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Unions are demanding answers after it was revealed a secret industry blacklist of union reps and safety activists could be 20 times bigger than previously thought, targeting tens of thousands of workers. The union call came after a 17 October session of the House of Commons' Scottish Affairs Select Committee heard that in 2009 when the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) raided covert, construction industry-backed blacklisting organisation The Consulting Association it only removed 5 per cent of the organisation's files, a blacklist of 3,213 workers. UCATT says this means there could have been up to 60,000 additional people who had been blacklisted but whose files were deliberately overlooked by the watchdog. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'This is scandalous. We are seeking an urgent meeting with the ICO so that they can explain their actions. We need to know why the ICO left 95 per cent of the files with a criminal and where those files are now.' Select committee chair Ian Davidson said that the ICO's failure to examine all the material had left the public in 'complete ignorance' and could mean that many workers remained unaware that they had been blacklisted. He said he was surprised the ICO stopped at that point, adding he did not understand why it had not gone through all the other documentation to establish whether it was relevant. The committee also criticised the fact that a large number of those on the blacklist had still not been contacted by the ICO, three years after the raid. ICO deputy commissioner David Smith said: 'I do accept we could have done more.'
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has written to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), demanding to know why it did not seek a wider search warrant for its blacklisting raids, and whether it is investigating the existence of other lists targeting union and safety activists. The letter from the Labour MP, copied to trade paper Construction News, calls the saga a 'tragedy' and adds it was a matter of 'great concern' that the vast majority of documents at the offices of The Consulting Association raided in 2009 were left untouched. The letter adds: 'Employees were blacklisted merely for exercising their human right to belong to a trade union, standing up for their colleagues or for raising legitimate health and safety concerns.' Construction News reports a source close to Mr Umunna who refused to rule out further action in parliament, telling the trade paper it was 'a developing issue' and that the ICO should do 'everything in its power to inform victims as soon as possible'.
Some of the UK's biggest construction firms are being dragged into court to answer allegations they blacklisted trade union safety activists. Ahead of the union-initiated legal action, Carillion chief executive Richard Howson apologised for his firm's part in the scandal. In a 25 October statement he said: 'Carillion is led by strong values and we take our commitment to transparency and openness extremely seriously which is why we are sorry that one of our former subsidiary businesses, Crown House Engineering, used The Consulting Association's database to reference individuals. This was not consistent with the high standards of behaviour that we set for ourselves, based on our core values.' He added: 'We want to make it absolutely clear that Carillion does not condone or engage in blacklisting.' Crown House Engineering used the database to blacklist 224 UK workers. Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said the Carillion chief executive's apology was 'an important first step in recognition of the disgraceful and immoral behaviour of Carillion and many other construction companies. This first step now needs to be followed up quickly by an acceptance by these companies of their responsibilities towards the people whose lives they blighted and damaged.' He added: 'It has taken years of campaigning to get companies like Carillion to drop their denials and cover ups. GMB look forward to Carillion and other construction companies publishing the full details of all the people they blacklisted and accepting their full responsibilities in this matter.' Construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine is among the other firms facing legal action.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is raising the alarm over unprecedented risks to public safety posed by 'deep and dangerous' cuts to the fire service. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, is urging the public to join firefighters in defending stations threatened with closure. 'The public has already lost around 1,500 frontline firefighters since 2010, despite David Cameron's hollow eve-of-election promise that there would be no cuts to the firefighting frontline,' he said. The FBU leader warned a continuation of the government's 'reckless austerity drive' could see frontline firefighter jobs slashed by 20 per cent. 'People deserve to have their lives, homes and businesses protected. As firefighters, we have a duty to spell out to the public the risks of ever-deepening cuts,' he said. 'More cuts will mean slower response times to emergencies, putting lives, homes and businesses at greater risk. Response times are almost two minutes slower on average than a decade ago. If there is no local fire station, response times will be even longer. Delays cost lives. That's why people should make sure they join with firefighters to campaign to keep stations threatened with closure open.'
The pilots of a faulty helicopter that ditched in the sea off Shetland have been praised by their union BALPA after executing the 'extremely challenging' manoeuvre with no casualties. The pilots of the Super Puma EC 225, operated by CHC to ferry workers to and from offshore rigs, said they feared there was a problem with the aircraft's gearbox. Manufacturer Eurocopter said the crew had reported that their control panel indicated a possible fault with the oil and lubrication system. The aircraft ditched in the North Atlantic on 22 October. All 19 on board escaped injury. A 25 October Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) incident report confirmed there was a potentially catastrophic fault in the helicopter's lubrication system. BALPA said the incident 'again highlights the importance of trained flight crew. We are in contact with the two members concerned to offer them our full support. It appears that the pilots performed a controlled ditching into the North Sea which is an extremely challenging manoeuvre. The ultimate aim of a ditching is to ensure that all the passengers and crew get to safety, which is exactly what has happened in this case.' The union statement, released on the day of the incident, added: 'Whilst we are relieved that all 19 people on board the helicopter have now been rescued, and we pay tribute to the rescue workers who brought our members and all the passengers back to safety, we will be working with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) to ensure that the causes of today's incident are fully and thoroughly investigated, especially in light of the fact that this is the second such ditching in six months.' Unite, the union representing many of the workers employed offshore, queried whether this type of Super Puma aircraft is 'fit for purpose.'
Schools cannot be left to self-regulate on safety and the government must order a national audit of asbestos in all UK schools, education unions have said. Commenting in the wake of a school asbestos contamination controversy in Wales (Risks 578), the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC), said the government should follow the lead of the Welsh Assembly and order an audit of asbestos in all UK schools. The group fears as schools are no longer subject to proactive, preventive inspections by the Health and Safety Executive, asbestos problems could be left unaddressed. JUAC chair Julie Winn said: 'This recent incident in Wales demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the government's policy to manage not remove asbestos from schools.' She added: 'You have to ask yourself in the absence of HSE proactive inspections just how safe it is to rely on local authorities and individual schools to self-regulate when it comes to assessing and maintaining the condition of this deadly mineral in our schools. It is time the government committed to a national audit of the asbestos in our schools.' According to JUAC, over 140 school teachers have died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in the past ten years. It says an unknown number of cleaners, administrative staff, caretakers, cooks and dinner ladies have also died. Based on US estimates, it adds, over 100 people die every year in the UK as a result of asbestos exposure when they were at school.
A union's criticism of 'misinformed' statements on asbestos risk on a council website has led to the offending passages being removed. Construction union UCATT last week condemned the 'outrageous' safety advice given out by Caerphilly council after the discovery of the asbestos contamination which led to the closure of Cwmcarn High School (Risks 578). A statement on the council's website, now removed, said: 'Short-term exposure to asbestos is not considered to be harmful, but there may be harmful effects of very long-term exposure.' UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: 'This is the most outrageous thing I have seen regarding asbestos safety. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Breathing in a single fibre of asbestos could lead to the fatal and incurable cancer mesothelioma.' Speaking before the council amended its website, he called on it to 'withdraw this information immediately and apologise. Not only is it endangering everyone attending the school but anyone else reading the advice would be given the totally wrong information about the safety of asbestos.' Nick Blundell, regional secretary for UCATT's Wales region, said: 'Local UCATT members are outraged about this mind numbingly ignorant advice. The council clearly have no knowledge of the asbestos regulations.' A council spokesperson subsequently confirmed the misleading information, which had also been quoted in the press, had now been removed from the website, noting: 'In light of concerns raised about one section of advice, the council has now received clarification from public health and the information has been revised accordingly.'
Workers at a now closed smokeless fuel plant in Wales did develop potentially deadly illnesses caused by their work, the High Court has ruled. The men said making the fuel briquettes at the Phurnacite plant at Abercwmboi, Rhondda Cynon Taf, left them with cancer and respiratory diseases (Risks 533). Four of 183 ex-workers with claims won compensation of between £120,000 and £4,500 after claiming British Coal failed to provide necessary protection. Lawyers say the judgment could affect hundreds of workers throughout the UK, particularly in parts of the country were coke plants were commonly associated with steel production. Eight former workers brought the test case to the High Court on behalf of the 183 workers who submitted a joint claim. The judgment will now be applied to the other claims in the group. Kathryn Singh, the partner at Hugh James Solicitors who represented the claimants, said: 'Cancer cases are always emotive but, sadly, difficult to prove to the standard required by law. This is largely due to cancer being a disease of the general population, and proving that it has been caused by specific circumstances, such as working conditions, is extremely difficult.' The ruling by Mrs Justice Swift found there was convincing evidence that diseases of the lung could be caused by the processes at the plant, with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) including emphysema and chronic bronchitis as well as lung cancer qualifying for payouts. One type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, was also found to be related to the work. However, there was insufficient evidence for the court to find that, on a balance of probabilities, bladder cancer and other types of skin cancers were caused by these processes. Bladder cancer is considered one of the classic occupational diseases of coke plants. In August this year, former coke oven workers with lung cancer became entitled to industrial injuries disablement benefit, subject to meeting certain employment criteria.
The UK Contractors Group has launched a new health and safety plan to spread best practice down the supply chain. The plan includes a 'supply chain charter setting out what UKCG expects from its supply chain and what support they can expect from us' and 'a road map to excellence, signposting the industry to appropriate best practice.' Dave Smith, chair of UKCG's health and safety group, said: 'Health and safety remains a number 1 priority and UKCG aims to continue to provide leadership to the construction industry and strive towards world class performance. The new plan has the support of all UKCG members at the highest level. It refreshes our commitments and we will now work hard to deliver the goals.'
A paper mill in Devon has been fined £200,000 after a worker was crushed to death. Richard Zebedee, 45, from Ivybridge, died after being trapped in machinery at the Arjowiggins plant in the town. At Plymouth Crown Court, the company, Arjowiggins Ivybridge Ltd, admitted a criminal breach of safety law. Judge Paul Darlow said the risk of injury and death in Mr Zebedee's case was 'clearly foreseeable.' Mr Zebedee had begun working in his new role as a drier man at the mill a fortnight before his death in April 2009. The court heard there had been significant production problems on the day of the incident before Mr Zebedee started his shift in the drier area of the mill, with paper breaks and waste material affecting the process. The court heard that he was trying clear paper waste from a rotating cylinder using a blade attached to a broom handle. At the time, the rollers were running at the production speed of 131 metres a minute. Mr Zebedee was drawn into the rollers and suffered severe crush injuries. Despite the efforts of fellow workers to free him and administer first aid, he showed no signs of life. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found significant failings by the company in guarding the rollers and in the amount of training given to Mr Zebedee. It also discovered the padlock preventing entry to the dangerous machine parts was often left unlocked and staff had reported it to management. The company admitted it had 'failed' in some aspects of preventing danger to employees. Speaking after the hearing, Mr Zebedee's widow, Sarah Zebedee, said the 'court decision can never bring back Richard but does give us a sense of justice. We hope that this HSE prosecution has given Arjo Wiggins food for thought and that they make sure this can never happen again.' In addition to the fine, the firm was ordered to pay £60,000 in costs.
A building worker broke his leg and had to be airlifted to hospital after falling from a roof and hitting a disused bath tub. Andrew Hosking, 34, broke his left femur in the incident at Glascoed Lane, Glascoed, on October 17 2011. He has been off work since. Colleague Anthony Skarratts, 20, also fell from the roof, but escaped injury. Abergavenny Magistrates' Court heard the duo were part of a team undertaking a roof installation for Paul Siviter, trading as Paul Siviter General Builder. They were standing on an old wooden roof beam balanced less than three metres above the ground, in order to receive A-frame trusses from a telehander and assemble them into position. The beam broke in half and both men fell inwards to the ground below, with Hosking hitting the edge of a disused bath tub beneath. It was this impact that caused his injury. An HSE investigation found that although there was scaffolding in place around the exterior of the building, there were no measures in place to prevent workers falling from height within the building, such as birdcage scaffolding or mobile elevated work platforms. A risk assessment had identified that 'appropriate scaffolding' was necessary for the work. Paul Siviter pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £2,945.30. Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Simon Breen said: 'Mr Hosking sustained a very serious injury and could have died as a result of the fall.'
A facilities and cleaning company has been fined after one of its employees fell six metres through a riding school roof on the Longcross estate in Surrey. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the worker, who does not wished to be named, 'miraculously escaped' with only minor injuries in the fall because a sand-covered floor cushioned his impact. His employer MB Facilities Management Ltd had been sub-contracted to clean gutters at Lilypond Farm on the estate, near Chertsey, when the incident occurred on 23 March this year. North Surrey Magistrates' Court heard the worker was cleaning the stable roof as part of the job when he stepped on a plastic skylight that gave way beneath him. He plunged to a riding arena below, covered with soft sand for the comfort of horses. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that he had he fallen onto concrete he could have been seriously injured or killed. HSE found the company's own risk assessment had identified the dangers of falling through the skylight, but workers were only advised they should not cross it. They were not supervised and there were no measures in place to prevent a fall. MB Facilities Management Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £4000 and ordered to pay £3700.30 in costs. The worker received £1,000 in compensation. After the hearing, HSE inspector Russell Beckett said: 'The six metre fall could easily have proved fatal and was entirely and easily preventable. MB Facilities Management could have covered the skylight, or used a cherry picker to raise workers up to the roof light - both simple measures to take.'
A Somerset construction company has been fined after a worker plummeted six metres from a roof he was working on in south-west London. Wayne Bird, 28, was cleaning dead leaves from the gulleys of a building in Feltham on 18 January 2011 for AR Berry Design and Build Ltd. When he stepped on a fragile skylight it broke, sending him crashing through to the concrete floor below. He suffered fractures and severe tendon damage to his left knee and right arm, broke his nose and lost several teeth. He is still unable to straighten his right arm or turn his elbow. As well as receiving on-going medical treatment, he is being treated for the psychological effects of the incident and has been unable to return to work. Westminster Magistrates' Court was told the company failed to plan the work properly and did not train its workers to work at height. There was no edge protection in place and, although there were running lines available on the roof, no harnesses had been attached to them to protect the workers. AR Berry Design and Build pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £8,000 in costs. After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Zahir Agha said: 'By planning the work properly, giving their workers sufficient training and monitoring activity, this fall could have been prevented. AR Berry should have ensured staff had the right personal protective equipment and been trained in its use.' HSE figures show last year more than 6,300 employees suffered reported major injuries after falling from height at work.
A Barnsley waste management firm's criminal disregard for safety saw two workers injured in just one week. One worker fell ten feet into a skip as he clung to a conveyor belt that began to operate. The other suffered serious injuries to his arm when it was drawn into the rollers of a large crushing machine. The incidents were investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted RG Wastecare Ltd. Barnsley Magistrates' Court heard the first incident happened on 25 February last year when site workers Ian Ardron and John Clifford were setting up a waste sorting machine for use. Mr Ardron climbed on to its front conveyor belt and knelt down to clear some carpet that had tangled in the rollers. His co-worker thought he had gone to fetch a fitter to repair a fault and started up the machine to check a side belt was running. Mr Ardron was propelled along the belt and, despite his attempts to hang on, was dropped ten feet into an empty skip. The 40-year-old suffered fractures to his foot and skin and nerve damage caused by fragments of shattered bone. He was in hospital for ten days and was unable to return to work for around six months. The second incident occurred just six days later on 3 March when John Clifford was helping to restart a jaw crusher machine. He saw some wire tangled in a magnetic belt roller and went to pull it free. The machine suddenly restarted and the wire was pulled back into the rollers along with Mr Clifford's left forearm. The 44-year-old sustained crush injuries to his forearm. He was off work for six weeks. HSE found RG Wastecare had failed to implement simple measures that would have prevented both incidents and had ignored earlier warnings from both HSE and an external consultant in 2009 about the lack of a safe system of work. The firm was fined £5,000 plus £5,000 in costs.
A company that manufactures metal components has been fined after a young worker was seriously injured at its Lincoln factory. The 20-year-old agency worker suffered a fractured skull and severe facial injuries when the grinding wheel broke on the hand-held grinder he was using. The wheel was thrown from the grinder and smashed through his visor, striking him in the face. The Health and Safety Executive investigated the 20 October 2010 incident at Wyman-Gordon Ltd. The man, who doesn't wish to be named, underwent significant treatment for his injuries, including a five-hour operation to remove a piece of bone which was touching his brain, before further reconstructive surgery could be carried out. He has since returned to work. The HSE investigation found the agency worker had not been properly trained in the safe use of the hand-held grinder and the precautions to be taken when changing grinding wheels. The result was that a grinding wheel, which is likely to have been defective prior to use, was fitted to the grinder and subsequently used. This defect may have been identified had the agency worker received the correct abrasive wheels training. The investigation also found that he was not adequately supervised when carrying out work with the grinders. Wyman-Gordon Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £16,500 and ordered it to pay full costs of £6,178. HSE inspector Scott Wynne said: 'This was a preventable incident. Wyman-Gordon Ltd paid insufficient heed to the safety of this worker. As a result, a young man was left with a horrific head injury. He was extremely lucky to escape with his life.'
An 'abuse' of a temporary foreign worker scheme risks jeopardising safety in British Columbia's mining sector, trade unions in the Canadian province have warned. In an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Bargaining Council of BC Building Trade Unions said it has 'grave concerns' about plans by Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc to bring in more than 200 workers from China to mine coal in northern British Columbia. The letter refers to media reports that these may 'be followed by up to 2,000 workers from China over the next few years as the coal mines in that area ramp up production.' The union body said the firm wants to import cheap and 'compliant' miners from a country with an appalling mine safety record, undermining safety and employment conditions in the Canadian industry. The letter notes: 'The Chinese government provides a chilling statistic: there are currently 35 workers killed for every 100 million tons of coal produced in their country... Importing owners, supervisors and workers from China means importing a workplace culture which has no place in the Canadian context.' The unions 'call on our governments and these companies in the mining industry to work with our unions to prepare the workers who will be needed in this industry over the next 30 to 40 years. With proper preparation the mining could be accomplished on time, within budget, and safely, which is the tradition of BC's unions.' The BC Federation of Labour backed up the Bargaining Council, calling for the suspension of temporary foreign worker permits at the mine pending an investigation. Following the union complaints, the BC provincial government announced an investigation into the alleged abuses of the scheme.
European companies are failing to produce the legally required information on the chemicals they use and the watchdog that should be making them comply is not doing so, new evidence suggests. A report from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ClientEarth says the chemical industry has largely failed to provide the necessary data to make the REACH chemical safety law work, adding the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has allowed them to get away with it. The report was released ahead of the European Commission's anticipated report on ECHA's performance. REACH is based on two key legal principles - 'no data, no market' and 'one substance, one registration'. However, the new research found that both of these principles are routinely ignored in the registration of substances, said co-author of the report Christian Schaible at EEB. Co-author Vito Buonsante of ClientEarth added: 'ECHA has already acknowledged that many substances have been inappropriately registered as intermediates by industry in order to avoid information requirements, but our investigation found that on top of this the industry has by and large failed to submit all available test data on substances, as required by REACH. However ECHA is doing little to prevent industry from doing so and is complacent in its compliance checks. Furthermore ECHA is dedicating too little time to work towards the substitution and phase out of hazardous chemicals which European citizens are exposed to every day.' The report says ECHA is shrouded in a culture of secrecy and is under pressure from the chemicals industry which cites 'business confidentiality' as a means to prevent important information being released.
When Emeterio Nach suffered a shoulder injury at his job, he asked his supervisor at the Ternium aluminium processing plant in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, for time off to see his doctor. After the supervisor denied his request, Nach asked again. In an interview with the US union backed Solidarity Center, he says the supervisor continued to refuse, finally telling Nach he would be fired if he kept asking - and if he was sick, he'd be fired anyway because the factory needed healthy workers. The 250 workers at the Villa Nueva plant frequently experienced such treatment, leading Nach, along with his co-workers, to create a new union, SITRATERNIUM (Ternium International Guatemala Workers' Union). They filed for registration of the organisation in March with the Ministry of Labour. As a result, the company immediately - and illegally - fired dozens of workers, including Nach. 'Management used to tell us they can do whatever they want with the workers,' said Nach. 'They didn't care about the Ministry of Labour or inspections or anything. I could never take a day off.' Nach, who worked more than four years at the factory helping produce metal beams, says if the workers do not put in 12 hours a day, seven days a week on the job, Ternium fires them. Nach says he and his co-workers are 'eager and willing to continue with the fight,' but to do so they need the help of the global union community. The workers are urging supporters to write to Paolo Rocca, chair of Ternium SA, and demand that his company comply with the Guatemalan Labor Code and international labour practices.
The children of US farmworkers are facing deadly health risks from exposure to pesticides. An analysis by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN) has found while public concerns have centred on pesticides in food, it is the children in farmworker communities that are facing the greatest risk. PAN cites research showing that pesticide-related health problems are prevalent among agricultural workers. Children face the double dose from pesticide drift in their communities and as a result of the widespread use of child labour in agriculture. Under US labour laws, children barely in their teens can work legally on farms. It is a problem compounding by socioeconomic injustice, with poverty and excessive exposure to risk going hand in hand in a workforce where migrant labour is heavily over-represented. Campaigning journalist Michelle Chen, commenting on the Working In These Times blog, notes 'the battle against the pesticide threats on farms can't be limited to the consumer end of the food chain. Farmworkers need to be engaged as stakeholders in pursuing just solutions to the unique risks posed to their communities.' But she warns 'in every policy debate, farmworker families will face tremendous barriers of race, language ability, political disenfranchisement and poverty. Those aren't chemical threats, but they constitute the climate of oppression that blankets the nation's farms, and that corrosive cloud is now drifting into all our communities.'
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 (5,500 words) issued 26 Oct 2012
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