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Unite launches silica exposure register to protect workers

Construction union Unite has launched an online register to allow workers who have been exposed to dangerous silica dust to record their exposure. The union says this will assist with potential future legal cases if they experience long term health problems. Unite says industries where workers are potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica include mining, quarrying, foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing, stonemasonry, construction and industries using silica flour. Inhaling large amounts of silica dust over a long period can cause silicosis, a frequently fatal lung-scarring disease. It can also lead to other potentially fatal illnesses including lung and other cancers, silicotuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney and autoimmune diseases. Unite national health and safety adviser Bud Hudspith said: “Unfortunately many employers remain willing to play fast and loose with the health of their workers. Unite’s primary aim is to ensure employers prevent silicosis and lung cancer through the removal or strict control of silica dust.” The silica register was developed in Unite’s south east region, where members of the union employed at cable producer Prysmian Cables in Hampshire raised concerns about the long-term welfare of workers. Michael Hobbs, Unite’s senior steward at Prysmian Cables, said: “The silica register is long overdue; the threat of exposure is a millstone round the necks of workers in many different sectors. Educating and warning workers about the dangers of airborne dust will undoubtedly save lives, so credit should be given to everyone behind launching this much needed campaign.” Unions in the UK have been highly critical of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for defending the existing UK occupational exposure standard of 0.1mg/m3, five times the level proposed by authorities in the Australian state of Victoria and twice the current US limit. Unite has produced a short film to explain how the register operates and the dangers of inhaling silica dust.

Unite news release and silica exposure register. Unite silica dust film.
Resources on dust risks and controls: Guide to occupational hygiene for union health and safety representatives, TUC/British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), November 2016. More on work-related dust diseases and risk assessment checklist.

Amnesty urged to rethink redundancies after tragedies

Amnesty International is being urged to abandon ‘swingeing’ redundancy plans introduced despite a report identifying a need to address widespread stress-related ill-health and a ‘toxic’ workplace environment (Risks 900). The union Unite called on the movement’s global assembly held this week in Johannesburg, South Africa to step in and ‘mitigate’ the redundancy programme planned by the organisation. The planned cuts would see the loss of 146 posts, including 94 redundancies (Risks 901). The organisation currently has a total of 755 positions. Unite representatives have been in negotiations with management on the redundancy plans and the implementation of recommendations of the independent reviews that followed the suicides last year of two Amnesty staff members, Gaetan Mootoo and Rosalind McGregor. The KonTerra Review found that 39 per cent of staff reported they had developed mental or physical health issues as a direct result of working for the organisation (Risks 885). Unite regional co-ordinating officer Alan Scott said: “The handling of the present financial crisis has shown that little has been learned from Amnesty International’s recent tragic past. The meeting of the global assembly is the critical opportunity for some soul searching on the part of senior management and to bring accountability into the organisation.” He added: “There is more than one possible solution to rebuild the secretariat’s budget – it does not have to be all at the expense of staff. It is high time that senior management comes back to the table with proposals that go beyond staff cutting their salaries or taking voluntary redundancies. If action is not taken to reduce the redundancy programme then Unite will consider all potential options including industrial action to save jobs.”
Unite news release.
Resources: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists, January 2018. Work and suicide prevention checklist, Hazards, 2018.
More on work-related suicide.

Appeal court case confirms annual leave rights for all workers

UNISON has welcomed a Court of Appeal judgement that confirms the annual leave rights of hundreds of thousands of employees working part-time and irregular hours or patterns. The public sector union said Harpur Trust v Brazel & UNISON clarifies the legal position, ensuring all workers are entitled to a minimum of 28 days paid annual leave, even if they do not get given work or paid for parts of the year. UNISON intervened in this appeal, which was being defended by music teacher Lesley Brazel and brought by Harpur Trust, her term-time employer. The trust claimed she was entitled to leave and pay below the statutory minimum. The position on leave for hourly-paid workers in the education sector, who are not paid a salary during school holidays, has been unclear due to the absence of government guidance or definitive case law on their holiday rights. Although Lesley Brazel is not a member of UNISON, the union was concerned about the wider implications of the case and how it would affect hundreds of thousands of part-time workers and those working on irregular hours. It applied to intervene in November 2018. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Staff in schools are often required under contract to be at school outside term time, and, like Mrs Brazel, are required to do additional unpaid duties beyond those periods. It’s right that they should be paid the same minimum statutory entitlement of 28 days annual leave like everyone else.” UNISON legal officer Shantha David, who acted for the union, said: “We’re extremely pleased that the Court of Appeal considered and accepted UNISON’s argument. The government’s failure to provide guidance in this area has left workers in limbo. The courts have once again had to step in to stop the abuse of workers and to fix what legislation should have made clear from the outset.”
UNISON news release. Court of Appeal judgment. More on working hours and health.
 

Union slams Heathrow strike-breaking scheme

Firefighting services at Heathrow could be compromised by the use of a ‘Mickey Mouse’ strike-breaking outfit without the necessary specialist knowledge, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned. The FBU slammed the “backhanded” method of strike-breaking during industrial action over pay. FBU says the strike-breaking unit, South East Business Services, was set up by Surrey County Council over four years ago as a separate local authority trading company. The union said it believes the strike-breaking plan is badly thought out and could risk public safety at Heathrow Airport. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This is a backhanded act of strike-breaking from Surrey County Council. Airport fire crews are specialists and, quite frankly, this Mickey Mouse outfit will not be trained to deal with airplane fires to anywhere near the standard of airport firefighters. They’re playing fast and loose with public safety at an airport, one of the most high-risk locations imaginable.” He added: “Striking Heathrow workers have the full support of the FBU. It is grossly unfair that they be treated so poorly, while executives and shareholders line their own pockets. No-one, and certainly no firefighters, should be helping bosses undermine this strike under any circumstance.” Unite suspended a 24-hour strike planned for 6 August, to allow its members at Heathrow to vote on an improved pay offer. However, Unite said the strikes already announced for 23 and 24 August “remained on the table until the result of the ballot was known.”
FBU news release. Unite news release. BBC News Online.

Unite demands action after three injured in scaffold collapse

There must be an urgent inquiry into a scaffolding collapse that left three people in hospital, the construction union Unite has said. The union said an official probe was “essential” to ensure lessons are learned from the 1 August incident in Reading town centre. A site worker at the former Friars Walk Shopping Centre was treated for a head injury, while a man and a woman who were passing the site were treated for suspected shock and an ankle injury respectively. Unite national officer Jerry Swain said it was “only through luck” there were no fatalities. He added: “A full inquiry must not just include the immediate reasons for the scaffolding collapse but also examine whether the work had been sub-let, were all the workers on site properly employed, and did they all have the appropriate skills and training. It is essential that we learn the lessons from this accident to prevent similar serious incidents in the future.” Speaking to the London Evening Standard, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spokesperson said: "We are aware of an incident and are making initial inquiries.” The site was being demolished as part of a major redevelopment in the town centre and was previously used as retail and office space, Reading Council said.
Unite news release. London Evening Standard. Construction Enquirer.

Seafarers get right to refuse Strait of Hormuz work

UK seafarers have now got the right to refuse work in the Strait of Hormuz, under a deal agreed by unions and the shipping industry. The Warlike Operations Area Committee (WOAC) agreed to temporarily designate the Strait of Hormuz as a ‘High-Risk Area’ from 2 August, following government advice that vessels should avoid the area unless accompanied by UK naval support. The committee, comprised of seafarers’ trade unions Nautilus International and RMT and the UK Chamber of Shipping, met for an extraordinary meeting on 29 July. The agreement struck gives seafarers the right to refuse to work onboard vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Crew can request to leave the ship at a preceding port, for example. Seafarers on vessels transiting the area could also receive double basic pay from 2 August, in recognition of the higher risks associated with transiting and operating in the zone. Double basic pay would apply to each day the ship is in the specified zone. The designation will be reviewed on 2 September or earlier if advice from the UK government changes. The move follows several attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and the seizure of the UK flagged Stena Impero, which remains detained offshore by Iran with 23 seafarers onboard.
Nautilus news release and related release. Cabinet Office news release. Bloomberg News.

OTHER NEWS

New Brexit chief wants to scrap commitment on workers’ rights

Boris Johnson’s new Brexit chief wants to scrap Theresa May’s commitment to protect British workers’ rights, and has suggested Brexit is an opportunity to escape the EU’s “heavy labour market regulation.” Just two months ago David Frost said he was opposed to the approach advocated “by the leaders of both major political parties” and argued that EU rights should not automatically be written into law after Brexit. The former chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry was appointed last week by the prime minister to replace Olly Robbins as Downing Street’s EU chief, a role that will see him leading any future talks with Brussels. “Business organisations have often in the past criticised the EU’s drift towards heavy labour market regulation,” Frost said in a 16 May 2019 opinion piece reproduced on the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry website. “So I will take some persuading it will be a good outcome if the EU is able to set new UK labour market rules without any UK say – as currently seems to be envisaged by the leaders of both major political parties.” Responding, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told The Independent newspaper: “Boris Johnson claims that he intends to enhance rights at work after Brexit. He and his advisers should be focused on delivering that promise. But instead they’re threatening a catastrophic no deal, which would strip away existing legal protections and leave essential rights open to attack [Risks 908]. Working people must not be dragged off this cliff edge without getting a Final Say.” In the Commons last week, Boris Johnson told MPs that workers’ rights would “not only” be protected after Brexit but that with “the freedoms that we will obtain” the UK would “where necessary be able to enhance” protections. EU rules set a minimum standard, however, and the UK has always been free to improve on them.
The Independent. LCCI website article, 16 May 2019.
Insecure work: Why the new PM must put decent work at the top of his to-do list, TUC, 29 July 2019.

Campaigners expose government ‘collusion’ in unsafe trains push

Rail union RMT has called on new transport secretary Grant Shapps to put an end to the drive toward Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains and to make the railway more accessible and safer by ensuring trains and stations are fully staffed. RMT said documents secured under Freedom of Information legislation by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) show that government ministers “have been colluding with the railway industry to push forward policies that could lead to more trains without a second safety critical member of staff passing through unstaffed stations on the basis of a policy report that they’ve refused to admit exists, and in the face of fierce criticism from its own disabled persons’ advisory committee, DPTAC.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has fought the government and the train operating companies tooth and nail to defend a second safety critical member of staff on our trains and we’ve stepped up the campaign to put more staff back in our stations. It’s a scandal that ministers have been working in secret with these companies on cost-cutting and profit-boosting policies that will make our railways less accessible to disabled people. The new rail minister must publish this report, put an end to this disgraceful exercise and put staff back at the heart of a fully accessible railway.” Emily Yates of the Association of British Commuters said: “After three years of rail strikes we’ve had enough of the government’s charade. Train operating companies must guarantee the second safety critical member of staff on trains and the Department for Transport must provide the full details of their secret policy. If they fail to do this, both will be complicit in breaching the Equality Act and excluding disabled people from the right to spontaneous travel.”
ABC news release. RMT news release.

Physios welcome government consultation on preventing ill-health

The physiotherapists’ union CSP has welcomed a government consultation on its plans for “advancing” health in England. Matt Hancock, secretary of state for public health and primary care, launched the open consultation document on 22 July. The CSP said it is preparing an official response and is urging members to give their views. CSP policy and research officer Robin Hinks welcomed the consultation document. “It proposes some positive initiatives that could help keep people in good health,” he said. “Particularly encouraging is the recognition that musculoskeletal problems are one of the most common causes of disability in England, and a commitment to act on this. However, further commitments around workforce and funding would be needed to secure the nation’s health in the long term.” Earlier this year, public sector union UNISON launched a campaign to get better management of all workplace musculoskeletal injuries (Risks 888). And last year the TUC produced a short online guide for union health and safety reps, signposting where they can get Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice and guidance on musculoskeletal disorders. The guide is badged jointly with the HSE. It provides links to HSE toolkits, regulations and guides on musculoskeletal disorders. The guide notes: “Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most commonly reported cause of occupational ill-health in Great Britain with over half a million workers suffering from a work-related MSD at any one time.” The government is also consulting on measures to address ill-health related job loss (Risks 906).
Government consultation, Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s. The consultation closes on 14 October 2019. CSP news release.
UNISON resources: Aches, pains and strains – guide for safety reps; Aches, pains and strains – leaflet for members; and Aches, pains and strains – poster.  
Musculoskeletal disorders - HSE material for health and safety reps, TUC/HSE, September 2018.
Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss, DWP/DHSC, 15 July 2019. The consultation closes on 7 October 2019.

MoD must pay PTSD sufferer £80,000 for unfair dismissal

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) must pay £80,000 in damages for the unfair dismissal of a woman who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being bullied and harassed at work. The claimant, known only as “A,” was a civil servant with 10 years’ service at the MoD human resources facility in Cheadle Hulme, which she said had a “toxic” workplace environment. An employment tribunal found that the internal investigation into Ms A’s bullying and harassment complaints lacked independence and that the staff member who made the decision to dismiss her was also included in her complaint. The tribunal found the MoD had discriminated against Ms A by deciding to dismiss her rather than downgrading or relocating her. The judge said her claim of unfavourable treatment was “well founded” and ordered the MoD to pay the claimant £80,009.24. Ms A had worked for the ministry since 2007 and suffered from depression and rheumatoid arthritis. Despite her poor health, she was successful in many of her tasks, completing a project ahead of schedule and receiving end-of-year bonuses. However, a senior colleague repeatedly touched her arm and in 2016 “grabbed the claimant’s left forearm to prevent her from leaving a meeting.” The physical contact upset her to “a debilitating degree,” leaving her fearful and in tears. This did not stop her from doing an “excellent job” and earning promotion at the end of that year. When she started her new role, it emerged that the colleague who had grabbed her arm was now her line manager. This led to a worsening of her anxiety, causing her to take more time off work. She was diagnosed subsequently with PTSD. She lodged a series of internal grievances, but her managers dismissed her in October 2017. An employment tribunal in Manchester has now ordered the MoD to pay the compensation. The MoD’s newly published annual report notes: “Mental and behavioural disorders continue to be the highest cause of sickness absence at 24 per cent of all absences.” This figure is up from 23 per cent the previous year.
Morning Star. MoD annual report 2018/19, 25 July 2019.

Union praises BA crew after plane smoke evacuation

The pilots’ union BALPA has praised the crew of a British Airways (BA) flight that was evacuated after smoke filled the cabin shortly before landing. BALPA paid tribute to the professional job done by the pilots and crew of the flight from London to Valencia on 5 August. The aircraft cabin filled with smoke, but the plane landed safely and all the passengers were successfully evacuated. The airline confirmed an “incident” on flight BA422 which departed London Heathrow at 15:10 BST on 5 August and landed in Valencia. BA has apologised to the 175 passengers on board the aircraft, an Airbus A321. Brian Strutton, BALPA general secretary, said: “Pilots are highly-trained and ready to handle emergencies of all kinds, but when one happens, the only thing that matters is whether the job gets done. In this case, the pilots and crew appear to have done an excellent and highly professional job of getting this aircraft safely onto the ground in very difficult circumstances, and safely evacuating all the passengers with no reported serious injuries. We believe the pilots landed this aircraft wearing full oxygen masks and goggles which is extremely challenging.” He added: “We will await the accident report, but this looks to have been a very well-managed emergency situation, and overall a good outcome, and I pay tribute to the pilots and crew for a job very well done.” Media reports indicated that passenger oxygen masks did not deploy. BALPA said this is because cabin masks, unlike pilot and cabin crew oxygen systems, are not designed to be used in smoke events as they mix the oxygen supply with the ambient air. The union said passenger oxygen masks are for use during decompression events.
BALPA news release. BBC News Online.

Director gets curfew over vibration disease cases

The director of a company providing specialist services in rock drilling, cliff stabilisation and rock anchors has been handed a curfew and a suspended jail sentence after three workers were diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Plymouth Magistrates’ Court heard how the employees of Celtic Rock Services Limited had developed and reported symptoms of HAVS but no action was taken. The employees used tools including rock drills and jack hammers for cliff stabilisation work, which is often carried out by abseiling down a cliff and using the tools horizontally while working from ropes. They began to experience symptoms such as pins and needles and aching hands, in one case dating back to 2000. An occupational nurse was employed by the company in 2016 and the HAVS problem was identified. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a risk assessment did not identify the actual exposure to vibration and had used out of date vibration data. The investigation also found there was no health surveillance in place until 2016 and employees were not made aware of HAVS and its symptoms. When symptoms were reported, the company had failed to take action. Company director Alwyn Griffith Hughes Thomas pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was given a 12-week custodial sentence, suspended for one year, a 12-week curfew and ordered to pay costs of £3,560. Celtic Rock Services Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £36,667 and ordered to pay costs of £3,560. HSE inspector Caroline Penwill said: “This was a case of the company and its director completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS risk assessment and health surveillance. If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor workers health and the employees’ conditions would not have been allowed to develop, one of which was to a severe, life-altering stage.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

Roofing director blown off school site in storm

Construction firm Bowmer and Kirkland and two contractors have been fined after the director of one of the firms received serious injuries when a gust of wind blew him off a roof. Principal contractor Bowmer and Kirkland, Advance Roofing Ltd and JKW Roofing were working on the roof of the new three storey teaching block of Abbotsfield School for Boys in Hillingdon, London. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how on 23 February 2017 Storm Doris was moving across the UK bringing gusts of wind up to 94 mph. Because of the winds there were numerous warnings on site and many activities had been suspended. But the school roof works continued until the early afternoon, when a gust of wind blew JKW Roofing company director John Whitham off the roof, along with freestanding A-frame barriers and stacks of insulation. The 52-year-old sustained severe injuries to his pelvis, vertebrae and tibia in the 11 metre fall, from which he continues to suffer. Advanced Roofing was contracted by Bowmer and Kirkland to carry out the roofing works on the project. Advanced Roofing then sub-contracted the substantive roofing works on the main building to JKW Roofing, while using its own workers on other areas. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found all three contractors had an informal approach to assessing weather conditions and had failed to ensure that a suitable and sufficient system to assess the effects of high wind when working at height was being followed. Bowmer and Kirkland Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £350,000 and ordered to pay £6,190.28 costs. Advanced Roofing Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £29,300 plus £6,187.88 costs. JKW Roofing Services Limited also pleaded guilty to criminal breaches and received a 12-month conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £6,159.48 costs. HSE inspector Gabriella Dimitrov said: “If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life changing injuries sustained by Mr Whitham could have been prevented.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

Trauma for agency shift worker injured by unguarded machinery

A company that manufactures absorbent products has been fined after an agency worker suffered a life-changing injury to her hand when it was caught in a rotating fan blade as she worked the night shift. Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 18 October 2017, the 34-year-old agency worker had been working her second shift at the NPS Worldwide UK Limited site in Oldham. While removing a blockage inside the filling machine she had been operating, her fingers became caught in an unguarded rotating fan. The agency worker lost parts of all of her fingers on her right hand, sustained extensive scarring to her stomach following an unsuccessful attempt to generate new skin growth to save her fingers, and continues to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the incident and the injuries sustained. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the fan had not been suitably guarded, putting employees and agency workers at risk. The company had failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment and to provide adequate information, instruction and training to workers. No first aid provision was available on the night shift when the incident occurred, and this contributed to the injured person suffering further as incorrect first aid was administered. NPS Worldwide UK Limited guilty to three criminal safety offences and was fined £28,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,771. HSE inspector Sharon Butler commented: “This injury could have easily been prevented and the risk should have been identified. Employers must make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery.”
HSE news release.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Australia: Casualisation and ‘production first’ hurts mine safety

Declining job security in coal mining is a major mine safety risk factor, a new union survey of miners in the Australian state of Queensland has found. Nearly nine in ten of the 1,000 plus coal miners surveyed said that casualisation of jobs at their work site has affected safety, mining union CFMEU has found. Coal mining in Australia has experienced a widespread move away from permanent, direct employment by operators to casual jobs supplied by labour hire contractors over the past five to ten years. Permanent employees are now a minority at many Queensland coal mines. About four in ten survey respondents said they feared reprisals if they spoke up about safety, increasing to six in ten for casual mineworkers. Many mineworkers had experienced or witnessed retaliatory action over raising safety concerns, including casual workers finding they are suddenly no longer required, said CFMEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth. “No-one is told that the reason they’ve been sacked or disciplined is for raising a concern over safety – but workers can see what is happening,” said Smyth. “They are labelled as whingers and moved on or otherwise victimised. We need 100 per cent of mineworkers to feel confident they can report safety issues without fear. These results reflect what we hear every day from mineworkers on the ground and they are a poor reflection on the industry. You can’t have insecure, vulnerable workers and a ruthless focus on production and expect there will be no consequences for safety.” The union leader concluded: “There’s no room for complacency. It’s clear that workers at the coal face don’t believe companies are making safety their number one priority – operators must take this opportunity to show they are committed to change.”
CFMEU news release and survey results.

Australia: Unions ramp up push for safer silica standard

An official review of Australia’s respirable silica exposure standard is an opportunity to save lives - but the federal proposals are not protective enough and are being unacceptably delayed, the Victorian Trades Hall Council has said. The union body warned that Safe Work Australia's decision to take three years to halve the current respirable crystalline silica exposure standard to 0.05mg/m3 “does nothing to stem the tsunami of silicosis currently sweeping Australian workplaces.” VTHC added: “This is a decision that flies in the face of recommendations from the Cancer Council, occupational health and safety experts in Australian Unions and international scientific research that called for an exposure standard of 0.02mg/m3.” The state union body has vowed to campaign for the state government to introduce a tighter standard of 0.02 mg/m3, “making the state a world-leader on safety standards in this area.” Exposure to airborne silica is linked to diseases including silicosis, a potentially fatal lung scarring disease, autoimmune diseases and cancer. In 2011 almost 600,000 Australians were exposed to silica dust whilst working; VTHC said it is estimated that 5,758 of them will develop lung cancer over the course of their life. The state government is supporting a move to the tighter 0.02 mg/m3 standard. The move has the backing of unions, lawyers and medical experts in Victoria. Dr Paul Sutton, VTHC’s lead occupational health and safety organiser, commented: “This is a black day for stonemasons and all workers around the country exposed to silica dust. Safe Work Australia’s decision ignores international scientific evidence and Cancer Council recommendations. The three-year implementation is particularly galling because workers are being exposed to deadly, toxic silica dust today.” He added: “The Victorian Trades Hall Council will not give up the fight for a safe silica standard here in Victoria.” Unions in the UK have been highly critical of the Health and Safety Executive for defending the current 0.1mg/m3 occupational exposure limit, five times the level proposed in Victoria.
We Are Union news release. UnionsWA news release. ABC News. Canberra Times. The Guardian. Victorian government 1 May 2019 call for a national 0.02 mg/m3 occupational exposure standard. Cancer Council’s silica dust factsheet.
Arguments for a more protective UK silica exposure standard: Part 1: Dust to dust: Deadly silica standard is killing UK workers, Hazards, number 126, 2014. Part 2: A line in the sand, Hazards, number 127, 2014.

India: Cement unions prioritise health and safety

Cement sector unions in India are to ‘intensify’ their health and safety activities, with an emphasis on prevention of work-related ill-health. Trade union representatives attending the meeting organised by the global union IndustriALL in Chennai from 29 to 30 July 2019 reported that despite improvements in occupational health and safety (OHS) in the cement industry and periodic health check-ups in many places, most of the workforce in the industry is not provided with comprehensive safety training. As a result, many workers in the sector are not aware of the occupational hazards, including exposure to crystalline dust, alternative fuels, heat, heavy lifting and shift work. Union representatives highlighted that while fatal and near fatal accidents attract more attention, a large number of occupational illnesses including musculoskeletal, respiratory, skin and circulatory diseases, are often not even recognised as occupational diseases, resulting in a lack of appropriate medical treatment and compensation for victims. Problems are amplified by the ‘enormous presence’ of precarious workers with poor working conditions and lack of social protection, the global union IndustriALL noted. “In recent times, almost all fatal accidents in the Indian cement industry have involved precarious workers,” it said. IndustriALL’s materials officer Alexander Ivanou noted: “A system of effective social dialogue with unions’ participation is the only possible way to improve workers’ safety and protect their health and life in India.” Apoorva Kaiwar, the global union’s regional secretary, said: “It is encouraging to see that due to our continuous engagement, trade unions have increased their attention to OHS issues and in many cases designated OHS union representatives and taken initiatives to form OHS committees in their workplaces. Our efforts to support and build IndustriALL affiliates’ capacity will continue.”
IndustriALL news release.

Global: Top cancer journal warning on continued asbestos use

A leading cancer journal has warned the continued use of asbestos in many countries will perpetuate the human suffering caused by “this highly preventable cause of premature death.” The editorial in The Lancet Oncology highlights the record high asbestos-related death rates in the UK. It also criticises the repeat failure of the US to ban chrysotile asbestos, noting this was now being challenged in the courts. It notes “in the USA, ten states and Washington, DC, are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce strict rules on the use of asbestos.” Worldwide, fewer than a third of nations have comprehensive bans on asbestos, it indicates, with the related death toll inevitably set to increase. “The USA is not the only country that still uses asbestos. Although it is banned in 55 countries worldwide, many continue to mine and use it, with Russia and China among the top producers. In such nations, it still poses very real health risks,” the paper notes. “We can only expect the incidence of asbestos-related mesothelioma and other diseases in these countries to continue to rise unless governments act to address this highly preventable cause of premature death.”
Asbestos exposure: the dust cloud lingers: Editorial, The Lancet Oncology, volume 20, issue 8, page 1035, 1 August 2019.