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There are substantial business benefits from worker involvement in health and safety, Prospect's Sarah Page has told an audience of industry figures. Page, the national health and safety officer with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors' union, told the 'Health and Safety South' event in Sandown Park the benefits of involving the workforce in health and safety would be visible in the balance book as well as the accident book. 'Evidence shows that workplaces where workers have a say in decisions that affect their health and safety are safer and healthier,' she said, adding HSE itself recognised this. She also cited practical examples where Prospect and management had worked together and where this collaborative approach had made a difference. These included: promoting the role of health and safety reps in Babcock Marine at Rosyth, Scotland; working with BT on mental health and other issues; 'building consensus' during restructuring at Defra's Natural England; instilling 'a culture of dialogue' at the Magnox reactor sites in Wylfa and Anglesey in Wales; and involving Prospect in the Powering Improvement initiative run by the Energy Networks Association.
Unions and MPs are putting urgent training and safety issues in the maritime industry back on the agenda 'big time'. They are worried that the lack of provision for training, education and safety for shipping workers will result in a huge crisis in recruitment. Nautilus International spokesperson Andrew Linington told the Morning Star this week: 'They are back on the agenda big time because there are so many burning issues.' Seafarers' unions Nautilus and RMT held talks this week to explore areas for collaboration. On 9 March a working group of interested MPs met shipping minister Mike Penning. The meetings came after bereaved families and survivors of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster marked the 25th anniversary of the tragedy with a 6 March memorial service. The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized after setting out from Belgium bound for Dover on 6 March 1987, killing 193 people. Commenting after the 'powerful tribute', Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: 'Twenty-five years on, this awful accident still has very strong resonance with the present-day and Nautilus remains determined to ensure that all the lessons of the loss are learned and that the Herald of Free Enterprise can leave a lasting legacy for safety in the ferry sector.' Stricter ferry safety regulations were introduced following the disaster and rules were tightened even further after the Estonia ferry capsized in September 1994 with the loss of more than 850 lives. In January, the cruise ship Costa Concordia capsized, leaving 32 people dead or missing.
A legal appeal against a court ruling forcing journalists, media organisations and broadcasters to submit all their footage to the police, has been submitted by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The union says the appeal against the production order raises fundamental issues about the ability of the press to report matters of public interest impartially and without fear of intimidation. The NUJ application is on behalf of NUJ member Jason N Parkinson. The BBC, ITN, BskyB and Hardcash Productions have also submitted appeals. The legal challenge came after a court called for all the footage gathered during the first two days of the Dale Farm eviction to be handed to Essex police. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: 'Our members regularly face attack and intimidation whilst doing their jobs. The danger increases if footage gathered whilst reporting events is seized and used by the police. This is an attack on press freedom and turns photographers, videographers and journalists into potential targets. Journalists are not there to carry out investigatory work for the police.' Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal officer, said: 'If the order for production is not overturned by judicial review, the future safety of reporters and photographers will be at risk. They will be seen merely as evidence gatherers for the police, with major consequences for their ability to report objectively and impartially in the future. The vital role of the media as the public watchdog, so important to a democratic society, would be seriously undermined.' John Domokos, video producer for The Guardian website, said: 'Jason has been a contributor of public order and unrest footage to The Guardian for many years. We are very concerned about this production order as we believe it will not only seriously jeopardise his safety and ability to cover future events of this nature, but also affect the safety and impartiality of all video journalists.'
The government's proposed do-it-yourself home repairs Tenant Cashback Scheme could result in tenants endangering themselves, construction union UCATT has warned. The union says under the proposals tenants can claim up to £500 for undertaking DIY tasks on their property. But UCATT is warning this could lead to tenants inadvertently exposing themselves to asbestos contained in their homes, or damaging water and electricity supplies which would pose risks for themselves or their neighbours. UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: 'Of course tenants want to take pride in their own homes but there is a danger that by trying to cut the costs of repairs and maintenance, the government's scheme will potentially endanger the health and welfare of tenants and their neighbours. Councils and housing associations employ qualified repairs and maintenance workers who should be undertaking this safety critical work.' UCATT has also accused the housing minister Grant Shapps of being 'disingenuous' when he launched the programme, by claiming that tenants who took up the scheme could become 'an apprentice in their own home'. Mr Murphy commented: 'Every year thousands of people are blocked from gaining the skills to become a fully qualified construction worker, because they can't find an apprenticeship. Rather than pretending that people can become apprentices at home, the government should be increasing apprentice numbers to ensure the workforce is able to meet the industry's future requirements.'
A hard working factory worker broke his ankle after falling down an unprotected 6ft wide hole. The mill operator from Shropshire, whose name has not been released, had to take two months off work after falling down the hole which had been created in the floor of the unidentified factory during the removal of a machine. The Unite member also had to take three months off from his second job as a retained firefighter. The machine was being removed as part of a decommissioning programme. Nothing had been done to cordon the area off and there were no warning signs, even though the work had been going on for a month. Lawyers brought in by the union argued that the employer had failed to carry out a risk assessment for removal of the machine and had failed to ensure the factory floor was clear of hazards. The employer admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £7,000. Caroline Crolley from Unite said: 'Our member is a hard worker who is holding down two very physical jobs. This accident has already meant he's had to take significant time off work. However, if the break had not been clean he could quite easily be facing a very dim future having to look for alternative lighter work. If this employer had followed simple health and safety regulations this accident could have been avoided.'
A bakery worker needed 10 weeks off work and endured months on reduced wages after slipping on ice in a walk-in freezer. The 44-year-old team manager from Farnley in Leeds, whose name has not been released, was left with tissue damage to his wrist, shoulder and neck after he slipped on ice which had built up on the floor of the freezer. Staff at the unidentified bakery in Leeds had complained to management about the problem, caused by a poor cleaning system inside the freezer, but nothing had been done to fix it. When the member of the bakers' union BFAWU returned to work he was put on light duties, meaning he could only work for a few hours a day for five months. This left him with significantly reduced wages. Faced with a union-backed compensation claim, the bakery settled out of court for £8,400. Efforts have since been made by the bakery to resolve the problem, including replacing the freezer door. BFAWU's Ian Wood commented: 'This bakery should have reacted to staff complaints about this freezer straight away. If they had done so our member would not have faced several months of pain and loss of wages. We are pleased to hear that the health and safety problem has now been fixed but it should never have taken an accident like this to make it happen.'
The police or security services supplied information to a blacklist funded by the country's major construction firms that has kept thousands of people out of work over the past three decades, the Observer has reported. It says the connection was made by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which believes records that could only have come from the police or MI5 were included in a vast database of files held on 3,200 victims, most targeted for their trade union - and particularly safety - activities. The files were collected by The Consulting Association, a clandestine organisation funded by major names in the construction industry. Evidence of police and security service complicity came at an employment tribunal for one of the victims, Dave Smith, a 46-year-old former UCATT safety rep who had a 36-page file against his name and was victimised repeatedly for highlighting safety hazards on sites, including poor welfare facilities and the presence of asbestos. David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO and a former police officer, told the central London tribunal adjudicating on Smith's claims against construction giant Carillion that 'there is information on The Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services.' He told the Observer: 'The information was so specific and it contained in effect operational information that wouldn't have formed anything other than a police record.' The paper reports that the scandal will be thrown open to further public exposure in the coming months as a class action by 100 victims against at least 39 companies is set to be pursued in the high court by Hugh Tomlinson QC. John McDonnell MP, who first raised the issue of blacklisting a decade ago, wrote to the Home Secretary Theresa May this week, calling on her to make a House of Commons statement on the blacklisting issue. The letter also calls for a public enquiry.
Rail union RMT has demanded full disclosure of a secret 'RMT File' held by The Consulting Association. It says to date, the Information Commissioner has only released construction industry files compiled by the blacklisting organisation. These files, however, include explicit cross references to another 'RMT File' which remains unpublished. RMT believes this has been used by employers subscribing to The Consulting Association blacklisting services 'to wreck our members working lives in the railway industry.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The Information Commissioner's Office knows that an 'RMT File' exists in The Consulting Association records, as it is cross referenced in information from the construction industry files that we have in our possession. It is a scandal that nearly three years after this original information came to light that we have still not received copies of the 'RMT File.' Clearly, we have reason to believe that this blacklisting file would have identified RMT activists who will have suffered financial loss from this conspiracy to target known trade union activists purely on the basis of their trade union activity.' He added the 'RMT demands full disclosure and will have no hesitation in pursuing legal action against those involved in this scandal.'
The UK is ignoring an occupational cancer epidemic and needs to put far greater efforts into preventing work-related cancer deaths, a top workplace health researcher has said. Simon Pickvance, who based at Sheffield University where he is investigating occupational bladder cancer risks, believes this cancer illustrates a flaw in HSE's figures that systematically disappears real cancers from the statistics, by dismissing or ignoring risks by job, by industry or by substance. In an interview in Hazards magazine, due to be published next week, Pickvance says figures published by HSE suggest over 500 people develop occupational bladder cancer each year, and around 250 people die of the work-related condition. However, he says this is based on an unjustifiably short list of substances and occupations linked to bladder cancer. In reaching its estimate, HSE included exposures to just nine substances, for example. Pickvance lists 29 substances where the evidence of a bladder cancer risk is 'strong' or 'good', and 18 others were the evidence is present but 'limited'. He says a series of other exclusions mean the HSE total dramatically underestimates the real toll, a claim he believes is borne out by other research which has confirmed occupational bladder cancer risks are far more extensive than admitted by HSE. The same problem is repeated for other work cancers, Pickvance says, and could explain why HSE fails to address the problem with the required seriousness. 'There's less of a campaign now than five years ago, just a few gestures. There's a pervasive lack of willingness to believe things are dangerous - it's a cultural problem in HSE,' Pickvance concludes. He warns that even HSE's estimate suggests cancers caused by work kill one person in the UK every 30 minutes around the clock, adding this alone should justify a well-resourced drive to identify and address problems through a 'precautionary' approach. It is a message also voiced by TUC (Risks 542). In February, the union body called for greater efforts to prevent cancers, through removing the cause from the workplace, better standards and enforcement and greater union involvement in finding solutions.
The son of a Glasgow woman killed in a train crash in Grayrigg, Cumbria, says he is 'disgusted' Network Rail's former boss was given a knighthood on the same day the firm admitted its criminal safety failings had led to the tragedy. Sir John Armitt, who was knighted at Buckingham Palace on 29 February, was chief executive of the company at the time of the crash, which killed 85-year-old Margaret Masson and left 86 people injured. At the same time, Mr Masson attended a hearing at Lancaster Magistrates' Court where Network Rail lawyers, for the first time in court, admitted responsibility for the crash five years ago. Mr Masson said: 'Why give him a knighthood? He shouldn't be getting a knighthood, it should be taken off him. This stinks. He doesn't deserve it. He was the top man who should have known what was going on.' Lawyers for Network Rail indicated at Lancaster Magistrates' Court they will be pleading guilty to criminal breaches of health and safety laws before the crash. The court heard that the firm's systems for inspection and maintenance were inadequate and what systems there were had not been properly followed. The firm is due to appear at Preston Crown Court on 2 April. Expressing sympathy with Mrs Masson's family, Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers' union ASLEF, said the knighthood was 'an appalling error.' He added: 'What message does this send to company bosses about their responsibilities for safety in the workplace? It is a smack in the teeth for the family and the whole industry, including train drivers. The message is that if safety is ignored, senior managers will walk away without sanction or a stain on their name. They can still pick up a knighthood even if their company freely admits it is responsible for a death. This is a tragic day for the Masson family, an affront to everyone who works in our industry and warning to every working person in the UK.'
The man who was charged with reviewing workplace health and safety regulation for the government says he never described safety as a 'burden' and instead believes his review showed that it 'is not the case' that health and safety holds back business. Professor Ragnar Löfstedt told this week's opening session of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) conference that his mandate was 'clearly a deregulatory one' but his overall conclusions were that there is no need for a major overhaul of the system and that bad health and safety practice is already a considerable burden on business and society. The professor, who submitted his report's findings to the government on 28 November last year, said prime minister David Cameron's January 2012 description of health and safety as a 'monster' (Risks 537), and his overall approach to the subject, was 'not helpful.' Nor did he ever suggest cutting regulations by 50 per cent, Löfstedt said - this was a government decision. He revealed a review of existing EU legislation to ensure it is risk and evidence-based would now likely start in 2015 rather than 2014, as originally planned. He also announced that Conservative MEP Julie Girling is to set up an information committee on risk, due to be launched in September this year. Professor Löfstedt called for help in lobbying the House of Lords to set up a Select Committee on risk to consider how to engage society on this subject. He said a new informal cross-party parliamentary committee of MEPs to promote evidence-based policy making in the EU would be launched at the European Parliament in June. The professor criticised sections of the media for their unhelpful reporting and called on them to instead report on the benefits of a positive approach to health and safety.
Ministers are moving to ease regulation and oversight of gangmasters, according to a report in The Guardian. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) was set up with support across the political spectrum after 23 cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, in 2004. But reacting to industry complaints about the 'burden of administration and inspection' from the GLA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) agreed to look at ways of reducing the impact of the authority on employers. Findings of the government-commissioned McDonald review published last year called for the GLA to move from being a 'heavy-enforcement body' to a 'light-touch advisory body'. The review also supported a move to self-regulation combined with 'earned recognition', a principle that the government accepted in its February response to the review. The government has said it will instruct the GLA to 'minimise disruption' when conducting spot checks or planned visits to interview workers, and was considering extending a trial of 'lighter-touch' regulation. Further reviews of the authority's work would continue as part of the national 'Red Tape Challenge', Defra said. The wide-ranging attack on the GLA's work has alarmed staff at the authority. A spokesperson for the union PCS told The Guardian its members at the GLA were 'furious' about the proposals from Defra. The authority's funding is also being cut by about 20 per cent by the end of the parliament, in 2015. 'We have grave concerns about the government's plans for this agency that was set up because vulnerable workers lost their lives but is now distastefully branded as 'red tape' holding back business,' said the PCS spokesperson. 'Its role should be expanded, not reduced.' The Labour MP John McDonnell commented: 'When unemployment is rising, people will become more vulnerable to gangmasters, rather than less. This has broken the cross-party consensus that introduced the legislation in the first place after the cockle pickers [died].'
A sock company in Carmarthenshire has been fined £25,000 after being found guilty of failing to protect its employees from asbestos. Corgi Hosiery Ltd, which makes socks for Prince Charles, hired unqualified contractors to carry out work on the roof of its Ammanford factory. After receiving a complaint about the work, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the site on the 22 October 2008, and found roofers had removed the asbestos sheets from the roof, but they had also removed plaster-like material from the underside of the sheets and structural steelwork. HSE inspectors stopped the work immediately and tests confirmed the plaster-like material contained asbestos. On further investigation it was found that Dragon Cladding Ltd's site foreman Stuart Phillips, 27, had instructed two workers to use a hammer and chisel to remove the material from the building steelwork. Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard no effort was made to establish what this material was prior to work commencing, and the debris was swept into domestic black bin bags and placed in open skips. Throughout the duration of the work, Corgi Hosiery employees had continuous access to the main building, with one worker based in the area throughout the works. Visitors to the premises were not excluded from the works area and were also potentially exposed to asbestos. Foreman Stuart Phillips was found to have failed to adequately assess the risks, plan the work and implement a safe system of work. He was fined £4,000 for criminal safety offences and ordered to pay £1,000 costs. Corgi Hosiery Ltd was found guilty of failing to prevent exposure of its employees to asbestos at an earlier hearing and was fined £25,000 for a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006, with £15,000 costs.
A production company has been fined after a cameraman fell more than three metres from the set of a forthcoming major film. The 62-year-old, whose name has not been released, was working on the set of 47 Ronin at Shepperton Studios, Middlesex, when he fell through an opening in the floor. The opening was for access to a raised area via stairs, but had not been guarded to prevent people falling through it. The cameraman, who suffered bruising and suspected broken ribs, was employed by Warrior Productions Limited, which was responsible for the production of the film in the UK and was in control of the set. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident on 10 May 2010 found that because the film is set in 18th century Japan the set had been built without edge protection to make it look authentic. Temporary protection had been added in some areas but not where the cameraman fell. Guardrails were added immediately after the incident. Warrior Productions Limited was fined £300, ordered to pay costs of £10,500 and to pay the injured person £300. After the hearing, HSE inspector Stephen Green said: 'At the time of the incident it was dark and there was no lighting on the platform. Numerous people had been or were still on the platform, and therefore were all exposed to the risk. The cameraman was lucky to escape with bruising and suspected cracked ribs as falls from a similar height can cause serious or even fatal injuries.' He added: 'The guardrails fitted after the incident would have prevented the fall and were quick and easy to install.'
A contractor has been convicted of a criminal safety breach after a demolition worker was engulfed in flames when he cut through a live 11,000 volt cable at an electricity substation in Worcester. Birmingham firm DSM Demolition Ltd and Halesowen-based Gould Singleton Architects Ltd (GSA), which pleaded guilty, were sentenced on 2 March 2012 following the incident on 14 July 2006. Worcester Crown Court heard that DSM was demolishing a metal casting foundry in Worcester when Lee Harris, 35, was told to cut through a cable connected to a switching unit on a substation on the site and which was still live. As the machine he was using to cut through the cable came into contact with the live conductors, he was engulfed by flames, suffering 20 per cent burns. The injuries left him with permanent disabilities and required skin grafts. Neither planning supervisor GSA nor demolition contractor DSM had made adequate checks to ensure that the electricity on the site had been disconnected. GSA had told DSM that all services to the site had been terminated when actually the power supply remained live. DSM should have ensured that the electrical services had been disconnected before starting demolition, but failed to do so. DSM Demolition Ltd was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £100,000 costs. Gould Singleton Architects Ltd was fined £20,000 plus £20,872 costs. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Tariq Khan said: 'Neither of the two companies prosecuted today had made adequate checks to ensure that the power supply to the cable required to be cut by Mr Harris had been terminated. Had they done so then this incident would never have happened and Mr Harris would not have suffered such serious injuries.' He added: 'Construction, design and management co-ordinators must ensure that the information they pass on to contractors which could affect the safety of their workers is correct. Likewise, demolition contractors must follow safe systems of work at all times and ensure they check information provided to them about services on site with independent, competent sources.'
The Labour Research Department (LRD) is about to update its Safety, health and equality - a guide for union reps booklet. It wants your help. The new guide will set out the relationship between equalities issues and discrimination and health and safety and provide examples of model and workplace policies, checklists, union guidance and other initiatives in this area. According to LRD, the guide 'will summarise health and safety and equalities legislation and show how union representatives can take, and have taken, action to improve working conditions and the working environment for groups such as women workers, black and minority ethnic (BME) and migrant workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers, disabled workers and young and older workers.' It is appealing for examples of related guidance for union representatives, model or actual workplace policies or legal cases in which the union has been involved. The information can relate to action or agreements at every level of the union.
Australian workers are suffering from an 'unrecognised epidemic' of tiredness, a new study suggests, with working parents particularly badly affected. Report authors, psychologists Natalie Skinner and Jill Dorian, recommend a cap the working week, including overtime, at 38 hours, to help avoid harm caused by sleep deprivation. The University of South Australia researchers surveyed about 970 workers and self-employed business people about their work and sleep habits, moods, and access to leave. About 30 per cent often felt fatigued, saying they were 'extremely tired' or 'completely exhausted.' A similar proportion never or rarely had seven hours sleep a night, however, this rose to 40 per cent among parents of dependent children. The paper's authors say Australians' work and sleep habits 'are likely to place significant strain on workers' capacity to be effective and engaged workers, parents, partners, friends and community members. The workers in this study concurred, identifying many personal and work outcomes that were compromised as a result of their fatigue.' The academics warn: 'Our findings suggest that working 45-plus hours significantly increases the risk of negative outcomes for fatigue and sleep deprivation. These outcomes, in turn, are associated with reduced productivity, community and workplace safety. Therefore, it is recommended that an upper limit be set for 'reasonable' hours no longer than 38 weekly hours, even taking into account operational needs of the workplace/enterprise.'
The former director of security at a Massey Energy mine in West Virginia has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying to federal agents and destroying documents sought by investigators looking into a deadly blast that killed 29 in 2010. Hughie Elbert Stover was also handed two years of probation and a $20,000 fine after he was convicted of two felonies, making a false statement and obstructing a government probe of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. US Attorney Booth Goodwin had sought a 25-year sentence for Stover but said after the sentencing: 'Three years for a man who is 60 years old is a long time. We wanted to send a very clear message and we have done that.' Ken Ward of The Charleston Gazette reported the charges against Stover 'focussed on his role in a Massey practice of warning workers underground of impending safety inspections, a routine occurrence that federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigators now say played a major role in the disaster.' In September 2011, former Upper Big Branch miner Thomas Harrah was sentenced to 10 months in jail. Harrah pleaded guilty to faking a foreman's license when he performed key mine safety examinations at the mine between January 2008 and August 2009 and to then lying to investigators about his actions. Last month, Gary May, former superintendent at the Upper Big Branch mine, was charged with conspiracy to violate federal mining safety laws.
Miners exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust face a dramatically increased lung cancer risk, a long delayed official US study has found. In a study of non-metal miners in the United States, federal government scientists reported that heavy exposure to diesel exhaust increased the risk of death from lung cancer. The findings, delayed by a court challenge from a mine industry lobby group (Risks 542), were finally published on 2 March 2012 in two papers in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Michael D Attfield, who led one of the studies, found the risk of lung cancer among heavily exposed underground workers was five times the risk observed among workers in the lowest exposure category. The study also found a significantly increased risk of oesophageal cancer. In a second study led by Debra T Silverman, where investigators took into account smoking and other lung cancer risk factors, the data showed a three-fold risk of lung cancer death overall and about a five-fold risk for heavily exposed underground workers. For never smokers, risk of lung cancer death increased with increasing diesel exhaust exposure. 'These data are especially revealing as they show the effect of diesel exhaust in the absence of smoking,' said Silverman. Although based on small numbers, non-smokers with the highest level of diesel exposure were seven times more likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers in the lowest exposure category. 'This landmark study has informed on the lung cancer risks for underground mine workers, but the findings suggest that the risks may extend to other workers exposed to diesel exhaust in the United States and abroad, and to people living in urban areas where diesel exhaust levels are elevated,' said Joseph F Fraumeni Jr, director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. In an accompanying editorial in the journal, Lesley Rushton, the epidemiologist at Imperial College in London who produced for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the revised UK estimate of workplace cancer risks, wrote: 'These results indicate that stringent occupational and particularly environmental standards for diesel engine exhaust should be set and compliance ensured to have an impact on health outcomes.' The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is due to review diesel exhaust evidence in June. Some believe the US study could lead to the agency upgrading diesel exhaust from a 'probably carcinogenic to humans' group 2a rating to group 1, a known cause of cancer in humans.
COURSES FOR JANUARY 2012 TO MARCH 2012
Newsletter (5,800 words) issued 9 Mar 2012
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