issue no 28 - 17 November 2001
Risks is the TUCs weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 2,500 subscribers and 1,000 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer Privacy The TUC website lists future health and safety events in Whats On - new events are covered below.
Union workplace safety reps can now serve a 'final warning' on employers who endanger the health and safety of people at work, says the TUC. The winter issue of the TUC-backed health and safety magazine Hazards contains a 'Union Inspection Notice' for safety reps to serve on employers where breaches of safety laws have been identified and the employer has failed to remedy them. If the employer still refuses to deal with the hazards, the union rep can copy the Notice to the health and safety enforcing authorities. TUC says UINs could also be used as evidence in criminal prosecutions or civil compensation cases to prove that employers ignored warnings. The TUC will be training safety reps in how to use the Notices, and will evaluate their operation over a six-month period in 2002.
The injury toll from the 8 November explosion at the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot has risen to three fatalities, with five men still on life-support machines and another five still hospitalised. Michael Leahy, general secretary of the steel union ISTC, said the union will conduct an 'immediate and thorough' investigation into the tragedy, adding: 'We shall be working closely with Corus, but we shall also be asking them some serious questions to find out exactly how this tragedy occurred - our members expect nothing less.' Wales Assembly first minister Rhodri Morgan, speaking after meeting with company officials, said the explosion in blast furnace number five was "unprecedented." The ministers statement came the same day the company was fined £300,000 at Cardiff Crown Court for safety offences relating to an explosion at the companys Llanwern plant last year that left a worker paralysed below the chest. The Judge, G Hickinbottom, told the court: "There was a gross failure by Corus to heed warnings from both employees and contractors. Advice from the HSE, contained in a letter written in 1995, also went unheeded. This is a very serious breach of the regulatory scheme.'
A postal worker who complained her delivery round was too difficult has won £5,000 damages. Janice Gibson, 43, alleged she aggravated a shoulder complaint while carrying heavy bags of letters and parcels. She claims she told managers at the Post Office the number of tower blocks involved in her round was too difficult. Mrs Gibson and the Post Office eventually agreed on terms during the hearing at Newcastle County Court. Christopher Williams, counsel to Mrs Gibson, said the Post Office should have ensured there were more drop-off points for her to store bags of mail in the course of her round. After suffering a shoulder complaint known as rotator cuff syndrome, the Post Office gave her medical retirement. She was reinstated when the Communication Workers Union intervened and is now employed as a driver.
The TUC has responded to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) request for views on whether to create a new ILO 'law' on occupational diseases at its Summer 2002 conference. TUC supports 'the creation of an international instrument to ensure that workers get compensated fairly across the world, and so that we can obtain reliable international statistics on the extent of occupational injuries and diseases.' It wants injuries of a psychosocial as well as physical nature, for example bullying or threats of violence, to be covered. The TUC response also welcomes ILOs inclusion of work-related road traffic injuries in the proposal and says the proposed definition of an 'occupational disease' should be widened to cover diseases caused or aggravated by exposures arising out of or in the course of work, for example many cases of work-related asthma.
The TUC has condemned a firm that allegedly sacked a worker for smoking at home. Sales executive Mark Hodges, 41, says he was sacked on the second day of his job because his employers frowned on the habit. He had been told of the firm's no smoking policy at his interview for the £28,000 job at Boxes and Packaging. TUC Employment Rights Officer Sarah Veale said: "People should learn from this to check contracts before they sign.' She added: "Employers need to balance the needs of smokers and non-smokers but it is no business of theirs what lawful activity people undertake in their own time. Employers should have smoking policies and not non-smoker policies. Acknowledging people's habit and designating areas where they can smoke is the right approach to take. Otherwise it can lead to stress, eating disorders and bad employment relations."
Solicitors representing hundreds of people with asbestos-related diseases say that prospects of them receiving compensation are 'extremely bleak' after legal moves by T&N, once the UKs largest asbestos manufacturer. T&N obtained an 'administration order' from the High Court, enabling it to freeze all claims against it whilst continuing to trade as normal. Adrian Budgen of law firm Irwin Mitchell, said a number of T&N's settlement cheques sent to victims have already bounced. He added: "The administration order is a legal device by which the companies can continue to trade whilst ignoring the urgent needs of the many people who suffer the dreadful effects of asbestos exposure we are asking the government to look into how multinational companies can side-step their duties to former employees in this way, to see if we can force T&N and other companies to face their responsibilities before it is too late." There are currently over 400 claims against T&N and its subsidiaries, and the TUC is taking the issue up with the All Party Parliamentary Group on occupational safety and healths asbestos sub-committee, which will meet later this month.
The family of a former Buckingham Palace maintenance worker may sue for compensation after he died of an asbestos-related cancer. John Costello, who worked for the Royal Household for 22 years before his retirement, died two months ago of malignant mesothelioma. Westminster coroner Dr Paul Knapman recorded a verdict of death from the industrial disease malignant mesothelioma. He told the court: "In about 1970 he started working at Buckingham Palace and the evidence of [his daughter] Marie Beckham is that at the time the boilers and pipes might have been fitted with asbestos and he may well have dealt with these. It seems likely he would have contracted this while working at Buckingham Palace."
The widespread belief that workers extend their weekends by taking sick leave on Fridays and Mondays is a myth, say researchers. Strategies to reduce Monday and Friday sick leave are probably a waste of time, they conclude. Writing in Occupational and Environmental Medicine the researchers say their examination of five years of absentee records of 27,541 full-time Finnish manual and clerical workers found just under 3.5 per cent of men and 5 per cent of women were on sick leave during any one week, with older people tending to take more time off. The rates of sick leave were lowest on Mondays for both men and women, increasing towards Wednesday and remaining at the same level for the rest of the week. This same pattern held true across all age and income groups.
A Derby woman with chronic arthritis has won compensation after being forced to leave her cleaning job. Sheila Prytherch worked seven mornings a week at a Whitbread pub-restaurant for 12 years despite suffering from painful arthritis. But Mrs Prytherch had to leave Bartlewood Lodge near Derby when her flexible hours were stopped. She took legal action, with backing from the Disability Rights Commission, for disability discrimination and won £9,500 in an out-of-court settlement. Whitbread has apologised for the way she was treated and says two managers have been disciplined by the firm. They are now introducing a system of disability awareness training.
A Labour MP is seeking legislation to ban the use of mobile phones when driving, with support from the TUC. Janet Anderson, Labour MP for Rossendale and Darwen, received approval from MPs to proceed with a private members bill. She told the House of Commons 'a similar law was enacted in the state of New York as recently as 1 November this year. In New South Wales too, there is now a law that states quite explicitly that the driver of a vehicle must not use a hand-held mobile phone while the vehicle is moving. Korea has now followed suit and I understand that the government of the Irish Republic are considering doing the same.' The MP said RoSPA estimated there have now been at least 16 deaths on British roads in which a mobile phone has been implicated. She added that research in the United States suggested using a mobile telephone while driving is as dangerous as drink driving.
A case of anthrax has been identified in Nottinghamshire, the Public Health Laboratory Service has confirmed. The cutaneous or skin anthrax has been found in a man who works with animal skins. People who work with animal skins are at risk of acquiring the disease because animal hides and skins may occasionally be contaminated with anthrax spores. A laboratory spokesperson said: "This seems to be a typical occupationally-acquired case."
A teacher convicted of the manslaughter of a 13-year-old girl on a school trip to France will hear his appeal against the sentence in the New Year. Mark Duckworth was supervising pupils on a school trip at Le Touquet in June 1999 when pupil Gemma Carter drowned. A judge in Boulogne found him guilty of involuntary homicide, the French equivalent of manslaughter. The National Union of Teachers has confirmed the appeal will take place in Le Touquet on 15 January next year.
The Industrial Society is blaming this years 34 per cent rise in workplace deaths on corporate complacency, and says the government must take action to protect people at work. Pat McGuinness, health and safety expert at The Industrial Society, said the blame could lie with the "fine words in filing cabinets" syndrome, 'where good work has been carried out to define risk and the necessary preventative measures and then the process has stalled." The Industrial Society wants increased funding for the HSE, the introduction of corporate killing legislation without delay and for 'directors to really make health and safety a boardroom issue.'
Site workers are claiming a Laing Homes job was 'tidied-up' before safety inspectors swooped to investigate the death of a site worker. Colleagues of Christopher Supiya told Hornsey Coroners Court that a ladder was switched after he fell three metres to his death. The accident sparked a walk-out at the site by other workers. One told trade journal Construction News: "Conditions on the job were horrible. The whole place was in a right state and we were just waiting for an accident to happen." An HSE spokesperson said: "We were satisfied the site had not been disturbed." The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
A court has heard how a student died when a mechanical loading claw crushed his head. The Old Bailey jury was told 24-year-old Simon Jones, on his first day of holiday work for Dutch shipping firm Euromin, had received no training. Euromin and its general manager Richard Martell deny manslaughter. Euromin also denies six charges under health and safety regulations. However Patrick O'Connor QC, prosecuting, accused the company and Mr Martell of "gross negligence". Mr O'Connor said that although Mr Martell was not present that morning, he was in sole charge of safety at the site, and had devised the system that led to the death. The case continues.
The International Federation of Journalists has called on media organisations to pull journalists back from front-line reporting of the Afghanistan war after three reporters were killed in an ambush. 'Journalists must not go into areas that have not been secured,' said Aidan White, general secretary of the IFJ. He called on all media to follow the international codes of safety for journalists and media staff adopted by major news groups. 'No story is worth a life,' said the IFJ. 'Journalists and media organisations must make sure that safety is the first concern, particularly in this uncontrolled and ill-disciplined form of warfare.'
An estimated 15,000 US Postal Service employees in Washington DC, New Jersey, Florida and elsewhere are taking antibiotics for possible exposure to anthrax sent through the US mail. Testing for anthrax spores is being done at 267 postal facilities nationwide, with the result of 60 negative findings and 13 positive, as of 6 November. Seventeen cases of anthrax exposure have been confirmed and five other cases of skin contact with anthrax are suspected, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been four deaths were from inhalation anthrax, the most severe form.
Twenty-eight senior managers of petrochemical companies Enichem and Montedison have been acquitted of charges of mass manslaughter by an Italian court. The managers had been indicted on the charge 'cagionavano di delitto di strage' - they caused the crime of massacre. The case was instigated in 1994 when a retired PVC worker, Gabriele Bortolozzo, approached the public prosecutor in Venice accusing the petrochemical companies of negligence and complaining that many workers were falling ill. The TUC-backed Hazards magazine reported in 1998 that more than 150 workers at the plant had died of cancer since 1973, and around 600 others were thought to be suffering work-related illnesses. It also claims that in the 1970s Montedison and chemical companies including US giants Dow and Union Carbide signed a deal to exchange but not disclose information on the health effects. In May 1998 the Italian companies paid compensation in excess of £22 million to affected workers and their families.
The impact of AIDS on South Africas workforce will be more severe than on the population as a whole. Absa Group Economic Research Unit has forecast that the economically active population will be 23.5 per cent smaller (almost 4 million people) by 2015 than would have been the case without AIDS. The unit adds that lower labour productivity and higher absenteeism and training costs will increase the cost of labour, leading to fewer jobs and more capital-intensive production. The South African Democratic Teachers Union reported this week that it hopes to provide anti-retroviral drugs to members infected with HIV/AIDS.
The worlds largest retailer only fixed serious hazards in the workplace after disgruntled staff started a union organisation drive in a bid to get things done. Before the ink was dry on the union authorisation cards, supermarket giant Wal-Mart despatched a platoon of corporate big-wigs and union-busters from Arkansas to Store No.2365. A National Labor Relations Board investigation into charges filed by the foodworkers union UFCW found evidence that the company's motivation was to discourage the workers' support for the union, illegal under US labour law. The company will have to answer the charges before a judge in January 2002.
The HSC has published proposed amendments to regulations on workplace first aid, display screens, manual handling, personal protective equipment, health, safety and welfare, provision and use of work equipment, lifting equipment and quarries. The regulations have to be tweaked to conform with European law, but unions are likely to use the consultation to raise issues about display screen equipment, such as the need to include CCTV monitors.
Health Works in Newham is seeking two occupational health advisers. As members of the Health Works team one will work primarily in the schools/youth setting, the other in surgeries. The contracts end in March 2002. Closing date, 21 November 2001. More information from Rachel Ashworth, 020 85576161.
Only newly announced events, events next week and very important events will be listed here in future. But there is a comprehensive listing of health and safety events on the TUC website - bookmark it for easy reference!
TUC organised seminars aimed at union and workplace reps, employers and managers, intended to help make everyone take workplace bullying seriously. Remaining seminars will take place in Bradford on 19 November, Leeds on 23 November and London on 18 December. Further dates are being arranged for the Midlands. £11.75 TUC member organisations; £23.50 employers. Complete the registration form on the web or contact Liz Wood, TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS.Tel: 020 7467 1250. Fax: 020 7467 1265. Price: For more background on TUCs bullying at work campaign, see the Hazards Psychoterror! Factsheet.
Law enforcement and corporate accountability, 21 November
The TUC is teaming up with the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA) for a joint conference to be held at Congress House in London, sponsored by Russell Jones & Walker. Registration costs £25 (£5 unwaged). Details and a downloadable registration form.
Workers' Memorial Day 2002, 28 April
TUC is planning to highlight occupational health, including access to occupational health services, and rehabilitation. Ask your union for details of Workers Memorial Day events or organise your own. Hazards magazine round up of Workers Memorial Day resources.
European Week of Health and Safety 2002, 14-21 October
Next years week will take place in Britain from 14 October, on the theme of stress.
Visit the TUC health and safety website or the main TUC website pages on health and safety. See whats on offer from TUC Publications and Whats On in health and safety.
January to March:
Wales Scotland Southern and Eastern (plus COSHH Essentials courses) South West North West Northern Yorkshire and Humberside
Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
Whats new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
HSE Books , PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995.
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Newsletter (3,800 words) issued 17 Nov 2001
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-4031-f0.cfm
printed 23 May 2013 at 08:03 hrs by 220.127.116.11