Issue date
11 Oct 2013
TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Number 626: 12 October 2013

 
Asbestos - the hidden killer Hazards magazine Hazards at Work

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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

UNION NEWS

Blacklisters bow to union pressure

A high profile campaign by unions and campaigners has forced Britain’s eight largest construction industry blacklisters to apologise and agree to a compensation scheme. But while the companies have apologised for their involvement with an organisation that kept a list uncovered in a raid by the Information Commissioner's Office in 2009, they have not admitted liability. The Consulting Association (TCA), which was backed by at least 44 construction firms, held files on over 3,000 people, much of it relating to their union and particularly workplace safety activities. In a statement, the companies - Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O'Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci - said they all apologised “for their involvement with TCA and the impact that its database may have had on any individual construction worker.” They added: “At this time we are not able to share any further information on the proposed scheme.” The firms said they are asking unions to work with them to establish The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme. They added that they would support the introduction of a code of conduct “to ensure nothing like this can happen within the industry again.” Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail commented: “These employers appear to be responding to union demands to 'own up, clean up and pay up'.” She added: “It must be a priority to get blacklisted workers back into work. Unite is calling on contractors to employ, and where relevant support the up-skilling of blacklisted workers.” Justin Bowden, national officer for GMB, said the next step for the companies was to “clean up and pay up.” He added: “The victims and their families will either be fairly compensated including the offer of jobs or GMB will ensure justice for its members through the High Court.” The union-backed Blacklist Support Group said impending court action had forced the firms into a corner. In a statement, it said: “Blacklisted workers obviously welcome the announcement of an industry funded compensation scheme for those they deliberately victimised as part of the Consulting Association blacklisting conspiracy. But so far there are no firm proposals, only a vague promise of compensation for any workers with a ‘legitimate claim’.” It added: “We want every single person who is on the Consulting Association blacklist to be compensated and jobs guaranteed for blacklisted workers on major construction projects. The Blacklist Support Group looks forward to participating in the negotiations about the details of the scheme.”

GMB blacklisting campaign. Blacklist Support Group news release. The Guardian. BBC News Online. Herald Scotland. Construction Enquirer.

Safety watchdog must be seen and heard

The government should increase funding for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) so it can intensify its inspection efforts, the union Unite has said. The union was speaking out after an HSE inspection blitz on construction sites throughout September revealed that almost half of those visited failed the checks. Unite says that since the current government took power, health and safety laws and regulations have come under attack. It added that by the end of parliament HSE will have seen its budget slashed by 35 per cent. HSE’s unannounced safety checks on construction sites across the UK found “material breaches” at just under half of more than 1,000 sites inspected. Material breaches of health and safety law require inspectors to issue a written notice to the contractor, which can include notification, an improvement notice or a prohibition notice. The worst transgressions can result in prosecution. Unite says the widespread breaches add weight to the growing demands to increase capacity and funding for the HSE. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The HSE's spot checks throughout September are proof that the Executive needs more capacity and funding. The extent of the breaches uncovered also shows why trade union health and safety committees are so important in the construction industry and why we need more.” She added: “The ending of the spot checks will be manna from heaven for the worst employers and unfair to employers who work with unions to get it right. The government's attack on health and safety must be reversed.”

Unite news releaseHSE construction webpages and Safer sites initiative.

Fury at ‘dodgy backroom deal’ on flying hours

Pilots’ union BALPA has expressed dismay at a ‘dodgy backroom deal’ that saw the European Parliament approve contentious new flying hours rules. Last week the European Parliament’s Transport Committee rejected proposals from the European Commission for new EU pilot flying time rules unions had argued were unsafe (Risks 625). But BALPA says intensive lobbying from the airline industry and ‘dodgy last minute backroom deals’ saw MEPs vote not to confirm this decision. This means the rules can now be implemented, unless the EU Council of Ministers decides to discuss the rules and vote on them. Jim McAuslan, BALPA general secretary, said: “The UK government and flight safety regulator have helped the European Commission force through these rules by dodgy last minute backroom deals, which have been made up as they have gone along. This has been a botched process by the EU from start to finish. Passengers and pilots deserve flight safety rules based on rigorous science and evidence, not secret dodgy deal making in Strasbourg, which will mean that Britain no longer has the safest skies in Europe.” He added: “These rules will see already tired British pilots flying double the number of 5am starts, longer at night and landing a plane having been awake for 22 hours.” He said the proposals had been opposed by the EU Transport Committee, UK MPs, pilots across Britain and Europe, scientists and the British flying public.

BALPA news release. BBC News Online.

Two down and six to go on Bangladesh campaign

Following a high profile TUC-led campaign, the cut-price clothing chain Matalan has followed River Island (Risks 624) to become the latest High Street name to sign up to a union-initiated safety accord to protect garment workers in Bangladesh. The accord was implemented following the Rana Plaza factory collapse which killed over 1,100 textile workers in April this year (Risks 605). Of the eight major chains originally refusing to sign up, six - Bench, Bank Fashion, Peacocks, Jane Norman, Republic and Mexx - are still holding out and will remain a target of union and other labour rights campaigners. The pressure must be maintained, says a posting on the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, “because the situation for workers in Bangladesh is still one where unsafe conditions are common.” It adds: “As the six month anniversary of Rana Plaza approaches, we need everyone to email and tweet UK brands to sign the Accord and show respect for the rights and dignity of the workers in their supply chains.” John Hannett, general secretary of the UK retail union Usdaw, said: “The fact that we have a trade union presence in key parts of the UK retail sector was an important lever to get retailers to sign up, but the key people who are delivering the Accord are the trade unions in Bangladesh.” He added “low wages and dangerous working conditions are not due to consumers in the West wanting cheaper clothes. We have shown that wages in Bangladesh clothing factories could be doubled and it would have little or no impact on prices in the shops.”
TUC Stronger Unions blog and Going to Work campaign.
Now get Bench, Bank Fashion, Peacocks, Jane Norman, Republic and Mexx to sign up - write to all six companies now!

GMB offers to investigate Qatar 2022 conditions

UK union GMB has volunteered to be part of a team of inspectors that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is putting together to inspect workplaces and labour camps in Qatar, scheduled to host the 2022 World Cup. After exposing high death rates and abusive labour standards on construction projects linked to the event (Risks 625), the global union body has said it intends to assess and report on conditions. GMB international officer Bert Schouwenburg said: “GMB welcomes the ITUC proposal to put together a team of experienced inspectors for workplaces and labour camps in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup. GMB is ready to participate in any inspections that may take place.” He added: “I shall shortly be writing to UK construction companies, including Carillion, Balfour Beatty and Drake and Scull, asking for a meeting in Doha to discuss how they are going to guarantee decent and safe work for both their directly employed staff and those working for their sub-contractors. This would include a safe working environment, a living wage, good quality accommodation and the right to form and join independent trade unions for the purposes of collective bargaining.” ITUC said an offer from FIFA, football’s global governing body, of only a ‘courtesy visit’ to the Emir of Qatar “is totally inadequate and fails to put in place any plan to stop more workers dying.” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Scores of healthy young men are dying. This web of deadly practices draws in international companies, the government of Qatar and FIFA.” She added: “FIFA has the power to make workers’ rights a condition of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup. There is still time to rerun the vote to choose a venue which respect workers.”

GMB news release. ITUC news release. BWI news release.

We need decent work, not hire and fire

Public sector union UNISON has called for decent work for all and an end to the routine abuse of workers worldwide. In a letter to the Guardian ahead of World Day for Decent Work on 7 October, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis wrote: “Mass suicides in electronic companies in China; deaths of young men building World Cup stadiums in Qatar; crushed bodies in a garment factory in Bangladesh; blacklisting for exposing dangers on UK building sites – these are some of the perils of working in the 21st century where rights and protections are either non-existent or steadily being eroded.” He added: “Providing decent work contributes to social cohesion. It ends discrimination against women, young people and migrant workers. Decent work with decent wages means people can live with dignity. But we are witnessing the destruction of decent work, and a rolling back of pay and conditions as governments and employers seek to create flexible workforces that can be hired and fired at will. Instead of protecting rights, governments such as ours are destroying them, labelling them as ‘red tape’.” World Day for Decent Work is coordinated by the global union confederation ITUC. Sharan Burrow, ITUC’s general secretary, commented: “Workers’ rights are not negotiable yet a decent work deficit exists in varying degrees in most nations throughout supply chains and for the majority of women and migrants. People feel abandoned by their government as they prioritise business interests over the concerns of working people and their families.”

ITUC news release. UNISON news release. The Guardian.

World Day for Decent Work 2013We love red tape facebook page.

Shopworker assaults not reported by 1-in-6

Almost half of all shopworkers have suffered verbal abuse in the last year, over a third have been threatened and 1-in-25 has been the victim of a violent attack, latest figures from the shopworkers’ union Usdaw have revealed. The interim results of Usdaw’s 2013 survey also reveal than 1-in-6 of the victims of a violent assault do not report the incident. The union said fall in verbal abuse, from 61 per cent affected in 2012 to 49 per cent in 2013, was welcome. Threats were also down, from 36 to 34 per cent. But violent attacks were static, affecting 4 per cent of shopworkers. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “I was shocked to learn that 17 per cent of shopworkers who were physically assaulted in the workplace did not report the incident, along with a third of those threatened and almost half of those who were verbally abused. This level of under-reporting of incidents is of great concern and my message to shopworkers is very clear, abuse is not a part of the job. We are encouraging our members to report all incidents of violence, threats and abuse to their managers and help get the issue tackled.” He added: “At the heart of the Freedom from Fear Campaign is joint working with employers to make the workplace safer. Our message to shopworkers is: We can sort it - if you report it. We will be working with employers to make it easier for staff to report incidents and to ensure that action is taken to prevent violence, threats and abuse.”

Usdaw news release. The union’s Respect for Shopworkers Week 2013 takes place from 11 to 15 November.
 

Injustice prolonged after firefighters’ deaths

Firefighters’ union FBU has said the families of two firefighters killed at work must be given peace and justice and not subjected to another painful court hearing. The union was commenting after an unsuccessful appeal this week by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service against a July High Court ruling saying it must pay compensation to the bereaved families of firefighter Geoff Wicker, 49, and fire service cameraman Brian Wembridge, 63 (Risks 616). They died in the fire at Marlie Farm, in Shortgate, in 2006 (Risks 335). To the union’s dismay, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has already indicated it intends to take the case to the Court of Appeal. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack responded: “It’s time for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to give the families of these fallen firefighters the peace and justice they have awaited for seven years. The fire and rescue service should abandon their appeal and pay the appropriate compensation immediately.” He added: “It’s a relief but no surprise that the courts have dismissed their meritless appeal on every ground of application, and shocking that they will now prolong the families’ agony by appealing again. We should never forget that two lives were needlessly lost at Marlie Farm as a result of a systemic and cultural failure of those responsible for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. The FBU has been proud to support this case on behalf of firefighters throughout this long process and will continue to fight alongside them as long as it takes to achieve justice.”

FBU news release.


OTHER NEWS

Watch out for blood in your pee

An NHS campaign on bladder and kidney cancers will run from 15 October to 20 November, highlighting the need for early diagnosis. In both cancers, which can have strong links to work, early diagnosis can increase considerably the chances of survival. An early warning sign, says a new NHS campaign guide, can be blood in urine so “even if it's 'just the once', tell your doctor straight away.” According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “This will be a major campaign and many workers and union members will see it but there may not be much about the link with work as a cause. Many of these cancers have an occupational cause and so it’s important to link the campaign with any work that you are doing on prevention.” The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates there are 550 new cases of bladder cancer caused by occupational exposure each year, with 245 deaths. Others put the toll much higher. Last year, Hazards magazine estimated there are 29 substances where there is ‘strong’ or ‘good’ evidence of a bladder cancer risk - more than three times as long as the nine used in HSE’s estimate (Risks 546). Add in those workplace substances where evidence is ‘limited’, and the list extends to 47 substances. Workers in a diverse range of jobs can be affected, including chemical and dye workers, bus drivers, rubber workers, motor mechanics, leather workers, blacksmiths, machine setters, painters (Risks 566), printers, and mechanics. Hairdressers are thought to be at risk as well because of their frequent exposure to permanent hair dyes. Kidney cancer has been linked to exposures to substances including trichloroethylene and other solvents, arsenic, cadmium, lead, petroleum products and to work in printing. Both cancers have been linked to work as a firefighter (Risks 581).

NHS bladder and kidney cancer campaign. TUC guide to occupational cancers. Global Unions ‘Occupational Cancer Zero Cancer’ campaign. Hazards magazine on bladder cancer risks.


A&E doctors face ‘intolerable pressures’

Urgent action must be taken to ensure emergency departments remain sustainable and safe, doctors have warned. The call comes after a report found A&E consultants were facing “intolerable pressures” in the workplace. The College of Emergency Medicine said over 94 per cent of medical consultants worked above their contracted hours in accident and emergency departments in order to maintain levels of service, and 62 per cent of doctors reported their job was not sustainable in the long term. The college said this has “potentially serious repercussions” for the safe work carried out by senior medics. The ‘Stretched to the limit’ report suggested that pressures within the workplace could make it difficult to retain doctors, who may start looking at working in hospitals outside of the UK. Dr Taj Hassan, vice president of the college and one of the authors of the report, said prompt action was needed to address challenges. “Senior medical decision makers in emergency medicine provide one of the most vital strands in maintaining safety for emergency care systems in the UK,” he said. “A failure to address these issues will compromise this ability and also further worsen the present workforce crisis affecting emergency departments.”

College of Emergency Medicine news release and Stretched to the limit report. The Independent.

Radiologist gets an unwelcome dose of radiation

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust has been fined after an interventional radiologist was exposed to significant amounts of ionizing radiation. Boston Magistrates' Court heard the affected person was working with a CT scanner at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, and received more than double the annual dose limit for skin exposure in just over three months. As an interventional radiologist his work involved the insertion of biopsy needles into patients, which he carried out using the CT scanner operating in continuous fluoroscopy mode, giving real time x-ray images which he observed whilst standing next to the scanner. This involved operating the x-rays for periods of up to 30 seconds at a time. Whilst inserting the biopsy needles he had additional exposures, as he placed his hands directly in the main x-ray beam, resulting in an overexposure of radiation to his hands. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the Trust had never carried out a risk assessment for the CT scanner operating in the fluoroscopy mode so a safe system of work was not developed. In addition, managers were aware that this technique was being carried out but did not ensure proper procedures were followed. United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 and was fined a total of £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £15,128. HSE inspector Judith McNulty-Green said: “The regulations require exposures to ionising radiation to be kept as low as is reasonably practicable. In addition there are dose limits which should never be exceeded. In this case the dose to the radiologist's hands was twice the relevant legal dose limit.” She added: “As United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS trust failed to assess the risk of this machine operating in continuous mode it led to the interventional radiologist and patients being exposed to radiation for far longer and to a much greater extent than should have been allowed.”

HSE news release. BBC News Online. Boston Standard.

‘Unbelievable’ failures at nuclear sub dock

The primary and secondary power sources providing the coolant for nuclear reactors in Britain’s submarine fleet failed on 29 July, leading to a nuclear incident being narrowly averted. The Independent on Sunday reported the crisis at the Devonport naval dockyard in Plymouth, operated by the Ministry of Defence and government engineering contractors Babcock Marine, was comparable with the Fukushima Daiichi power station meltdown in Japan in 2011. The failure of the electric power source for coolant to nuclear reactors and then the diesel back-up generators was revealed in a heavily redacted report from the Ministry of Defence's Site Event Report Committee (Serc). Submarines docking at Devonport must be connected to coolant supplies to prevent their nuclear reactors overheating. But last July a series of what were described as "unidentified defects" triggered the failures which meant that for more than 90 minutes, submarines were left without their main sources of coolant. John Large, an independent nuclear adviser, told the paper: “It is unbelievable that this happened. It could have been very serious. Things like this shouldn't happen. It is a fundamental that these fail-safe requirements work. It had all the seriousness of a major meltdown – a major radioactive release.” Babcock said the defect had resulted in an “event with potential nuclear implications.” The conclusion of the MoD report said that while recognising organisations and individuals were “increasingly expected to deliver to tighter deadlines with limited resources”, failures would be reported and learned from, to deliver a “safe product.”

Independent on Sunday.

Joiner’s fall lands firm in court

A Bradford construction firm has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after a joiner fell six metres through a fragile rooflight at a factory in Leeds. The 46-year-old self-employed joiner from Bradford, who does not wish to be named, was hired by MD Construction (Bradford) Ltd to remove ventilation turrets from a warehouse roof at Johnsons Apparelmaster in Leeds. He was sitting astride the roof ridge and reaching for slates to cover an opening left by one of the turrets when his knee went through a nearby rooflight. The worker fell six metres to the factory floor below, escaping with a broken elbow and bruising. The incident on 22 November 2010 was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted MD Construction Ltd. Leeds Magistrates' Court heard that MD Construction hired the joiner to do the job and also supplied a labourer. The company identified potentially fragile rooflights where the work would be taking place and had provided Johnsons with a risk assessment for the work. However, the court was told by HSE that no safety measures had been put in place by the company to protect workers against falls through the rooflights. MD Construction (Bradford) Ltd was fined £5,000 and £15,000 towards costs after being found guilty of a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The latest HSE statistics show that 40 workers were killed and more than 3,400 were seriously injured in falls from height in 2011/12.

HSE news release and falls webpages.

Kebab worker maimed by meat stripper

An Essex kebab manufacturer has been fined for serious safety failings after a worker suffered horrific injuries to his hand when it became trapped in unguarded machinery. Ethem Torunoglu, 36, from London, was working for Kismet Kebabs Ltd in Latchingdon when the incident happened on 9 February 2012. Chelmsford Crown Court was told that the worker was cleaning a derinding machine when he noticed a piece of meat or sinew caught in a part called the stripper comb. While the machine was running he tried to dislodge it with a pressure washer but when that failed he reached in. His hand was drawn into the machine between the stripper comb and the serrated roller above it. Mr Torunoglu grabbed his hand and called for help. He couldn't reach the stop button from where he was so the serrated roller continued to rotate over the back of his hand, grinding it away until a colleague came and turned off the machine. He sustained significant injuries including losing the knuckles on his right hand, substantial damage to the tendons and veins and loss of flesh from his hand. Mr Torunoglu was in hospital for 19 days and underwent three operations to rebuild his knuckles and tendons. He also had a large skin graft taken from his left thigh. He has since had a further two operations and is awaiting plastic surgery. He has been unable to return to work. Kismet Kebabs Ltd was fined £17,500 and ordered to pay costs of £7,500 after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

HSE news release and food industry webpages.

Chemical fireball engulfed workers

A chemical firm has been ordered to pay £105,000 in fines after a major explosion at a waste management site in Lancashire that caused three workers to sustain serious burns. Personnel Hygiene Services (PHS) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the blast at Burscough Industrial Estate in Burscough on 12 October 2010. The explosion occurred when aerosol cans were put into an industrial shredder. Liverpool Crown Court heard that three employees working near the shredder were caught in a fireball, suffering serious burns, and surrounding buildings had to be evacuated while firefighters dealt with the resulting blaze. Nearly 60 police officers were deployed to oversee road closures and control a cordon around the site. There was also extensive damage to the large warehouse that housed the shredder. A joint investigation by HSE and the Environment Agency found the company had allowed around 150 cans containing extremely flammable substances to be put into a large shredder. The investigation found that PHS did not have a procedure for checking the contents of boxes of waste materials delivered to the site. The company also failed to ensure that a chemical specialist monitored the waste being put into the shredder to check for flammable substances. A risk assessment was found to be wholly inadequate after the company wrongly identified the risk of aerosols being added to the shredder as being 'very unlikely', and the consequences of this happening as 'moderate' meaning no action was taken as a result. PHS Ltd was fined £105,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £45,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach.

HSE news release and fire and explosion webpages. BBC News Online.

Schoolgirl dragged by scarf into a lathe

A Scottish council has been fined £48,000 for criminal health and safety breaches after schoolgirl was dragged into a lathe by her scarf. Nadine Craig, who was 14 at the time, was pulled into the machine in November 2007 and freed by fellow pupils. She received 40 stitches to a wound in her neck and it was six months before she returned to Galashiels Academy. At Selkirk Sheriff Court, Scottish Borders Council admitted failing to provide a proper guard for the lathe. It also admitted not carrying out risk assessments on machines in the craft and design technology classes over a period of almost three years. The council had said there had been “tension” with the teacher over risk assessments as he stated he was not trained nor had the time to carry them out. In his findings, Sheriff Kevin Drummond said: “It was wrong of him to fail to comply and it was wrong of the authority to allow it to continue.” He also pointed out a guard was available for the machine which could have been purchased for £260 plus fitting costs. Sheriff Drummond described the offences as a “serious failure” and said the gravity of the breach meant he would impose a fine of £72,000. He awarded the council full credit for the early guilty plea and reduced the fine to £48,000. Ms Craig, now 20, was awarded £27,000 when a civil claim for damages was settled in 2011. She said: “No-one has been punished for what happened. It was terrifying at the time. I could have died.”

The Scotsman. Herald Scotland. BBC News Online.

Calling all COMAH safety reps

Researchers want to know the concerns encountered routinely by union safety reps on Control of Major Accident Hazard (COMAH) sites. They are asked to fill in a quickie online questionnaire that “focuses on a range of incidents that take place rather frequently in COMAH sites. Sometimes called 'near misses', 'dangerous occurrences', or 'precursor events', these events include losses of containment, losses of control on chemical processes, fires, explosions, which may but do not always hurt or kill. As such they can be distinguished from occupational safety incidents (slips trips and falls).” The unions say through the questionnaire, which reps can complete anonymously, they want to gauge the workforce’s perspective on these events. There will be a similar survey in France, for comparison. The initiative comes as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is changing its approach to the oversight of COMAH sites. Under a new HSE intervention programme, HSE inspections of onshore sites will now look at how companies manage competence in relation to major hazard risks. A spokesperson for the watchdog told SHP Online: “The HSE has a three-year targeted strategic programme at top-tier COMAH sites to initially look at the competence of staff involved in safety-related tasks that directly impact on the control of major hazard risks. Should those initial checks reveal an underlying concern about the organisation's competence management system, then the HSE may decide to look in greater detail at the company's arrangements. This would determine whether there is an underlying weakness in those arrangements.”

Union survey for COMAH safety reps.

HSE COMAH competence management guidance. SHP Online.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Bangladesh: Deadly fire underlines the union safety case

A Bangladeshi textile factory where at least seven workers died and more than 50 were injured in a fire on 8 October, was not covered by the union-brokered international safety accord. The firm made fabric used by brands such as H&M, George at Asda, Primark, Next and Morrisons. Global unions IndustriALL and UNI say almost 1,600 sites are due to be inspected under the accord on fire and building safety, but wants its scope extended to cover many more workplaces. The blaze was reported to have originated in the knitting section of the factory, which belongs to part of the Palmal group. More than 93 retailers, including H&M, Next, Primark and Marks & Spencer, have signed the legally binding accord, which ensures a commitment to carry out fire safety and structural inspections on thousands of buildings. IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said the tragedy “underlines the need for urgent action to make the safety improvements that are so badly needed in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment factories. Through the Bangladesh Accord, we will be doing our utmost to make progress as quickly as possible, so that we can avoid tragedies like this in the future.” UNI general secretary Philip Jennings said: “The Bangladesh Accord, by bringing together industry and trade unions, will help to ensure that long-overdue safety improvements are made. We know the size of the task ahead, sadly emphasised by the Gazipur fire. We must deliver collectively for the sake of the Bangladeshi garment workers and their families.” Compensation negotiations for the bereaved and injured from the April Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, that claimed over 1,100 lives in the country, continued this week. Talks chaired by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) involved retail brands, IndustriALL, the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Bangladesh government, garment trade body BGMEA and Bangladeshi unions.

IndustriALL news release. The Guardian.

Europe: Health and safety strategy put on ice

The European Commission has suspended all progress on its already overdue workplace health and safety strategy. A 2 October Commission communication on its REFIT deregulatory policy said all health and safety at work measures currently under discussion will be shelved until a new Commission takes office in 2014. According to ETUI, the research arm of Europe’s trade union confederation ETUC, “these are big issues that affect the lives and health of millions of workers in Europe, like bringing in a directive on musculoskeletal disorders and improving EU laws to prevent work-induced cancers. The current Commission has also pressed the pause button on a draft directive to protect workers against tobacco smoke. It will be doing nothing to address trade union and employers’ organisations’ demands to implement the European Agreement on occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector.” The REFIT programme also has an action plan for 2013 and 2014 to ‘simplify’ EU social laws, “at the risk of rolling back minimum fundamental rights for many workers in Europe”, said ETUI. The Commission policy announcement was savaged by the ETUC which in a press release said it was “appalled at the current lack of initiatives to establish or strengthen a level playing field for workers’ protection.” ETUC general secretary Bernadette Segol said: “The internal market is only acceptable if implemented with strong social rules. The Commission’s REFIT programme is blocking all progress in that direction. We need social rights across the board for all EU workers. The social dimension of the EU with its indicators is not meeting this objective.”

ETUI news release. EU Commission:Communication "Regulatory fitness and performance (REFIT): results and next steps”, 2 Oct 2013. UniEuropa news release.

Global: Scandals engulf asbestos-backed scientists

Emerging scandals concerns academics in the UK and Canada have exposed the lengths to which the asbestos industry will go to manipulate science and boost its deadly product. A conference last week at McGill University in Canada revealed that one of its most high profile academics, Professor J Corbett McDonald, had received over Can$1 million from the asbestos industry, but had routinely hidden this association when publishing industry-friendly papers. Professor David Egilman, a medic and occupational health expert at Brown University in the US, told the conference McDonald’s seriously flawed research was financed by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA) and continues to be used to promote the use of chrysotile asbestos around the world. A UK academic has faced similar charges. Edinburgh University’s Professor Ken Donaldson either failed to mention or flatly denied links to firms defending asbestos compensation cases, while receiving payments and writing papers the New York Supreme court found were “intended to cast doubt on the capability of chrysotile [white] asbestos to cause cancer.” In comments to Nature this week, the professor admitted he had put his name to the papers without ever seeing the raw data on which these conclusions were made, a departure from normal scientific practice. A special report in Hazards magazine revealed another much-cited 2007 paper Donaldson co-authored had noted that “chrysotile can be used safely with low risk” and was central to a global asbestos industry marketing campaign and efforts to resist asbestos trade restrictions and bans.

RightOnCanada blog. David Egilman’s full presentation: The Past is Prologue, Universities in Service to Corporations: The McGill-QAMA Asbestos Example. Montreal Gazette. A very particular crime, Hazards magazine special report, September 2013. Nature. The Scotsman.
 

 

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