issue no 142 - 7 February 2004
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A union leader has warned the epidemic of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in Britain will be worse than experts fear if there is any weakening of restrictions on asbestos use. Commenting on the asbestos cancer warning in last weeks British Medical Journal (Risks 141), George Brumwell, general secretary of the construction workers' union UCATT and a member of the Health and Safety Commission, warned that some Tory MPs were backing asbestos industry calls to lift some asbestos prohibitions, so 'we need to resist calls for a relaxation in the restrictions on the use of asbestos.' He added: 'If that were to happen the epidemic which the British Medical Journal is predicting will be much worse than that which doctors fear.' He said it crucial the government provides the medical facilities and research needed to care for the victims and to search for a cure. UCATT is pressing for an industry-wide occupational health scheme, he said, adding this could be used to detect and treat mesothelioma.
Excessive hours are having a damaging effect on the family and social lives of most UK lorry drivers, with one in four drivers currently working more than 60 hours per week, according to union research. Retail and distribution union Usdaw is urging transport company bosses to start negotiating with unions and workers now, ahead of the introduction of an EU directive in March 2005. This will limit the working week of drivers to a maximum of 48 hours. Usdaw says its research, one of the most comprehensive trade union surveys of its kind, found: 72 per cent of lorry drivers believe working long hours has damaged their family and social lives; almost six in 10 said long hours have damaged their health; almost half work 55 or more hours per week; and one in four work 60 or more hours per week. The union says its campaign has been boosted by two groundbreaking agreements that will deliver shorter hours and higher pay to members (Risks 141 and Risks 134). Usdaw says these will be used as blueprints to secure more agreements that benefit both employees and employers.
The Railway Inspectorate has delivered a strong rebuke to Network Rail for failing to carry out an adequate safety assessment when it shed 600 managers.
In a letter to Network Rail's deputy chief executive, Iain Coucher, the government watchdog expressed concern about the departure of 60 staff in safety critical roles. The Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) claims many employees have been left unacceptably overworked. Principal inspector John Gillespie has asked Network Rail to carry out an immediate review of the safety implications of the cuts. His letter says: 'We are concerned that Network Rail did not follow your own change management procedure as set out in your railway safety case.' The letter asks for Network Rail to respond by 26 February 2004, and adds: 'Information on when we can expect the results of the risk assessment and your work on your stress policy would be helpful.' John Munday, TSSA negotiations officer, said: 'This report proves TSSA was right to complain about the arbitrary way Network Rail set about cutting staff numbers. It is very worrying that Network Rail does not seem to understand their safety responsibilities when they are about to undergo the biggest organisational change since privatisation.'
At least 376,000 people suffered violence at work last year, according to official figures. Latest British Crime Survey statistics show in a third of incidents of violence at work, victims said that the offender was under the influence of alcohol. The report shows workers on the frontline such as health care staff and police officers were most at risk of violence at work. Home Office minister Hazel Blears said she was 'very encouraged' the number of people experiencing violence at work has fallen by 27 per cent since 1999, but added: 'The government can provide funding and guidelines to companies but this alone cannot combat violence in the workplace. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their staff are trained to deal with workplace violence and offer support and advice to employees who have been victims of crime and ensure that violence at work is dealt with effectively.' Retail union Usdaw expressed concern at the BCSs finding that two-thirds of British workers whose job involves contact with the public have not received any form of training in how to deal with violent or threatening behaviour.
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) has been fined £30,000 plus £20,783 costs after an incident where a Sellafield diver nearly drowned. Peter Whelan was trapped under a boat for almost half an hour in treacherous seas. The company was fined at Carlisle Crown Court after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of Mr Whelan, a member of the plants 10-strong diving team. Simon Parrington, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said the firms failure to carry out an adequate risk assessment had resulted in a life-threatening situation. Mr Whelan had dived down to the seabed from the moving boat when his umbilical breathing tube was sucked into the boat's power intake and tangled around the drive shaft. He switched to his emergency air supply but it was more than 25 minutes before he was finally cut free by the boats skipper. BNFL was criticised for using a technique called live-boating, where the boat is moving while the diver is underwater. Although not illegal, HSE guidelines advise against the practice. Simon Hilton, representing BNFL, said the company was unaware that live-boating was considered unacceptable.
The governments environmental watchdog has been ordered to pay £170,000 in fines and costs following the death of a worker. Steven Hughes drowned in the River Witham in Lincoln in September 2001 after his dumper truck plunged into the river. The father-of-two had been moving earth from a low bank to build up flood defences when his truck overturned into the water. Lincoln Crown Court was told how Mr Hughes, who had not received training on a front loading vehicle from the Environment Agency, had also not seen a health and safety risk assessment - which highlighted the risk of overturning and the danger of drowning. Following the hearing, HSE inspector Samantha Peace said: 'It was a loss of life that could have been prevented. We would have expected the work to have been very carefully planned with safe routes, turning and passing points. Instead those workers had to make those sorts of decisions themselves on the hoof.' Sentencing, Judge Michael Heath said: 'There was a series of fallings in the planning and execution of this work. The safety precautions taken fell significantly short of the standard required.' The Environment Agency is a government body, so the £150,000 fine will go to the Treasury's central fund.
NHS staff in London who are sick or who have disabilities are more likely to face harassment and discrimination - from colleagues and patients alike - than other staff, according to a new survey. The Institute for Employment Studies report says staff with a disability or medical condition are less satisfied with the quality of their working lives and are more likely to experience an accident or injury or to be harassed or subject to violent attack. The survey also found respondents in all minority ethnic groups - making up a quarter of the survey - were more likely than white respondents to say they had experienced harassment or violence at work.
Global pressures on the timber industry are forcing log truck drivers in Tasmania to spend up to 100 hours a week behind the wheel. The growing pressure has sparked a new campaign from the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which is pushing for legal rates, legal loads and legal working conditions. TWU branch secretary Bill Noonan said: 'It becomes a race to the bottom, and some are receiving the same rates they were two to three years ago, which isn't good economics.' Last year, out of 80 heavy vehicle accidents in Tasmania, 65 were in daylight hours and most of those were on straight, dry roads. Mr Noonan said that pointed to a problem with fatigue and, with a higher concentration of log trucks in Tasmania, it was a serious concern.
Most x-ray technologists suffer from 'significant and diverse musculoskeletal' problems due to the physical stress and strain of their job, according to a study published this month in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics. Dr Shrawan Kumar, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta, found that 83 per cent of the x-ray technologists examined suffered from regular backaches, while 39 per cent of the female sample had regular neck pain. He believes the pain is due to excessive task demands - heavy lifting during manipulation of patients and equipment. 'I was horrified to see the kind of physical stress x-ray technologists go through,' Kumar said. 'They have the same physical stress level that heavy labourers have, but most heavy labour is intermittent work, and x-ray technologists work constantly.' Kumar said some of the work required by the technologists exceeds the permissible spinal load limits outlined by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety. It is uncommon to find x-ray technologists beyond the age of 50, he said.
Thousands of lives could be saved in the European Union each year with better handling of dangerous chemicals, the European Commission has said. 'We know that badly managed chemicals can cause cancer, respiratory problems... and we don't know the risks to which we are exposed,' said Catherine Day, director-general of the Commission's environment department. 'There's very little data on how many deaths or illnesses can be prevented. But the Commission estimates we could save 4,500 lives a year in the EU by using chemicals in a safer way.' If ministers agree, the plan - known as REACH, launched in October (Risks 132) - would close a loophole that requires only new chemicals to undergo rigorous testing. UK unions have given the proposals a qualified welcome, but warn that for all the talk of greater openness, unions and workers in the industry have been given no say in the process.
A report into working conditions in microelectronics plants in developing countries has given the technology industry a 'wake-up call,' according to Dell. Development agency CAFOLD last week said microelectronics industry workers in the developing world, producing computer parts for use by top multinationals including Dell, Hewlett Packard and IBM, are facing exploitation and 'dire' working conditions ( Risks 141 ). The charity is urging the companies to take more responsibility for the workers producing their products and says they should ensure their contractors adhere to UN-approved codes of conduct and core ILO labour standards. Dell said the report had raised some serious issues which it would be looking in to, adding it had already taken steps to ensure its global suppliers understand the company's core principles. The CAFOD report found many workers in Taiwan-owned factories lacked basic health and safety protection in their workplace. Monina Wong, who led the research in China, said solvents were being handled without proper precautions, and workers were working 12 to 16 hours a day, many testing monitors for 10 hours at a stretch, with no rest breaks.
South African unions have lashed out at AngloGold after a spate of deaths in the companys mines. Union federation COSATU and mining union NUM spoke out following the death of two miners at TauTona mine near Carletonville this week. Less than a week before, two miners were killed at AngloGold's neighbouring Mponeng mine. In January, three miners died and five were injured after a rockburst at another AngloGold mine in the area. The union organisations are demanding AngloGold and government safety inspectors work with unions on an urgent investigation to establish the cause of the accidents and take all measures necessary to ensure there is no repetition. NUM spokesperson Moferefere Lekorotsoana said: 'The manner in which this company is having accidents in the Carletonville area alone, within such a short term, gives us the impression that they believe they have the right to kill and maim mineworkers, then hide behind press statement clichés of the company will hold a full investigation into the cause of the accident.' COSATU spokesperson Patrick Craven said the federation fully supported NUM in its condemnation of AngloGold.
Claims that asbestos trade in the US is dying off and compensation claims are taking the industry with it appear to be unfounded. Latest US Commerce Department figures show that US asbestos imports have climbed by 300 per cent over the last decade. And when the St. Louis Post- Dispatchs Pulitzer prize winning reporter Andrew Schneider examined Securities and Exchange Commission filings and press releases from the five largest asbestos targets who have filed for bankruptcy, he found most were doing rather well. The most recent reports from Armstrong, WR Grace, Federal Mogul, Owens Corning and US Gypsum show that with a single exception, all have increased sales and have the same or a greater number of employees than before they filed for protective bankruptcy, termed a 'Chapter 11' filing in US business parlance. The supposed plight of these companies, however, has been the justification for strong pressure for new laws which could soon create a cash-limited compensation pot, a move personal injury lawyers say would save the companies billions. The US manoeuvres are already hurting UK workers - Federal Mogul owns UK company Turner and Newall, which has frozen payouts to thousands of dying UK asbestos victims (Risks 132).
A US couple has been awarded $6 million (£3.27m) compensation in an asbestos lawsuit against a Minnesota company. An Allegheny County jury found that William Lisac, 62, of Shaler, was exposed to asbestos when he worked with valves produced by DeZurik Inc. Lisac was a steamfitter for more than 40 years and worked with the valves, which are used by power plants, chemical plants and steel mills. He was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. A jury deliberated about four hours before deciding Lisac and his wife, Lois, deserved $3 million each. William Lisac said he'd gladly trade the money he had been awarded to be cured.
Planning a local event for International RSI Awareness Day, 29 February 2004? Well, make sure you tell everybody about it! You can print-off-and-use a free RSI Day events poster from the Hazards website - just fill in details of your activity. Youll also find links to other useful resources on the magazines campaigning webpages. RSI Day 'is when unions, safety reps and safety campaigners highlight the terrible strain injuries toll.'
The Dublin-based European Foundation has created an online European Working Conditions Observatory, pulling together information on measures to: maintain health and well-being of workers; ensure career and employment security; develop skills and competences; and reconcile work-life balance. It says: 'In the debate on the future world of work, it is important to analyse the trends and challenges, and the measures required to build a sustainable European working model.' The workplace safety section includes information on absenteeism, stress, violence and racism at work, workplace health, aging and work and physical work risk factors.
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printed 19 May 2013 at 07:26 hrs by 22.214.171.124