· Union news: Amicus to 'twist governments arm' on corporate crime * Equity secures record payout for Dome acrobat * TGWU launches organising drive * Dock workers stand up for safer ports * Shop attack every minute of the working day
· Other news: New union reps to raise safety in smaller firms * HSE improves safety laws after union challenge * Prosecution over Paddington crash * Lung disease affects three million * Critics wide-eyed at drug tests cheek * Attacks spark bus driver job crisis
· International news: Australia: Esso payout to worker's children * Global: ILO takes on service sector stresses * Guatemala: Murdered on Del Montes banana plantation * USA: Rescue worker suicides add to tragedy toll * USA: Crew accused of mutiny over 16.5-hour workday * USA: Laws save lives and money
· Resources: Organising beats stress
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An Equity member who plunged from a harness at the Millennium Dome has won more than half a million pounds in compensation. Performer Suzy Barton, 34, suffered horrific injuries when she fell 20 feet onto concrete in front of crowds at the London attraction. The world-class aerial performer was suspended from a balloon inside the Dome when her harness opened in the incident three years ago. The fall, which smashed the dancer's feet, pelvis, spine and wrist, left Ms Barton in constant pain and unable to perform. Ms Barton's employer, The Dream Engine, admitted liability. The £510,000 compensation was negotiated by the performers' union Equity, which said the payout is the largest ever awarded to a performer following an injury.
TGWU general secretary-elect Tony Woodley has launched a new 7-point charter for commercial vehicle drivers, calling for better and safer working conditions and more humane work hours and rest breaks. The union leader said the TGWU will campaign to raise minimum standards on health and safety, pay and skills training. On working hours, he said: 'The full implementation of the Working Time Directive cannot come too quickly for us. Well work constructively and diligently with government and employers to bring it in but this vital measure for the industry must not mean a round of pay cuts for working men and women.' He added: 'There should be no no-go areas for the TGWU. Using the drivers charter as a starting point, Im sending a message of support to our members to get active and lets work together to take our campaigns into the workplace.' The union has also announced the creation next year of a TGWU Organising Academy. TGWU assistant general secretary Barry Camfield, commenting on the £500,000 initiative, said: 'There are literally millions of people who could benefit from trade union organisation in their workplace, to better their pay, pensions, family friendly policies, health and safety and give them a say at work.'
A delegation of over forty UK dock-workers from all the major domestic ports joined thousands of their counterparts from across Europe in a huge protest in Rotterdam this week against an EC directive which would deregulate port services. Steve Turner, the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) national secretary for docks and waterways, said: 'We do not want to see a political fix or compromise which puts at risk our members' safety at work and, indeed, that of people in ports.' TGWU says it has led the protests about the directive in the UK as well as lobbying UK ministers, MEPs and MPs. TGWU says the opening up of access to port services would compromise safety, especially if ship owners take advantage of plans for self-handling of cargo rather than using dock labour.
The TUC has welcomed government support for a new breed of union safety rep. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Andrew Smith told the Labour Party conference on 2 October that the government would provide funding for more 'roving safety reps,' who will promote health and safety in small and medium workplaces that do not necessarily have union members. Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: 'Worker safety advisers, or roving safety reps, will help make workplaces safer and protect people's lives. Consulting and involving workers about their health and safety is the single most important thing that employers can do to improve the working environment. And in small firms, which often do not have union members or a union safety rep, roving safety reps backed by trade unions are the next best thing.' Bill Callaghan, chair of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC), said the new fund will build on the proven success of their worker safety advisor pilot ( Risks 124 ) and will contribute significantly by providing advice and expertise to employers and workers on occupational health and safety in areas of need. The WSA Challenge Fund will provide £3 million over three years.
Workplace safety and fire regulations are to be changed to allow employees and employers to claim damages for breaches of the regulations, the Health and Safety Executive has announced. The move comes after a legal campaign by firefighters union FBU, which argued successfully that UK safety law had loopholes that allowed employers to evade responsibility when they failed to comply with legal risks assessment duties ( Risks 33 ). The result was that some workers were missing out on compensation for work-related injuries. HSE says the changes mean employees will now be able to claim damages from their employer in a civil action, where they suffer injury or illness as a result of the employer breaching The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 or the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997. HSE adds, however, that employers will also be able to bring actions against employees for breach of their duties under the 1999 regulations.
Thames Trains is to face prosecution for the Paddington rail crash, in which 31 people died. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed that it is to begin a prosecution of the rail company, four years after the crash. Representatives of the operator - which had earlier said it would sue HSE for failing to stop its safety breaches ( Risks 35 ) - will appear before City of London Magistrates' Court on 12 November, charged with breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The case is likely to go to crown court for trial next year, and if found guilty the company faces an unlimited fine. Sunday 5 October is the fourth anniversary of the incident, in which a Thames train crashed into a London-bound express at Ladbroke Grove, killing 31 and injuring 500 people. British Transport Police investigations into possible manslaughter charges against Railtrack and its employees are continuing, but the prospect of such a charge against Thames Trains has been ruled out. In September 2001, Lord Cullen's report into the Paddington crash outlined a number of criticisms of the rail safety enforcement regime and called for a greater role for safety reps ( Risks 20 ).
An estimated three million people in Britain have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a potentially fatal condition commonly linked to smoking and workplace exposures. The findings come in a new report, Breathing Fear, and are based on a survey of British Lung Foundation members. The survey of 1,400 people who have had their condition diagnosed showed COPD can have a major impact on the quality of their life. One in four cannot work and one in 10 is limited in the type of work they can do. The report found pensioners in the south Wales valleys are 30 per cent more likely to die from lung diseases than those in other parts of the UK, reflecting the areas traditional dusty industries. Research published in September concluded workplace exposures double the chances of developing COPD, which causes symptoms including wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing ( Risks 121 ).
A UK company is pushing a new gizmo it says will tell bosses if workers are under the influence of drugs or drink. Hampton Knight, the firm distributing the £10,000 US-built portable eye scanner, told business leaders the device is able to tell if employees have taken anything from alcohol and cannabis to hard drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or heroin. The Eye Check Pupilometer looks like a pair of binoculars and is linked to a computer which calculates pupil reaction times. It can then indicate if the employee's reaction time is impaired due to the influence of drink, drugs or fatigue. Hampton Knight says a swab or urine test would then be carried out on any 'suspect' employees who failed the eye impairment test, to confirm the presence of drink or drugs. One large UK company has already bought the device, which is also being tested by two police forces. Human rights group Liberty said drug screening for jobs requiring 'top performance' such as airline pilots was acceptable - but not for jobs that were not safety critical. Critics say employers should concentrate on making the job safe for Britains overworked workforce, and not on policing their workers behaviour.
Rising violence against bus drivers has sparked a recruitment crisis which is threatening some services. Two of the largest bus companies in the north-east of England, Stagecoach and Go North East, say together they are short of about 200 drivers. Union leaders say the problem is due to an increase in violent attacks and anti-social behaviour on public transport. Alan Gray, regional organiser for the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU), blamed the crisis on an escalating number of attacks on drivers and said companies must do more to protect drivers. Several bus companies have introduced security measure in an effort to better protect drivers from attack. Many buses now have CCTV cameras installed. In some areas undercover and uniformed police officers travel on buses at night in problem areas.
The teenage children of a man Esso tried to blame for the huge Longford gas explosion in 1998 ( Risks 123 ) have awarded compensation of Aus$100,000 (£41,200) each after Australias Supreme Court found they had suffered psychological injury. The payouts to the children of plant worker Jim Ward brought to almost Aus$2.4 million (almost £1m) the total Esso has been publicly ordered to pay in criminal compensation to families affected by the blast. Justice Philip Cummins said that Haydn Ward, 16, and his sister, Katlyn, 15, continued to 'suffer grievously' from the breakdown of their parents' marriage, which was a direct result of the gas blast. Justice Cummins said: 'It is obvious, and it was always obvious, that Mr James Ward did not contribute in any way to the rupture, explosions and inferno that occurred at Esso Australia's Longford plant on September 25, 1998.' He added: 'On the contrary, at all times, he acted properly, responsibly and, indeed, bravely.' Esso was fined Aus$2 million (£824,000) over the explosion, which killed two workers and injured eight ( Risks 80 ).
A meeting of top experts will set out next week to tackle the growing workplace scourges of stress and violence in the service sector. A panel convened by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and comprising government, union and industry specialists will attempt to agree a global ILO code of practice. ILO says these codes 'are primarily designed as a basis for prevention and protective measures and are considered as ILO technical standards in occupational safety and health.' It says the approach relies on 'dialogue and cooperation between the social partners' and adds: 'Through the processes of identification, recognition, assessment, recording and notification of violence and stress in services sectors, the code lays the foundations for risk assessment, prevention, reduction, management and coping strategies to address these problems.' The code will be widely disseminated after the meeting, says ILO.
Standing up for your rights in Guatemalas banana plantations can cost you more than your livelihood, it can cost you your life. When multinational Del Monte decided in 1999 to move from a north east Guatemala plantation to cut costs, it fired over 900 members of the 4,000-strong Izabal Banana Workers Union. The move violated the company's contract with its labourers. Dismissed workers who refused to move from the Del Monte-owned plots where they scratched a living, found the land sold from under them to cattle farming thugs - ganaderos - gunmen commonly used to control dissent in the Izabal region. Local advocates say what happened when Del Monte turned its back on its former workers was predictable; the ganaderos shot and killed eight of the former Del Monte workers who stayed on the land three of them murdered in the last six months. The focus is now switching from the Guatemala fields to the US courts - a lawsuit alleges that the $2 billion (£1.2bn) multinational conspired to kidnap, torture, and unlawfully detain union leaders. The US government is attempting to frustrate the court proceedings.
At least three New York emergency workers involved in rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center on September 11 2001 have taken their own lives, union officials say. James Kay Jr., an emergency medical technician, shot himself early last year. Six months later, Daniel Stewart, another EMT, hanged himself. And on September 25 last year, New York firefighter Gary Celentani, 33, shot himself. Philip McArdle, the health and safety officer for the 8,600-member Uniformed Firefighters Association, knows of about a half-dozen suicide attempts by other fire-fighters since September 11. 'That number could go higher, depending on what we do to take care of these people,' he says. The New York City fire-fighters' union tries to talk to members, through newsletters and in visits to firehouses, about putting their health and their families before all else. Still, McArdle says department counselling is being cut when some fire-fighters need help most. He worries that more fire-fighters may ultimately take their own lives.
When it comes to environmental and workplace safety, the benefits to communities, workers, society and the economy far exceed the costs, an official US review has found. A new study from the White House's Office of Management and Budget concludes the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules. While the report focuses primarily on environmental regulation, it also looked at a workplace confined space safety standard where the benefits of $540 million (£323.5m) were found to out weight the costs of $92 million (£55 million).
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 HSE's Euroweek
action pack can be ordered online
at HSE's 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.
Global transport unions federation ITF has declared Monday 13 October 2003 the 7th annual International Road Transport Day of Action. ITF says more than 250,000 workers in 65 countries take part in the worldwide protest day against excessive working hours for professional drivers.
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 Scotland's first major
conference on the issue.
HSE will be launching its new guide to organisational interventions for work-related stress at a London conference on 30 October. It says the conference will also be an opportunity to reflect on the pilot of HSE's draft management standards for work-related stress.
Construction Safety Campaign AGM, 8 November
The Construction Safety Campaign's 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
Newsletter (3,900 words) issued 6 Oct 2003
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-7177-f0.cfm
printed 20 May 2013 at 04:51 hrs by 18.104.22.168