issue no 53 - 11 May 2002
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Risks is the TUCs weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 4,000 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 and Privacy statement. The TUC website lists future health and safety events in Whats On - new events are covered below.
At the time of writing, seven people have died after a passenger train travelling from London to Norfolk crashed at Potters Bar railway station in Hertfordshire on Friday afternoon. Ambulance service officials say 10 more casualties have life-threatening or serious injuries. There are up to 60 walking wounded. The driver of the West Anglia Great Northern train Andy Gibson, from London, was uninjured and said he "felt the train give way from the rear of the train." ASLEF general secretary, Mick Rix, said in a statement: "This is a terrible tragedy for all those involved, in particular the injured and the families of those who have died to whom we send our deepest sympathy, and for the railway industry as a whole.' He added: 'ASLEF would like to express its pride in the actions of driver Andy Gibson, who was able to secure the front and back of the train and assist passengers from the site of the accident. He has conducted himself with exemplary professionalism." The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said it understood there was no guard on the derailed train. The union has been campaigning to have guards on trains, which it says improves safety.
The TUC wants everyone who is injured at work to receive the same sort of rehabilitation as soccer star David Beckham, named in the England World Cup Squad this week despite recently breaking a bone in his foot. Official figures show Beckham's break is just one of 8,000 broken bones at work each year. TUC general secretary John Monks said: 'Everyone at work is part of a team, and few employers can do without their star performers for very long before results start to suffer. It doesn't matter if you are a footballer, a factory worker or a florist - it's a false economy for your boss to ignore prevention and rehabilitation.' Gordon Taylor, general secretary of the TUC-affiliated footballers union PFA said: 'Our members need to get fit as fast as possible, so we've made it a priority to get clubs to do their very best, with medical cover, physiotherapists on the staff and club workers trained in first aid. We'd love to see everyone at work getting the same, because Britain needs its workers back at work.' The TUC is calling for a partnership between employers, unions and the NHS to provide rehabilitation for everyone injured at work.
A teaching union has warned the growing stress toll hurting Scotlands teachers will only be reduced if the twin problems of excessive workload and class sizes are addressed. Scottish teaching union EIS was responding to a report from the Teacher Support Network that concluded proper counselling services for stressed teachers in Scotland could save more than £1m in sick pay each year. EIS welcomed the report, which also found teachers' workloads are rising and said that stress was now the fourth most common reason teachers take time off sick. An EIS spokesperson said the union hoped the findings would 'encourage education authorities to take a range of measures to reduce the problem of stress in the schools,' adding: 'Before we can begin to see a reduction in stress related illness in teachers, issues of heavy workload and class sizes will simply have to be addressed. Effective management of staff and workload would go a long way towards reducing levels of stress related illness. It is also important that adequate support is provided by authorities for those teachers who are suffering from the psychological or physical ill-health effects of stress.'
A government commissioned report that says teachers should be working an average 45-hour week, is good news but could be much better, teaching unions have said. Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "The report is underwhelming. Everything will now depend upon the willingness of the government to enter into a genuine dialogue on significant changes to the teacher's contract. Without that commitment, the problem of teacher recruitment and retention will continue to dominate." Doug McAvoy, general secretary of NUT, said: "The principles put forward offer a significant advance." And ATL deputy general secretary, Gerald Imison, said: 'We are happy with the reports direction but swift action is needed now to reduce teachers workloads and to address the teaching recruitment crisis. The government must act quickly to develop a positive response to this urgent issue.' The School Teachers Review Body (STRB) report concerns England and Wales and says the 45-hour week should be a "target" rather than a fixed limit on hours. At present, teachers work an average of 52 hours a week, and the report says that this needs to be reduced to improve the "work-life balance".
Banking union Unifi and Barclays Bank have agreed a revolutionary new system of full-time regional union health and safety reps covering the whole of the banks UK operations. Following a highly successful pilot scheme in the North, the network will be expanded, with a full-time health and safety rep based in each of five geographical regions. Unifi rep Kevin Armstrong, who ran the pilot scheme, said for the first time in the finance sector 'health and safety will have a full time local presence in every part of the UK.' He added: 'The job of the reps will be to work with the bank to promote, monitor and improve health and safety at the workplace level.' The Unifi regional reps will audit sites, providing advice and support to staff and managers and represent staff in health and safety consultations. Jacquie Hill, group health and safety manager for Barclays said: "The pilot has demonstrated the value of Partnership in Action and it is clear from the responses from staff that it is well received. This role will also enable the health and safety reps to have an opportunity to influence policy and will make consultation even more meaningful." Training for the regional Unifi reps starts in June, with all due to be out repping by July.
A new publicity campaign to warn drivers of the dangers of using a mobile phone whilst driving has been launched by the government. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) campaign draws on a research study that demonstrates that if you drive and use a mobile phone you are four times more likely to have an accident. The message has the strapline: "Think! Switch it off before you drive." Road safety minister David Jamieson said: "Our advice is to use your voicemail or message service or to stop in a safe place - not a motorway hard shoulder - if you need to use your phone. Missing a call won't kill you - an accident quite possibly could." Accident lobby group Rospa wants the government to go further and make mobile phone use while driving a criminal offence (Risks 28).
Driving while feeling sleepy, driving after five hours or less of sleep, and driving between 2am and 5am are all associated with a substantial increase in the risk of a car crash resulting in serious injury or death, finds a study in the British Medical Journal. Researchers found an eightfold increased risk if drivers reported sleepiness, an almost threefold risk for drivers who reported five hours or less of sleep in the previous 24 hours, and a five fold risk for driving between 2am and 5am. Reducing these three behaviours may reduce injuries or death by up to 19 per cent, say the authors.
Letters warning of potential asbestos exposure in a council workplace have been sent to more than 600 past and present Lewisham council staff after it realised contamination may have gone undetected for years. The HSE has confirmed it is investigating a second-floor room in the councils Capital House offices, where up to 40 staff still work. A South London Press report says asbestos debris was discovered in a ceiling in Capital House in April 2001 - but adds staff say they have only just been told them about it. The letter to staff says anyone "worried about potential exposure" could get advice from their GP or the council's occupational health service. Philip Breslin, UNISON convenor at Lewisham council, said: "The council can't track down exactly when the problem started so they've been going back to some time in the 1990s. That means thousands of people could potentially be affected.' In 1997, Lewisham council pleaded guilty to safety offences and was fined a £6,000 with £1,140 costs after exposing employees to asbestos from 1992 to 1995 at the Kingsware Health Centre. TUCs Owen Tudor said: 'employers need to tell people the truth as early and as fully as possible, not hide behind a patronising concern about starting a panic.'
A dockyard company has been fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,627.40 after two workers were overcome by solvent fumes. A & P Falmouth Ltd pleaded guilty at Camborne Magistrates Court to failing to ensure the safety of two regular "core casual" employees who were overcome by paint fumes while working in a confined space. Both men were affected while painting the inside of a tank with solvent-based paint. They remained in the tank through the night, but in the morning one managed to climb out and make his way along the dockside where he was found in a dazed, "drunken-like" condition. The dockyard rescue team retrieved the other worker from the tank, where he was found lying unconscious. HSE prosecuting inspector David Cory said: "I hope that this fine will send a clear warning message to other employers about making sure their staff, working with harmful substances in confined spaces, do so in the correct manner and that they have the right procedures in place for ensuring it."
A North Sea gas platform evacuated after being struck by a fishing boat did not have an effective radar system fitted, according to a union representing gas and oil workers. More than 100 workers were rescued after a trawler hit one leg of the platform, 27 miles off the coast of east Yorkshire. The Offshore Industry Liaison Committee (OILC), has said there was no radar on the installation. The rescued workers were transferred by helicopter on to a tanker, and then to Humberside Airport. All platform staff were accounted for, along with the 21-strong crew of the fishing vessel the Marbella.
Airport security screeners at Australia's Launceston Airport are having belts, shoes and loose coins - as well as foul language - thrown at them by passengers who hate the post 9-11 security standards. Dave O'Byrne of the screeners union LHMU said: "Airport security union members are particularly upset at the lack of respect for our safety from management - if they respected the importance of our work and the danger and intolerable threats, they would have by now installed a duress button which could call for immediate help." He added: "What is it going to take to get our problems treated as a basic occupational health and safety issue - something which should been fixed when our members first started to complain? These airport screeners should be treated as heroes - instead they are paid poorly, most of them occupy insecure part-time jobs, and are expected to daily face this violence and abuse."
A US expert on stress and safety issues who interviewed bus drivers after they helped rescue people at Ground Zero in New York, has called for more to be done to recognise the emergency role that bus and train drivers sometimes have to play. Dr June Fisher, an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, interviewed New York bus drivers who had helped ferry passengers away from the World Trade Center site on 11 September. She told ITF News Online, the e-bulletin of the global transport workers union federation ITF, that although "the drivers saw some terrible things that day, the only counselling they received was organised by their trade union.' Dr Fisher called for bus and train staff to be acknowledged as "rescuers in times of crisis," trained to react to emergency situations. They should be provided with post-trauma services, similar to services provided to other emergency personnel, according to Dr Fisher. "Emergency evacuation procedures for cities always include buses," she said. "But those plans rarely talk about the bus drivers."
Bar staff in the Republic of Ireland have voted for an immediate ban on smoking in the country's pubs. Members of Mandate, the main union representing bar staff, voted for an immediate ban despite publicans' opposition to the move. The union's call for urgent government action to protect bar staff from the effects of passive smoking has been backed by Eire's environmental health officers. A policy statement calls for smoking to be outlawed immediately in the dining areas of hotels and restaurants, and at meal times in bars serving food. This should be followed, it said, by a total ban on pub smoking within four years. "There is no safe limit for exposure to tobacco smoke," warns the policy statement. "Ventilation does not safeguard the health of those exposed to it long term."
The Turkish Minister of Environment, Fevzi Aytekin, has barred the asbestos riddled ship Sea Beirut from entering the country and said it should return to France. Campaign group Greenpeace says the vessel was illegally exported from France to Turkey to be scrapped at Aliaga, one of Turkey's notorious ship breaking yards. Greenpeace activists intercepted the vessel as it neared Turkish shores last Saturday, and warned the Turkish authorities that it contained toxic waste. The environmental group says the owner of the Sea Beirut abandoned the vessel in France after refusing to pay the 40,000 Euros required to clean it of asbestos. The vessel was then sold to a Turkish shipbreaker, Cemsan, by the Dunkirk port authorities without notifying the Turkish authorities of the toxic materials on board. Greenpeace says ship owners should be required to conduct an inventory of all hazardous substances on board their ships for scrap and clean them before they are exported.
Work stress was the principal factor behind the suicide of a depressed bank worker, a coroner has concluded. Michael John Smith, 41, an employee of ANZ Bank, killed himself on 22 March 2000. Christchurch coroner Richard McElrea found that the bank was not responsible for Mr Smith's death but that its procedures for setting and monitoring performance targets added to his anxiety and mental illness. Mr McElrea said the worst depression episodes during the month leading up to Mr Smith's death arose from anxiety over his work performance and his inability to meet the weekly financial targets. Only 22 out of 70 investment and lending managers could meet the bank's performance targets. Don Farr of banking union Finsec said the union had 8,000 members working in banks and was contacted by at least one employee a week complaining of stress. "This is why banks have such high worker turnover because that's how these problems are resolved. People resign."
One of the USAs biggest rail companies has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle charges of illegally testing workers for genetic defects. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, had charged Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. with genetically testing or seeking to test without their knowledge 36 employees - mostly track workers who said they had job-related carpal tunnel syndrome - as part of a comprehensive diagnostic exam (Risks 12). The company denies it violated the law. As well as falling foul of the authorities, Burlington Northern was at odds with the laws of science - there is no accepted diagnostic genetic test for carpal tunnel syndrome. A March 2001 TUC submission to the Human Genetics Commission opposed genetic susceptibility screening.
People with a history of workplace exposure to lead may be at twice the risk of developing the debilitating disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Previous research has suggested a possible association between exposure to heavy metals, particularly lead, and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Dr. Freya Kamel of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and colleagues evaluated lead exposure in 109 patients diagnosed with ALS and 256 healthy individuals. They found that self-reported occupational lead exposure increased a person's risk of ALS by 1.9 times. Research has also linked the condition to occupational exposure to organic solvents.
Progress in global campaign to ban asbestos is the detailed and very useful report of a 17 April international meeting of asbestos experts and campaigners in London. The report was prepared by Laurie Kazan Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).
The Health and Safety Executives 12 page pamphlet, Getting to grips with manual handling - a short guide for employers, is now available online and gives advice on avoiding, assessing and reducing risks.
The US governments safety research institute, NIOSH, has issued three new publications. Changing organization of work and the safety and health of working people: Knowledge gaps and research directions is a policy paper, and was produced with union participation and has some worker-friendly recommendations; Best practices in workplace surveillance: Identification and tracking of workplace injury, illness, exposures, and hazards is the report of a workshop, and include a webpage on 'opportunities and roles for labor'; and Violence: Occupational hazards in hospitals is a 15-page overview and guide on the issue.
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!
A new film, Not this time - the story of the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign, will hold its world premiere at the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton, London at 7pm, Tuesday 21 May. The film will be introduced by comedian Mark Thomas. Tickets are limited and are available now from the Ritzy Cinema box office (0207 733 2229) priced £5 and £3 concessions. The Campaign is also seeking funds to help finance production and distribution of copies of the film.
TUC/CCA Conference on safety law enforcement, 8 July
In January 2002, a coalition of trade unions, safety groups and families, bereaved from work-related deaths and disasters, came together around a series of demands for reform on safety, law enforcement and corporate accountability. This conference will explore this and the Government's agenda for reform. Speakers include Alan Whitehead MP. Registration costs £25.
Hazards 2002, National Hazards Conference, 6-8 September
The National Hazards Conference will be held in Manchester for the second year running. Further details from Greater Manchester Hazards Centre. There is a financial appeal to keep registration costs down, backed by the TUC.
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 http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/ website pages on health and safety. See whats on offer from TUC Publications and Whats On in health and safety.
COURSES FOR APRIL TO JULY:
For details of courses in the Northern, Yorkshire and Humberside regions, contact the TUC Regional Education Officer
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.
Newsletter (4,000 words) issued 11 May 2002
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printed 23 May 2013 at 06:14 hrs by 220.127.116.11