issue no 125 - 27 September 2003
Risks is the TUCs weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 8,000 subscribers and 1,500 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.
A GMB member needs your backing as he faces court action for speeding while driving an ambulance on a medical emergency. Mick Ferguson, a senior ambulance officer, was transporting a liver from St James Hospital, Leeds to Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge, where the organ was required for transplant. Road conditions were clear and traffic was minimal. Mr Ferguson deployed the blue lights on his vehicle and drove at a speed that he considered safe but necessary to ensure the organ was delivered in time for the waiting patient and transplant team. Mr Ferguson, who has a 36-year unblemished employment record and a clean driving licence, could lose his job if convicted of speeding. A GMB petition is calling on the government to clarify the law on transportation of human organs. The petition adds: 'We, the general public, understand the absurdity of this legal action and fully support Mike Ferguson and the GMB in their campaign.'
Over the next year the TUC is to train 35,000 trade union reps to ensure that employers do not use health and safety as an excuse to discriminate against disabled workers. In its major contribution to the European Year of Disability, the TUC wants to crack down on employers who give bogus safety reasons for not employing disabled workers or preventing them from doing certain types of work. Announcing the courses at a National Back Exchange Conference this week, Disability Commissioner and TUC policy officer Richard Exell said: 'There are enough unemployed disabled people who want to work to fill all the empty jobs in the UK. They are able to work but unscrupulous employers are preventing them from doing so on bogus safety grounds. From this month union reps will be prepared to challenge these discriminating employers and ensure that disabled employees can work and work safely.'
A former Woolworths employee has been awarded a 'substantial' five figure sum after being diagnosed with the incurable asbestos cancer mesothelioma, which he believes resulted from exposure to dust during a major shop refit. Deputy store manager Roger Ricketts, 59, received the payout from Sun Alliance, Woolworths insurer. Mr Ricketts' case is one of several uncovered in a Yorkshire Post investigation which has revealed a new wave of asbestos victims, people who had no noticeable contact with the deadly dust and who never knew they were at risk. Mr Ricketts' solicitor, Paul Webber, of Irwin Mitchell, said: 'This is a case where Mr Ricketts was exposed to asbestos in very unusual circumstances. He was a deputy store manager. Asbestos was heavily used in buildings in the 1960s, and regrettably Mr Ricketts' case shows that not only those working directly with asbestos were affected.' HSE this week urged employers to take a precautionary approach to prevent asbestos exposures during maintenance work.
International unions have criticised the HSE for failing to heed union safety warnings at an oil platform where two workers were killed this month (Risks 124). A conference organised by global union federations ITF and ICEM in Aberdeen, involving offshore unions from 17 countries, condemned HSEs failure to act ahead of the double fatality on the Brent Bravo rig. It backed UK unions who said HSE had 'failed to listen to union warnings in March this year and even said that there was no imminent cause for concern and no immediate risk.' The international union bodies said they will be asking UK health and safety minister Des Browne to appoint independent experts to investigate the fatalities. ICEM general secretary Fred Higgs said: 'Such a public inquiry is the only way in which remedial actions can be taken to prevent such disasters.' HSE this week served a prohibition notice stopping work on the rig. Work was halted initially after Keith Moncrieff, 45, and Sean McCue, 22, were killed. The latest shutdown came after a further dangerous incident while HSE inspectors were on the rig investigating the original accident.
Shop workers union Usdaw says its 17 September National Respect for Shop workers Day was a huge success, all the way from the High Street to Downing Street. In addition to over 100 grassroots events, 50 MPs attended a campaign briefing in London. Prime minister Tony Blair met reps and victims of retail crime at 10 Downing Street. Home secretary David Blunkett unveiled a special notice at a London Co-op store stating that violence and abuse will not be tolerated. These notices will be displayed in all 3,000 Co-operative Group stores. Similar posters were also displayed across the UK by Sainsbury, Safeway, Kwik Save, Somerfield, Littlewoods, TJ Hughes and many local Co-op societies. 'The day was an astounding success,' said Usdaw deputy general secretary John Hannett. 'There is no doubt that the public is now more aware of the issue of violence and abuse towards shop workers. We will seize this initiative and build from it to make sure the retail workplace is a safe place to work.'
Driving as part of your job presents risks that employers must address, the HSE has said. New, free HSE guidance on work-related road safety, aimed at any employer, manager or supervisor with staff who drive or ride a motorcycle or bicycle at work, has been prepared in conjunction with the Department for Transport and alerts employers and the self-employed to their responsibilities under health and safety law. It contains advice on managing work-related road safety and on integrating it into existing health and safety arrangements. Production of new guidance was a key recommendation of an independent work-related road safety task group, set up by the government and the Health and Safety Commission in 2000 as part of the governments overall road safety strategy. The task group estimated that up to about one third of all road traffic incidents, about 1,000 deaths a year, involve someone who is at work at the time. TUC and unions have been at the head of the campaign for action on work-related road risks (Risks 73).
The death of a BT engineer in Aberdeen has prompted a nationwide safety blitz. Donald McAndrew, 46, died in hospital after he was hit by a half-tonne trailer, prompting the company to take the entire UK fleet of cable recovery trailers out of service. Mr McAndrew - who worked with BT for 19 years - died after he was crushed by a trailer. It is understood he was clambering out of a manhole when the vehicle rolled on to him. A BT spokesperson said: 'The accident is still being investigated. All of the type of trailers involved have also been removed from service.' The company, BT union CWU and the HSE are conducting investigations into the tragedy. An HSE spokesperson said: 'Our investigations are ongoing and once complete, a report will be sent to the procurator fiscal at Aberdeen.' A Grampian Police spokesperson said the force would also send a report to the procurator fiscal, who will determine if any charges should be brought.
The HSE is investigating progress towards compliance with a new law on asbestos, due to take effect on 21 May next year. A questionnaire on the HSE website is inviting 'dutyholders' to say how they are getting on with complying with the duty to manage asbestos and if anything is hampering their efforts. HSE has been encouraging dutyholders to start work well in advance of May 2004 and to introduce a precautionary approach to maintenance work in their buildings - before work starts, checking whether the premises contain asbestos, or alternatively, assuming materials contain asbestos and taking the necessary precautions. Tracy Phillips of HSEs asbestos policy unit, said: 'The clock is ticking and the duty to manage is now only eight months away. I would urge dutyholders to respond to this questionnaire. The information provided by them will help us to make the duty to manage successful and contribute to our aim of preventing around 4,700 asbestos related deaths that would otherwise occur.'
The HSE is warning workers of the need to observe stringent safety procedures when handling highly dangerous cancer drugs. A free information sheet aimed at the health and veterinary workers who handle the 'cytotoxic drugs' - also known as antineoplastic, anticancer or chemotherapy drugs - says they should be aware of serious long term risks if they are not handled in a safe manner. Will Pascoe from HSEs health services unit said 'people handling such drugs need to be aware that some of these compounds are mutagenic and carcinogenic.' He added: 'Employers need to make sure that employees are aware of the risks and agreed control measures are being maintained.'
Calls for legal protection from passive smoke risks at work are being backed by safety and medical organisations. Ian Foulkes of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has called on the government to demonstrate its commitment to public health by abandoning its support for a voluntary approach. 'We urge the government to face up to its responsibilities and support European Commissioner for Health, David Byrne, in his bid to ban smoking in all workplaces including bars, cafes and restaurants,' he said. Dr Bill O'Neill, Scottish secretary of doctors organisation BMA, urged ministers to back legislation and called on the Scottish Executive to disassociate itself from a UK government-backed voluntary charter, already under attack from TUC and health campaigners (Risks 105), after a further survey confirmed it wasnt working, with almost 40 per cent of businesses - including more than 70 per cent of bars - saying they allowed smoking throughout. This week, EC health commissioner David Byrne repeated his view that smoking controls should be introduced under EU-wide safety laws (Risks 123).
Workplace bullying has claimed the lives of three workers in one Australian state in the past twelve months, a psychologist has claimed. Meddwyn Coleman told a Bendigo Trades Hall Council forum that workplace bullying lay behind the suicide deaths of three workers in the state of Victoria. She added that for the first time in 25 years she is starting to see suicides that are related to workplace bullying. In one instance an apprentice became seriously depressed following repeated 'hazing' or initiation rituals that made him look like an idiot and set him up to fail. Eventually he took his own life. The tragedy was compounded when his sister killed herself because of his death. A study this week in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine warned there was a 'strong association' between workplace bullying and depression, mental illness and, possibly, cardiovascular disease. Bullying and stress has been linked to suicides in Australia, the UK and elsewhere.
Union reps on the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission in New Brunswick, Canada, have quit, claiming the government favours corporate profits over workers' safety. Members of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour say the provincial government doesn't listen to union concerns when writing legislation. The board is in charge of promoting a safe and healthy work environment, and providing services to employers, employees and injured workers. It also advises the government on what legislative changes are needed to ensure workers' safety. Federation spokesperson Jean-Marie Nadeau said the union body, which represents 31,000 workers across the province, has grown tired of the province's failure to act on board recommendations designed to improve workplace safety. 'The bottom line is the government creates a forum to make a decision and then they don't respect the decision,' Nadeau said following the resignations on September 22 of Bob Davidson and John Murphy from the commission. 'It's a question of respect,' he added.
A Canadian health authority is offering workers a chance to win Can$300 (£134) if they don't call in sick for six months. Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is running the contest to cut staffing costs. Public sector union CUPE has condemned the contest as 'absurd and dangerous' and 'only a small part of an unhealthy cost-cutting agenda.' The health authority is bent on reducing a Can$175 million (£78m) budget deficit by cutting staffing costs. Any of the 27,000 employees of the authority is eligible to enter the raffle if they don't call in sick during the six months between September 15 and March 15. Health care workers say encouraging sick people to go to work in hospitals, nursing homes and care facilities will inevitably put patients at risk. 'In light of the SARS episode and infectious disease experts predicting SARS will come back (Risks 102), its appalling that a health employer will encourage people to risk making other people sick,' said Deb Niemi, a nurse and union rep. She added that the authority should be addressing concerns raised by health care workers about stressful working conditions.
The European Commission is calling on European Union member states to take action to prevent occupational diseases and to ensure sufferers are adequately compensated. 'Occupational diseases blight the lives of sufferers,' said Anna Diamantopoulou, Commissioner for employment and social affairs. 'We are recommending that member states not only take preventive measures, but support the Commission in the collection of data to allow us to have a clear picture of this problem for the whole of Europe.' The European Commission is also extending its 'schedule' of recognised occupational diseases. It says the latest moves are in line with the increased emphasis on the prevention of occupational diseases outlined in the Community strategy on health and safety at work 2002-2006. 'Member States are also invited to draw up quantified national objectives with a view to reducing rates of recognised occupational diseases, and to promote an active role for national health care systems, particularly improving diagnosis,' says the Commission.
The World Bank has been accused of promoting the use of pesticides in the developing world, despite commitments to stop the practice. The North American office of the Pesticides Action Network (PANNA) says 'safeguard policies' agreed by the World Bank in the late 1990s and intended to protect the environment and vulnerable populations have not been put into practice. It says it has 'found widespread violations of the Bank's pest management policy and identified a number of projects in which farmers reported pesticide poisonings and deaths in their communities, as well as wildlife loss and contamination of natural resources.' A PANNA report uncovered a number of World Bank projects that had financed pesticide purchases for use by untrained farmers. There are recent signs that the World Bank may be receptive to criticism. Global union federation ICFTU welcomed this week a new commitment by the World Bank's private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), to include respect for fundamental labour rights as a condition of future IFC loan agreements.
Job stress is driving Irish workers to quit, a workplace stress authority has warned. Maurice Quinlan, director of the EAP Institute, says many companies do not know they have a legal obligation to protect their employees from stress, overwork, bullying and trauma - and of the cost involved if they do not. He says UK workers have been awarded six figure compensation payouts, and a pharmaceutical rep in Ireland received 250,000 (£173,000) in compensation after suing an employer for work overload. 'Employers must recognise that they have a duty of care to their employees to protect them from stress and work overload,' Mr Quinlan said. 'If your employer overloads you with work, you suffer an injury and come back to work and nothing has changed then you can sue your employer. The fact that we live in a long hours culture and stress is an accepted part of employment is not a valid excuse.'
Attorneys in a major Silicon Valley cancer cluster lawsuit against IBM have uncovered a 'corporate mortality file'' in which IBM tracked the deaths of more than 30,000 workers - and the lawyers claim the company knew its electronics workers were dying of cancer more often than normal. The IBM death records were reviewed by a medical expert hired by former IBM workers ahead of a court case starting this week. The analysis by Boston University epidemiologist Richard Clapp concludes: 'By 1975, IBM must have known their manufacturing employees had significantly increased death rates due to cancer and must have known that through the next two decades.' He says data suggest that IBM workers were much more likely to die from cancers of the breast, blood and lymph than the general population. The case is being followed closely by campaigners in Scotlands Silicon Glen, where there has also been concern about cancer and other risks (Risks 122). The HSE launched a special investigation of the semiconductor industry after it found raised cancer rates among women who worked at the National Semiconductor plant at Greenock. It served 12 legal notices forcing other companies in Scotland to remedy breaches found by inspectors.
Unions UNISON and GMB have issued new resources for the dangerous substances-themed European Health and Safety Week, which runs from 13 October. A special UNISON webpage includes details of its national inspection day (15 October), new guidance on hazardous substances and asthma, posters, pointers for branches and member and safety rep recruitment material. GMBs latest Health and safety matters briefing gives safety reps ideas for activities during the week.
The HSE has introduced a new electricity zone on its website. HSE says each year it received about 1,000 reports of accidents at work involving electricity. Around 30 of these are fatal. Most of these fatalities arise from contact with overhead or underground power cables. The new webpages include online copies of free leaflets and links to other resources.
The US governments workplace safety research body, NIOSH, has created a new reproductive health web resource. It includes a searchable database, reproductive health updates and reports (in English and Spanish), alerts and useful links.
TUC courses for safety reps
COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2003
European Week for Health and Safety at Work, 13-19 October
The theme for the Week in 2003 will be dangerous substances (EU Agency press release). The TUC will be stressing the hierarchy of control, and especially the need for substitutes and general toxic use reduction strategies. Key hazards dealt with will include asbestos, asthmagens and solvents. The HSEs Euroweek action pack can be ordered online at HSEs Euroweek website or by calling 0800 085 0050, and the European Agency website has resources and background information too. Future years themes have also now been decided.
Dangerous substances conference, 16 October
Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS) is organising a one-day conference for employers, trade unionists, health and safety managers and occupational health professionals. The event, to run on 16 October as a contribution to European safety week, will include a talk on the HSE's policy on risk assessment and dangerous substances at work and workshops on work related asthma, managing asbestos in premises, dermatitis and skin disease, work related cancer and substitution of dangerous substances. Cost £30, including refreshments and lunch. Venue to be announced.
Corporate safety crimes conference, Glasgow, 23 October
Ministers from the Scottish Executive and Westminster, Crown Office officials, trade unions, employer organisations, the Health and Safety Executive, lawyers, academics and bereaved families will be among the speakers at a Centre for Corporate Accountability 'Safety and corporate criminal accountability' conference in Glasgow on Thursday, 23 October 2003. CCA says it is Scotlands first major conference on the issue.
The Construction Safety Campaigns 2003 AGM and national meeting is to be held in Liverpool on 8 November. Key issues are corporate killing, asbestos risks, employee consultation and roving reps. Further details from CSC, PO Box 23844, London, SE15 3WR, email or phone 07747 795954.
IIAC public meeting, Glasgow, 18 March 2004
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), the body that advises the government on which accidents and diseases should qualify for industrial injuries payouts, is giving members of the public a chance to find out about its work. A day of presentations and structured workshops at the 18 March 2004 meeting in Glasgow will: Describe the process of 'prescribing' occupational diseases - picking the ones that get added to the list; seek opinions about new issues of concern in occupational health; and will provide an opportunity to contribute ideas on IIACs future work programme. IIAC says individual cases or claims cannot be discussed at the meeting, however.
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Newsletter (4,500 words) issued 26 Sep 2003
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