop also suffered minor injuries. John Webster was found guilty of a criminal safety offence and was fined £22,500 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2,500. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Warren Pennington said: 'Mr Webster's failure to carry out even the most basic of safety checks led to what was an entirely preventable incident. He failed to ensure that the cylinder was empty and didn't check for any potential sources of ignition in the building, any of which could have caused this explosion. In this case, the fact that no one was killed was simply down to luck.'
A construction company working in one of the London's most expensive postcodes has been fined £30,000 after a Romanian worker suffered life-changing injuries when he fell seven metres from an unguarded roof. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted R&G Construction Ltd as a result of the incident on 7 March 2011. Vasile Ionel Vatca, 28, had been working on a major refurbishment project at Eaton Mews North in Belgravia. The project included the construction of a basement, and a roof replacement. Mr Vatca was on top of the roof and had been clearing up debris left over from construction work which had been carried out on the roof. HSE's investigation found that work on the roof had been carried out by employees and subcontractors who had previously been protected from falling off the roof by scaffolding, but this had been removed the previous month. Although the site's fall safety equipment was used after the 7 March incident it was 'entirely inadequate', said HSE, and workers remained at risk of falling. As Mr Vatca climbing down from a part of the roof that could only now be accessed by a ladder, the ladder fell away from the building. Mr Vatca lost his footing and fell about seven metres, suffering a broken leg, heel and wrist. He was hospitalised for a week and nearly a year later is still not working. When sentencing, the judge commented on the severity of Mr Vatca's injuries and the fact that he is now registered disabled. After the hearing, HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers said: 'This was an appalling and entirely preventable incident which has severely affected a young man's life. Companies have a duty to take steps to reduce risks and prevent falls using equipment such as guardrails and working platforms, or even nets and airbags if needs be.' R&G Construction Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £30,000 plus costs of £7,515.
An outbreak of kidney disease that has killed thousands of workers in Central America has been linked by experts to workplace hazards. In Chichigalpa, a town in Nicaragua's sugar-growing heartland, studies have found more than one in four men showing symptoms of chronic kidney disease. Press reports say the mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else. Scientists say they have received reports as far north as southern Mexico and as far south as Panama. Many of the victims were manual labourers or worked in the sugar cane fields that cover much of the coastal lowlands. Years of heavy toil in stifling heat with a lack of drinking water in the fields, mines and on construction sites has been implicated. Chronic dehydration and arduous work appears to a possible trigger for the chronic kidney disease, which is normally caused by diabetes and high blood pressure, maladies absent in most of the patients in Central America. 'The thing that evidence most strongly points to is this idea of manual labour and not enough hydration,' said Daniel Brooks, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University's School of Public Health, who has worked on a series of studies of the kidney disease epidemic. 'I think that everything points away from pesticides,' said Dr Catharina Wesseling, regional director of the Program on Work, Health and Environment in Central America. 'It is too multinational; it is too spread out. I would place my bet on repeated dehydration, acute attacks everyday. That is my bet, my guess, but nothing is proved.' In Nicaragua, the number of annual deaths from chronic kidney disease more than doubled in a decade, from 466 in 2000 to 1,047 in 2010, according to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), a regional arm of the World Health Organisation. In El Salvador, the agency reported a similar jump, from 1,282 in 2000 to 2,181 in 2010. Farther down the coast, in the cane-growing lowlands of northern Costa Rica, there also have been sharp increases in kidney disease, Wesseling said, and PAHO statistics show deaths are on the rise in Panama, although at less dramatic rates.
A French court has found the US biotech giant Monsanto responsible for the poisoning of a farmer who inhaled a powerful weedkiller. Monsanto says it will appeal against this week's verdict by a court in Lyon. Grain farmer Paul Francois, 47, suffered from dizziness, memory loss, stammering, headaches, muscular aches and other problems after examining a sprayer in 2004 which contained Lasso, a product which remained on the market in France until 2007, despite earlier bans in Britain, Belgium and Canada. Medical tests found the hazardous chemical chlorobenzene in his body. He was unable to work for a year. Yann Fichet, head of company relations for Monsanto France, said the company's herbicides were dangerous, but stressed labels on the products gave sufficient warning to consumers. He claimed there was no proof that Lasso was the cause of François' problems. 'Monsanto will appeal this decision... a thorough analysis of the case does not, in our opinion, give sufficient evidence for a causal link between the use of the herbicide and the symptoms described by François.' François' lawyer argued the company failed to say what its product contained on the label or warn of the risks of inhalation or advise the user to wear a mask. France's health and environment safety agency is conducting a study on farmers' health, with results expected next year.
Two former executives of a Swiss building products conglomerate have been convicted in Italy of causing the asbestos-related deaths of more than 3,000 people. The defendants, the former owner of the Eternit conglomerate Stephan Schmidheiny and Belgian baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, a major shareholder in the firm, were each sentenced in Turin to 16 years in prison on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Schmidheiny, 64, a Swiss billionaire, and de Cartier, 90, were accused of exposing workers at four Italian asbestos cement factories, as well as people who lived near the plants, to asbestos. Neither appeared in court and both denied the charges. Some relatives of victims burst into tears in court when the sentence was read out at the world's largest-ever trial into asbestos-related deaths and illnesses. The court also awarded damages to hundreds of victims' families, with the average payout around 30,000 euros. 'It's a sentence that you can call truly historic for its social aspects and for its technical and legal ones,' said health minister Renato Balduzzi. A second case involving other alleged Eternit victims is now due to commence. In a statement, a spokesperson for Schmidheiny said the verdict was 'totally incomprehensible' and said that Schmidheiny's lawyers plan to appeal. Eternit made 'substantial investments' in worker safety and modernisation of the Italian plants in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the release. Some 1,500 relatives and supporters of the victims watched the final day of the trial on large TV screens set up in Turin. Eternit closed its operations in Italy in 1986, six years before asbestos was banned in the country.
A beryllium producer and trade union have made a joint appeal for a stringent legally-binding exposure limit for the highly dangerous metal. The call from the United Steelworkers (USW) and Materion Brush came as they announced they had reached agreement on a model beryllium standard and had sent it to the official Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a joint recommendation. Materion Brush, the only US producer of pure beryllium metal, which can cause devastating lung disease and cancer, accounts for more than half of the beryllium alloys and compounds produced in the United States. The USW represents workers who manufacture beryllium alloys and beryllium-containing products in a number of industries. They say the current permissible exposure limit 'is widely acknowledged to be too high,' with their recommended standard calling for a standard one-tenth the current limit. In addition, the standard would require 'feasible' engineering controls in any operation which generates any beryllium dust or fume, even those which meet the exposure limit. 'This was a two-year negotiation, but it wasn't some sort of give and take,' said USW health and safety director Michael Wright. 'Rather, it was a mutual search for feasible measures that would best protect workers. We worked through many disagreements, but worker health was always the goal for both parties.' Any nationally-recognised standard can only be produced via a notoriously slow official rule-making process. 'Nevertheless, given that the recommendation comes from the largest beryllium producer and the union with a large number of exposed members, we hope it can greatly reduce the time necessary to get a new regulation in place,' said Wright. 'Beryllium workers deserve all the protections of a strong, enforceable standard.'
A 29 February public meeting in Edinburgh, organised jointly by the Scottish Hazards Campaign, Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) and the Right to Work Campaign, will hear contributions on 'deregulation of health and safety and attacks on access to justice.' Speakers included Professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling University, Louise Taggart of the Scottish Hazards Campaign and FACK, Des Loughney of Edinburgh Trade Union Council and Willie Black of the Edinburgh Right to Work Campaign.
The Scottish Hazards Campaign is to run a free seminar on the impact of the recession on workplace health and safety. Delegates will attend three 40 minute workshops, covering: stress and employer management of attendance; working conditions; and health and safety enforcement. The workshops will be followed by a plenary session on 'how to campaign for change and protect health and safety in the current climate.'
COURSES FOR JANUARY 2012 TO MARCH 2012
Newsletter (5,600 words) issued 17 Feb 2012
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