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A dramatic increase in the proportion of construction fatalities involving self-employed workers must be addressed by the government, construction union UCATT has said. Latest provisional Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show 49 construction workers were killed in 2011/12 of which 23 were self-employed workers - 47 per cent of all construction fatalities. By comparison, UCATT says the previous year only 36 per cent of construction deaths involved self-employed workers. It adds that over the past seven years the previous highest proportion was in 2008/09, when 38 per cent of workers killed on site were self-employed. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'This rise in deaths among self-employed workers is very worrying. Self-employed workers frequently work on sites where safety levels are lower and are therefore more vulnerable to suffering an accident or injury.' UCATT believes that the self-employed fatality figure 'could be an underestimate, as the HSE on occasion records false self-employed workers as employees in order to improve the likelihood of making a successful prosecution following the death of a worker.' The union is concerned government plans to remove many self-employed workers from safety law coverage will be extended in the future to cover 'high risk' workplaces like construction, as part of the government's desire to 'cut red tape'. Steve Murphy said: 'Rather than cutting safety, the government should be ensuring that existing laws are properly enforced.' The HSE 2011/12 fatalities report notes: 'The latest rate of fatal injury is 2.3 per 100,000 workers, compared to a five-year average of 2.5.' This is around four times the 0.6 all-industry average. The rate among employees in construction is 2.0 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to 2.8 in self-employed construction workers.
Flights to and from the UK's oil platforms should be stopped in extreme weather conditions rather than opting to rely on a cargo retrieval system to pluck crash victims from the sea, unions have said. Unite says flights are made day in day out almost every day of the year 'under some of the most dangerous and challenging of environments imaginable.' It says both Unite and pilots' union BALPA are concerned that 'where the planned flight is predicated on the use of the 'Dacon Scoop' as the only method of rescue from the sea should there be an accident or a ditching at sea', the responsible approach is instead to ground the flight until the weather improves. Unite says the shipboard Dacon Scoop consists of large crane-like booms combined with heavy webbing, designed for retrieving cargo from the sea. The union shares concerns raised earlier by BALPA (Risks 547) that 'if the conditions are so rough as to prohibit any rescue other than by Dacon Scoop, then we do not believe operators should expect pilots to fly.' Unite is urging all offshore workers and pilots to sign a petition backing its call for a safety-first approach to offshore flights in extreme weather conditions.
The government and media employers must acknowledge the extent of sexism and harassment in the media industry and take action to combat it, the leader of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said. NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet was speaking out after ministers addressing last week's Conservative Party conference announced plans to weaken health and safety, trade union and equality legal rights. These include the withdrawal of sections of the Equality Act relating to third party harassment. The issue of sexism and harassment in the media has attained a high profile this month, after allegations involving Jimmy Savile and other high profile celebrities. The NUJ said it supports the inquiry into Savile's behaviour while working the BBC and said it is committed to working in partnership with union members and employers to challenge sexism and harassment and prioritise the campaign for safer working environments. Michelle Stanistreet said: 'Sexism and sexual harassment is totally unacceptable and the NUJ is united and determined to challenge it. We are calling for media employers, trade unions and journalists to work together to ensure that women are safe at work. We want to see measures put in place to protect victims and we want procedures to be introduced to effectively tackle the harmful and damaging behaviour of the perpetrators.' She added: 'Supporting a strong and representative trade union can help to address the problems and the NUJ will continue to work hard to convince the government and employers of the need for equality policies aimed to challenge unhealthy cultures and practices at work.' The results of an NUJ survey on sexism in the media, including sexual harassment, will be published later this year.
Shopworkers' union Usdaw has taken the fight to save compensation for victims of violent crime to Parliament. A House of Commons meeting on 17 October organised by the union saw MPs brought face to face with victims of violent crime, including shopworkers who had been stabbed, beaten and brutalised in attacks at work. The politicians were left with no illusions about how important the under-threat Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (Risks 577) is in helping innocent victims come through their ordeal and get back on their feet. The scheme awards compensation to over 30,000 people each year who suffer significant injuries following a crime of violence. Cuts to the scheme proposed by the government mean half of victims will receive nothing in future and almost 90 per cent will lose out. The government has scheduled a second attempt to force through cuts to the scheme by 22 October and Usdaw fears a revised and drastically weakened version could be in place as early as 5 November. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: 'We remain optimistic that the cuts can be stopped because many MPs and Lords we have spoken to, and those who fully understand the detail and implications of the cuts, are horrified that they were ever considered in the first place. If the Coalition is truly serious about putting victims of crime first, then it should immediately scrap the proposed cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.'
Construction union UCATT is warning that 'savage' cuts to the highways management contract in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire will risk the lives of commuters and workers. The Area 10 highways management contract - the second largest in the country, covering the M60 and M62 area - is set to be transferred from existing contractor A1 plus to Balfour Beatty/Mott McDonald on 4 November. UCATT says government cuts the Highways Agency has led to a reduction in the level of service required on the contract. The new contractor is proposing to reduce blue collar staff numbers from 220 to 103. Incident Support Units, which play a crucial role in protecting workers making temporary highways repairs, will all go. The union says since their introduction in Area 10 six years ago there has not been any fatalities or serious injuries involving workers. It adds staffing reductions are so deep that it will become very difficult to maintain winter maintenance programmes, especially during prolonged spells of bad weather. Jimmy Woods, acting regional secretary of UCATT's North West region, said: 'These savage cuts are bad news for everybody. They will decrease safety for workers and road users and will lead to increased delays on the road network.' He added: 'It is simply impossible to operate this contract with so few staff; all parties must come together and agree a realistic way forward.'
Services and safety on Scottish railways are being undermined by staffing cuts, which are leaving engineers struggling to keep up with repairs, RMT has warned. The rail union has demanded urgent action after Virgin Rail was forced to suspended services between Glasgow and Carlisle last Wednesday night. The line's overhead wire fell down near Carstairs in south Lanarkshire, an incident RMT said exposed a serious shortage of safety critical Overhead Line (OHL) staff. The union had earlier warned about staffing problems and also has concerns that the OHL depots do not have the necessary machinery and equipment. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'RMT reps have raised concerns that the severe shortage of Overhead Line staff is not only impacting on efficiency and reliability of services but is also compromising safety. It is a scandal that those justified concerns have been snubbed and treated with nothing less that contempt by managers who should know better.' He added: 'Network Rail has now compounded the problem by bringing in outside agencies to cover in the short-term rather than bolstering the in-house numbers required to do the job of work required in the long term. RMT is demanding that Network Rail take this issue seriously, meet with our reps to discuss the issue and staff up the OHL depots to the level required to maintain both services and safety.' The Morning Star reports that the breakdown came just weeks after the Rail Accident Investigation Branch found that a derailed train in Edinburgh last July was caused by inadequate repairs to a set of points near Princes Street Gardens. Inspectors said the company had not learned from similar derailments at Waterloo in London in 2006 and Glasgow's Exhibition Centre in 2007.
A school science technician was poisoned by toxic bromine gas after staff complaints about a poorly ventilated chemical cupboard were ignored. UNISON member April Walsh, 34, was exposed to bromine fumes while working as a senior science technician at Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle. The lid on the bottle of bromine was corroded and the fumes were escaping into the small poisons cupboard and into the science prep room where she was working. The science prep room in the new, purpose-build premises had a poisons cupboard with inadequate ventilation, no properly ventilated fume cupboard and windows that did not open. When April entered the room she immediately began to suffer from irritated eyes, nose and throat. The room was evacuated and members of staff investigated the leak before the fire service was called to make the area safe. Firefighters had to smash the windows to allow the fumes to escape. For over a year prior to this incident, staff had complained to managers about the unsuitability of the room but nothing was done and they were not given suitable protective equipment or clothing. April continued to suffer symptoms of bromine poisoning for several weeks, including headaches and a chesty cough. In a union-backed compensation case, April's legal team argued that the chemical should have been kept in a room with ducted ventilation and that the school should have made steps to rectify the problem as soon as it was highlighted. Richard Rose Academy admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £3,500. April has since been made redundant by the Academy.
A government amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill would water down health and safety regulations across the board, according to personal injury expert Karl Tonks. The president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) said: 'At the moment, where an employer has been found to have breached health and safety regulations and someone has been injured as a result, the injured person has an automatic right to claim compensation. The law has been clear on this point since a landmark case was brought in 1898. But the government is now seeking changes which will mean the injured person will no longer be able to rely on this right, but will have effectively to start from scratch by proving that negligence has occurred.' He said the 'completely illogical' move reflected a government 'obsession' with cutting safety regulation that 'also sends a clear signal to bosses that the safety of workers is no longer to be considered a priority.' Speaking in the Commons debate on the Bill, where the measure was condemned by opposition MPs, Labour's Iain Wright said the government belief the move would boost the economy was 'economically illiterate.' Commenting after the debate, a TUC spokesperson said: 'This proposal was introduced with no consultation and there is no indication of what regulations the civil liability changes will apply to, but it is a disgrace that they are transferring the cost of an injury from the employer on to the worker, who will already have suffered the pain and suffering.' In another amendment to the Bill, the government is seeking changes to the law that would dramatically undermine the rights of workplace safety whistleblowers (Risks 559).
Emergency asbestos surveys will be carried out at schools across Wales after the closure of Cwmcarn High School. The school in south Wales was shut last week following the discovery of asbestos contamination, with 900 pupils sent home. The first pupils returned to the newest part of the school after a week away, but older buildings remain closed. Caerphilly County Borough Council said: 'The council took the difficult decision to close the school in light of the findings of a structural report and we are not prepared to fully re-open the site until further investigations have taken place to determine the extent of the problem and the work needed to address the situation.' NASUWT spokesman Rex Phillips had earlier raised safety concerns, saying high levels of the material had been found throughout the building. He said staff and pupils at the school could have been exposed to airborne asbestos. Mr Phillips said the problem was found when a company visited the school to carry out a survey on a boiler room. He said airborne asbestos was found, with two-thirds of the school 'inoperable.' Education minister Leighton Andrews said all schools across Wales must report on asbestos levels by next week. The Health and Safety Executive said it is making initial inquiries to find out if there is any basis for a full investigation at Cwmcarn High.
A Yorkshire firm has had its HGV licence suspended for two weeks after its director failed to disclose convictions for health and safety offences to the Traffic Commissioner. In a written decision issued after a public hearing in Leeds, North East of England Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney said he had been persuaded 'by the finest of margins' to allow Birstall Demolition and Plant Services Ltd director, Virginia Walker, to keep running HGVs in connection with her plant and demolition business. But he cut the firm's licence from seven vehicles to four indefinitely and applied a two-week suspension, meaning the business will not be able to operate any of its fleet between 20 October and 2 November. During the inquiry, the Traffic Commissioner heard evidence from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which had visited the operator in April 2012. In his report, a vehicle examiner said the business had an unsatisfactory system for maintaining its fleet, including that vehicles had not been presented on time for routine safety inspections on eight occasions. In addition, evidence of prohibitions issued to vehicles was presented, confirming that nine mechanical defect notices had been recorded since the operator's last appearance at a public inquiry in May 2010. The Traffic Commissioner also examined the issue of two fixed penalties - one for an overloaded vehicle and one for failing to produce tachograph records recording driver duty. The company had also failed to declare the conviction of a company employee for driving a vehicle with a dangerous tyre, or a May 2012 prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive, which resulted in the business being fined £10,000. The director was required to notify the Traffic Commissioner of those convictions but failed to do so.
A worker unloading scaffold materials from a flatbed lorry was thrown from the vehicle and hit by its load of boards and tubes when it overturned. Martin Sapec, 54, of Edwardsville, Treharris suffered a broken pelvis and ankle in the incident at Bryntirion, Mountain Ash, on 15 August 2011. Pontypridd Magistrates heard that Mr Sapec was helping delivery driver Wayne Ford to unload the scaffolding material while standing on the back of the lorry. The vehicle was fitted with a crane operated by Mr Ford, who failed to extend a stabilising outrigger from the vehicle designed to provide balance while the crane is in operation. The lorry became unstable and tipped over, throwing Mr Sapec off. As he landed, some of the scaffold boards and tubes from the lorry fell on top of him. Mr Sapec has been unable to work since the incident because of his injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Wayne Ford was responsible for the lorry, and was at fault for not using the crane with the outrigger extended. He was fined £1,000 for a criminal safety offence and ordered to pay £1,000 in costs. After the hearing HSE inspector David Kirkpatrick said: 'Mr Sapec sustained serious injuries in this incident, and could easily have been crushed and killed by the lorry when it toppled over.' He added: 'Had the extending outriggers been use for their intended purpose then the incident could have been avoided. It was wholly preventable on that basis.'
A South Yorkshire firm has been fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £42,471 costs after a worker died when he was crushed by a one and a half tonne steel girder. Steelworker John Mott, 47, who had worked in the steel industry since leaving school, received fatal injuries in the incident at the Bespoke Precast plant in Barnsley on 30 March 2009. Sheffield Crown Court heard Mr Mott was moving an overhead travelling crane from an area of the factory where it had been supporting the eight and a half metre long girder. The court was told that as he did this, a clamp attached to the crane hook snagged on the girder causing it to topple and fall, crushing Mr Mott against the floor. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation showed the overhead travelling crane used to support steel girders during fabrication work was frequently needed elsewhere in the factory to carry out heavy lifting operations. It was common practice for workers to move the crane to other areas. Sally Rissbrook from law firm Irwin Mitchell, who is representing Mr Mott's family, said the tragedy at the firm, now called Charcon Precast Solutions, 'highlights why we have repeatedly called for employers to ensure safety is their number one priority'. She added: 'The evidence in this case has shown there were a number of deficiencies at the factory where Mr Mott worked and we cannot understand why the appropriate risk assessments were not provided to the staff and why the girders were not secured properly.' Speaking after the HSE prosecution, Mr Mott's wife Janet said her husband's death could and should have been prevented. She said: 'John was a kind and lovable man who enjoyed his work and was a massive football fan. We still feel distraught about losing him in this way and hope valuable lessons about the importance of health and safety at work have been learnt, not just by Charcon, but others as well. We don't want another family to lose a loved one because of a preventable accident at work.'
A school caretaker was left with permanent disabilities when he fell through the school hall ceiling five days before his retirement. David O'Hanlon, 62, was putting a new light bulb in a roof void of the old Beckfoot School in Bingley so he could empty it safely before demolition. He stepped on to an unboarded area that gave way beneath him, and fell four metres through the ceiling into the hall below. Mr O'Hanlon suffered a fractured hip that required three screws, and a broken heel. He is likely to need a hip replacement and further surgery on his heel to add plates and screws. He has also been told he will suffer from severe arthritis and will not regain full mobility. The incident, on 22 June 2011, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Bradford Council for criminal safety failings. Bradford Magistrates' Court heard the caretaker's last job was to supervise the clearance of the old building and ensure all classrooms were emptied. He decided to put a new light bulb in a roof void that had been used for storage so he could work safely. Bradford Council pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £5,667 in costs. After the hearing HSE inspector Morag Irwin said: 'This incident was completely avoidable and has essentially dashed Mr O'Hanlon's hopes and expectations for a healthy retirement. Bradford Council has a duty to fully assess the risks in a building and ensure its employees are safe as they go about their day-to-day duties.'
A worker had his lower body crushed when a stack of bales, each weighting a quarter of a tonne, collapsed on him as he sorted waste in a processing shed in Somerset. Aleksandras Fomenkouas, 40, suffered serious injuries in the incident on 8 September 2011 while working at the recycling and processing yard of Cannington Enterprises Ltd. Taunton Magistrates heard the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and brought a prosecution against Cannington Enterprises Ltd for its failure to ensure his safety. The court was told that Mr Fomenkouas was sorting plastic waste in the yard for use in the company's anaerobic digester, while another employee nearby was moving plastic carton bales with a forklift truck. Shortly after a bale was removed, the stack became unstable and collapsed on top of Mr Fomenkouas, knocking him to the ground and crushing the lower half of his body. Cannington Enterprises Ltd of Swang Farm, Cannington, Bridgwater pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,614. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Ian Smart, said: 'This serious incident could have led to a fatality and was entirely avoidable. Stacks of baled material can become unstable and workers should not be near them. The stability of the stack is obviously crucial and needs to be regularly checked.' The company has received 10 HSE improvement notices in the last 13 months, according to the HSE enforcement database.
A Leigh cardboard box manufacturer has appeared in court after one of its employees almost lost his right arm when it became trapped in a machine. The 26-year-old from Leigh, who has asked not to be named, was trying to retrieve a piece of card to clear a blockage when his arm was dragged under a roller, causing severe crush injuries. His employer, Leighton Packaging Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at the factory on 7 October last year. Trafford Magistrates' Court was told that doctors feared the employee could have lost his arm due to the extent of his injuries. He still has difficulty using the limb, and the injury is likely to affect him for the rest of his life. An HSE investigation found the guards on the machine were inadequate and that employees regularly removed blockages without power first being cut. The company failed to have a suitable system of work in place for the removal of blockages, and there was little supervision of how workers dealt with jams. Leighton Packaging admitted breaching the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £2,717 in prosecution costs. HSE says one in every five workplace deaths in Great British occurs in the manufacturing sector, despite only 10 per cent of the population working in the industry. Large parts of the sector, including textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering and electrical engineering, are now exempted from HSE's proactive, preventive inspections.
Mandatory crush protection devices must be installed on all new quad bikes in Australia to prevent any more fatalities from rollovers, Australian unions have said. Ahead of a national forum on quad bike safety this week, Michael Borowick, the assistant secretary of national union federation ACTU, said the death of a 58-year-old man in a quad bike incident last week was the 160th quad bike fatality since 2001, and the tenth in Australia this year. 'There are about 220,000 quad bikes in use in Australia, and they are the single biggest cause of workplace fatalities on farms,' Mr Borowick said. 'Quad bikes have grown in usage as work vehicle, particularly in the agricultural sector, but they are killers. Last year a record 23 deaths were recorded, and 18 of those deaths were on farms. Tragically, 10 people have already lost their lives this year. Half of these fatalities were from rollovers when the victim was crushed or trapped by their quad bike landing on top of them, or pinned underneath a quad in water and drowned.' He added: 'Quad bikes have inherent problems with stability, with some evidence indicating that they may roll over even on apparently flat terrain.' The union body says the number of fatalities could be 'dramatically reduced' through the installation of a crush protection device - such as a u-shaped or T-bar shaped metal bar - which would reduce the risk of being crushed, with only minimal additional cost. The devices are already available. Similar rollover protection devices that have been compulsory for tractors since 1992 have reduced fatalities by 80 per cent. 'We don't want to see quad bikes banned, but they must be made safer. We cannot wait for more people to die while more research is conducted into the effectiveness of crush protection devices. There is enough evidence now to show there is a cheap and effective solution that would save lives.'
Work factors including stress, work pressure and injuries sustained at work are the root cause of much drug and alcohol misuse, new reports indicate. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said employers must recognise stressful, unsocial, monotonous or highly pressurised work environments can contribute to drug or alcohol misuse by employees. ICTU legal affairs officer Esther Lynch, speaking at a Dublin conference on employee assistance programmes, encouraged employers 'to sit down with workers and their unions to identify if a person's job, or the way in which work is organised might be contributing to alcohol or drug misuse.' She said the union had published a guide to 'negotiating fair and legal drug and alcohol policies', adding: 'Employers need to recognise that working conditions - stress, excessive work pressure, unsocial hours or monotony - may be a factor in someone starting to drink more or abuse drugs.' In the US, researchers have found another factor in drug misuse which would normally result in the worker being blamed - dependency on the strong painkillers prescribed to work injury victims. A study of workers' compensation claims found that almost one in 12 injured workers who began using opioids was still using the prescription drugs three to six months later. This can lead to addiction, increased disability and more work loss - but few doctors are acting to prevent it, notes the report from the Massachusetts-based Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). The report found the majority of injured workers claiming workers' compensation were prescribed potentially addictive narcotics.
A German retailer is being urged to compensate the bereaved relatives of the workers killed when a fire ripped through a garment factory last month. On 11 September almost 300 workers were killed at the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi, Pakistan (Risks 573). At the time of the fire the factory was producing jeans for the German low cost retailer, KIK, which has more than 3,000 stores in eight European countries. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), which is spearheading a push for justice for the bereaved families, says although the cause of the fire is still under investigation, 'it is clear that the high death toll was caused by appalling health and safety conditions at the factory. At the time of the fire windows were closed with bars, fire exits were locked and there was no equipment available to fight the fire.' CCC says the factory had been regularly audited in recent years (Risks 574), yet the factory itself was not legally registered and had failed to provide employment contracts. The campaign group says although KIK was forced to acknowledge its role in the tragedy, it has since refused to engage in meaningful discussion and has taken no action to provide remedy. It is demanding the retailer ensures victims are compensated, backs measures to prevent further disasters and supports and participates in a full investigation.
A three-year union struggle had succeeded in securing landmark compensation payouts for the families of workers killed in the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. Global union federation IndustriALL says when it started a shipbreaking organising project in 2003, it was common knowledge that whenever a shipbreaking worker was killed the body was tossed unceremoniously into the sea. As most of the workers are undocumented migrant workers, no-one asked questions, searched for the families or made any demands on their employers. The breakthrough came after a union, Alang Sosiya Ship Recycling and General Workers' Association (ASSRGWA), took six cases to the highest levels of justice and demanded a special enquiry. In September 2012, the last of the cases were settled, with the bereaved families receiving a monthly pension from the Provident Fund. IndustriALL said the death of six more young workers on 6 October 2012 is a timely reminder to the authorities of the terrible conditions workers continue to face despite the union's best efforts. It added: 'IndustriALL is appalled at this tragic loss and fully supports the complaint made by ASSRGWA with the various concerned authorities, including Port authorities, Factory Inspectors, and the Assistant Labour Commissioner, demanding a special enquiry of the incident and will continue to monitor and coordinate closely with its affiliate on all further action required.'
The European agency for safety and health at work, in collaboration with the Europe-wide union confederation ETUC, has published a guide on worker participation for European Health and Safety Week. The annual event will this year run from 22-28 October. In line with the worker participation theme, the TUC has updated its 'union effect' guide and is also urging union reps to make use of its guide to inspections for National Inspection Day on Wednesday 24 October.
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012
Newsletter (5,600 words) issued 19 Oct 2012
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