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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

 
 

UNION NEWS

Why workers deserve better rights at work

Workplaces that recognise unions and where there is dialogue about how work is organised and how the company can improve, offer lifesaving, life enhancing benefits, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Laurie Heselden explained: “Research shows that in these workplaces, employees are better paid and productivity is higher. Having union health and safety reps also halves the workplace accident rate. And we know that those workplaces are likely to have stronger education and training policies, more flexible working, better equality strategies and outcomes, and are likely to have effective mechanisms for solving problems at work. So, what’s not to like?” But he said too many people are missing out on basic protections. In the UK, for example, a new analysis of official figures by the TUC has shown over a fifth of workers earn less than the living wage. In a TUC blog post, he notes outsourcing, anti-union firms and insecure work leave high numbers of workers with few rights, but adds “a better way is possible”. Measures to “bring employment relations into the modern age” include giving workers employment and trade union rights for all from the first day of work, banning zero hours contracts and fake self-employment and ensuring basic rights of access for trade union organisers to workplaces. Other essential improvements include union recognition for every worker and sectoral collective bargaining to guarantee minimum standards. He concludes: “The best way to improve pay, working conditions, equality outcomes and safety at work is collective bargaining and union representation. And if you are in a union, organise to change the world of work for the better.”
TUC news release. If you are not in a union, join one. TUC news release on the living wage.
Resources: The Union Effect: How unions make a difference on health and safety. Organising for health and safety: A TUC guide for reps.
 

‘Scandal’ of 30,000 NHS zero hours contracts

At least 30,000 NHS workers in the UK are employed on zero hours contracts, a new GMB analysis of official figures has revealed. The union says the worsening situation has created a “pressured, demoralised and casualised workforce”. It warns the true number zero hours workers is likely to be higher as the statistics may not include outsourced workers, or workers employed through controversial ‘wholly owned subsidiary’ companies that are not bound by nationally agreed employment standards. The number of NHS workers who report being employed on a zero hours contract has increased fourfold since 2013, the analysis shows, much faster than the increase in the wider economy. Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary for public services, said: “The NHS is under enormous pressure and cuts and privatisation are linked to a rise in so-called ‘gig economy’ working.” She added: “At the end of the day, a pressured, demoralised and casualised workforce will end up impacting on patient care. Zero hours contracts have no place in the NHS or elsewhere - and these figures may represent the tip of the iceberg. Our investigation makes it clear that this is not about bank working, it is about exploitation. We need a new system that preserves some degree of flexibility while ending contracts that do not.” A TUC analysis this year found working hours for those on zero hours contracts are more likely to be anti-social and “unhealthy” (Risks 885). It revealed zero hours workers are twice as likely as those on fixed-hours contracts to be working night shifts, and also twice as likely to be working seven days a week. Night working has been shown to increase long-term health impacts, such as heart disease, shortened life expectancy and an increased risk of cancer.
GMB news release.
Sign the petition calling on the government to ban zero hours contracts.
 

Unions welcome London’s ban on ‘unfit’ Uber

Uber will not be granted a new licence to operate in London after repeated safety failures, Transport for London (TfL) has said. In a decision welcomed by unions, the regulator said the taxi app was not “fit and proper” to be a licence holder, despite having made a number of positive changes to its operations. Uber initially lost its licence in 2017 but was granted two extensions (Risks 917), the most recent of which has just expired. The firm said it will appeal and can continue to operate during that process. Welcoming the TfL decision, Steve Garelick, a regional officer with the union GMB, said: “As a result of sustained pressure from drivers and the public, Uber has suffered yet another defeat – losing its licence to operate in London.” In December 2018, GMB secured a major legal victory when the Supreme Court ruled tens of thousands of drivers working for the cab firm were employees entitled to the minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay and other employment rights (Risks 880). Jim Kelly, chair of Unite’s London and Eastern cab section, also welcomed the TfL decision “as there remains fundamental problems in the way the company operates, particularly issues around passenger safety.” He added: “All the taxi trade wants is a level playing field. Uber’s DNA is about driving down standards and creating a race to the bottom which is not in the best interests of professional drivers or customers.” Kelly said: “In order to protect the public and to ensure standards are maintained it is essential that TfL follows this decision with stricter licencing of private hire operators and apps. This is the only way that public safety and confidence in the service can be maintained and the pay and conditions of professional drivers can be preserved.”
TfL news release. Unite news release. GMB news release. BBC News Online.

 

Union survey finds half of schools ‘not fit for purpose’

Almost half of schools (47 per cent) are in such a state of disrepair they ‘are not fit for purpose’ and over a fifth (22 per cent) ‘are an unsafe environment for pupils and staff’, a survey by the teaching union NEU has found. Respondents to the snapshot survey of 670 NEU members indicated the main problems were classrooms that are too hot or cold (74 per cent), leaking ceilings/roofs (44 per cent), crumbling walls/holes in walls (31 per cent), and damp (21 per cent). Members also noted poor ventilation (36 per cent), electrical problems (17 per cent) and faulty boilers/heaters (19 per cent). NEU said although 86 per cent of schools nationwide are known to contain asbestos, its survey found that just 21 per cent of teachers – one fifth – were aware they were working in a school with asbestos. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) blamed funding cuts for the poor state of their schools. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney commented: “It is quite intolerable that schools and colleges are having to forego building repairs and maintenance for years due to a lack of funding. Our children and young people deserve to be taught in buildings that are fit for purpose. It is simply not good enough that for so many children and staff, leaking ceilings and rotting windows and crumbling walls are their daily environment.” He added: “This disastrous trajectory of decay has gone on long enough. Promises, and not just empty ones, need to be made by political parties as to how this will be resolved. We look forward to hearing serious commitments from each of the political parties, so that voters can make an informed decision. If you value education, you must vote for education.”
NEU news release. TES News. FE News.
 

RMT highlights lack of toilet facilities for transport staff

Research by the transport union RMT has exposed ‘shocking’ lack of toilet facilities in workplaces, with women and disabled people particularly badly affected. An online survey by the union found more than 1-in-8 workers (13 per cent) do not have access to a toilet at work and almost half (45 per cent) are not given adequate time during working hours for toilet breaks. Over three-quarters (77 per cent) of women members reported they do not have access to sanitary products in their workplace. And almost half of the survey respondents (46 per cent) said there are no toilet facilities provided for disabled workers. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These figures paint a horrific picture of the transport industry which seems stuck in the 19th century in its attitude to toilets and welfare provision for workers rather than the 21st century where every worker is guaranteed immediate access to clean, maintained and well stocked toilet facilities and moreover unrestricted time away from their normal duties to use them.” He added: “There is also very clearly blatant discrimination going on here and the bottom line is money. RMT will continue to fight for decent and accessible toilet facilities along with free sanitary protection for all.” Research by the union Unite found that 83 per cent of bus drivers are “not supplied with a list of toilet facilities or a map should the need arise on routes.”  The union also found nine in every 10 lorry drivers (89 per cent), who regularly have to sleep in a lay-by, reported “rarely or never” having access to toilet or washroom facilities when doing so (Risks 924).
RMT news release.
 

Concern after offshore helicopter emergency landing

Offshore energy trade union RMT has warned about the dangers posed by commercial pressures and an ‘ageing’ helicopter fleet after a mechanical failure hit a helicopter transporting offshore oil and gas workers back home from the North Sea. The Sikorsky 92 aircraft was returning from the West Phoenix drilling rig, chartered by Equinor, to Aberdeen airport when pilots detected a glitch. Helicopter operator CHC said crew asked for a “precautionary landing”. A spokesperson for CHC said that around 17:20pm on 18 November “a S92 helicopter requested a precautionary landing at Aberdeen airport after the crew noted a technical fault. The aircraft landed safely at the airport at approximately 17:40. All personnel disembarked safely.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It’s a huge relief that no one was hurt as a result of this latest emergency landing. The effect of commercial pressure on helicopter safety remains a serious concern to my members, including those drilling for new sources of oil and gas under the North Sea.” He added: “This latest incident also highlights the problems associated with the ageing S-92 fleet which makes the bulk of flights offshore. The next government in Westminster needs to ensure that offshore helicopter safety performance improves and the best way to do that would be to launch a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety including the effects of commercial pressure on these vital operations.”
RMT news release. Energy Voice.
 

Union warning on cuts as Surrey fire fatalities up

The number of fire fatalities is on the rise in Surrey, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has learned. Home Office statistics released this month “show that Surrey has seen the steepest rise in fire deaths in over a decade, with the number of fire-related fatalities rising from one to nine over the course of June 2018 to June 2019”, the union said. It warned staffing shortages in Surrey have left fire engines unavailable to respond to emergency calls on numerous occasions over the last year, contributing to slower response times as crews often have to travel from nearby counties. Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is facing further cuts, including losing 70 firefighter posts and removing seven fire engines at night, measures approved by Surrey County Council at a cabinet meeting on 24 September. Lee Belsten, Surrey FBU brigade secretary, said: “The rise in the number of fire deaths flies in the face of everything Surrey’s chief fire officer and Surrey County councillors have been telling the public. Surrey Fire and Service is already struggling to protect the public, and further cuts to fire cover won’t help to improve the service.” He added: “It’s unbelievable that Surrey County Council can claim that the service is able to reduce any increased risk through prevention alone, while slashing emergency response. It’s no coincidence that the number of home fire deaths has risen at a time when response times have slowed due to staffing shortages. Every councillor who voted in favour of the cuts should take a look at these figures and think twice about their decision.”
FBU news release.
 

RMT stands up against driver only ‘bulldozing’ by rail bosses

Two days of ‘solid’ strike action by RMT members on West Midlands Trains last week are just the latest step in the rail union’s fight to put the role of the guard and the safety of the travelling public before the profits of the private train operator, the union said. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the industrial action across the West Midlands Trains franchise is intended to “put the safety-critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface top of the agenda. The safety and accessibility of the travelling public is this trade union’s priority and should take priority over the profits of the train operator and we believe that this is an important election issue for the people of the West Midlands.” He added: “We will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand firm on that very basic principle. We will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility. The union remains available for talks.”
RMT news release. Morning Star.
 

RMT survey reveals ‘shocking’ levels of violence against women

A new survey from the transport union RMT has exposed the ‘shocking’ levels of violence against women transport workers employed in rail, London Underground, on buses and ferries. The union found 72 per cent of female workers reporting that they have experienced violence at work in the last year. The most common form of violence was verbal abuse, followed by threats of violence or assault. RMT said ‘appallingly’ 20 per cent of incidents involved a physical assault. An overwhelming majority of female transport workers, 79 per cent, believe violence at work has increased in the last year. The union said employers are failing to take robust action to tackle workplace violence. It found almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of female workers who experienced violence were not satisfied with their employer’s response to the incident and nearly 60 per cent of all female workers had not been told how to report violence at work. Describing the situation as ‘a disgrace’, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “That women transport workers are being increasingly subjected to such levels of violence, abuse and sexual assault proves that employers are not doing enough to protect their workers. Enough is enough. Employers must have a zero-tolerance approach to violence against transport workers. Violence at work is not and will not be allowed to become ‘part of the job’.” He added: “It is vital that robust action is taken against perpetrators, so I welcome the commitment in the Labour manifesto that a Labour government would protect public facing workers by toughening the law against abuse and violence. RMT is stepping up the campaign against workplace violence and will take all steps necessary to protect our members.”
RMT news release.

 

OTHER NEWS

Shifts and job stress linked to nurse’s suicide

A dedicated NHS nurse who had ‘nightmares about work’ killed herself after the stress of working 12-hour shifts left her unable to lead a normal life, an inquest has heard. Leona Goddard, 35, struggled to have a social life after being burdened with unpredictable work hours and extra responsibilities at Prestwich Hospital in Manchester. Although her work colleagues rated her as ‘outstanding’ Miss Goddard, a nursing manager who worked in a mental health unit, had developed low self-esteem due to the long hours. On 3 October last year, just six months after she got a promotion, Miss Goddard was found hanged at her family home. She left a hand-written note across two pages of A4 paper detailing her “negative feelings, a downward spiral and feelings of self-loathing.” A doctor’s report read to the hearing said Miss Goddard had been to see her GP in the weeks leading up to her death. She said she felt ‘unsupported’ and ‘had nightmares about work’ and was offered anti-depressants but she refused saying if work “got sorted out she would feel better.” Recording a conclusion of suicide, coroner Angharad Davis said: “Leona worked as a nurse in alcohol rehabilitation and recently been promoted to team manager. Colleagues describe her as a bright, clever, caring nurse but it clear from the evidence that the job role was causing Leona stress because of the difficulties working and the stress of the job itself. Also, Leona did not share the same views of herself as the colleagues had of her. They thought she was very capable and deserving of that promotion whilst Leona had been suffering stress about her work for some time and was signed off for work for a few weeks.” The coroner concluded: “Having considered all the evidence read and heard it seems that Leona was under a great deal of stress going on for a long time. She had very low self-esteem and did not recognise in herself the person that everybody else saw.” In another November inquest, Plymouth senior coroner Ian Arrow concluded Adam Reed took his own life. The inquest heard Mr Reed's partner Jason Boddy had received a call from him at around 3.40pm on the afternoon of 29 May this year, saying that he had had a “bad day at work” at Smart Estate Agents Torbay branch and that “it wasn't the end of the world but the end of Smart.” Mr Boddy found his partner hanged in their home later that day.
Manchester Evening News. The Mirror. Daily Mail. Plymouth Herald.
More on work-related suicides. Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists . ‘Don’t despair’ pin-up-at-work suicide prevent poster.d
ACTION! Use the Hazards e-postcard to tell the HSE to inspect for work-related suicide risks and to investigate and require the reporting of suicides suspected to be work-related. www.hazards.org/hsesuicide
 
 

Record employment based on poor quality jobs

Record high UK employment is based on an explosion in the numbers working in poor quality jobs, researchers from LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) have found. While the UK has experienced record high employment rates since January 2015, wage growth over the past 11 years has been lower than in any other developed country except Greece, their study found. “The UK labour market, at first glance, seems to be playing at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” the report written by Rui Costa, a CEP research economist, and Stephen Machin, professor of economics and director of CEP, states. It adds the “record employment is hiding a number of serious concerns about the changing composition of work as poor quality jobs, often with little employment protection, have permeated the labour market.” Dr Costa said: “The labour market may seem to be at peak fitness, as employment rates continue at record highs - but it is not in as good shape as some assert. Employment growth has been strong, but there are serious concerns about the changing nature of work and low (sometimes very low) wages.” Professor Machin said: “The UK labour market is playing at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – there are record high levels of employment and extraordinarily weak wage growth. The rise of the gig economy and other alternative work arrangements has led to discussions about the trade-off between additional flexibility they can offer and the emergence of low-wage, dead end jobs that function outside the job legislation offered in conventional employment and promise little in the way of career development and wage progression.” He added: “The distinction between who is an employee and who is self-employed needs to be addressed in terms of tax treatment inequalities, together with whether (and how) social insurance benefits could be extended beyond those in traditional employment to offer a safety net to those in low-wage, precarious work.” Low pay (Risks 855) and precarious work (Risks 834) are both linked to higher rates of work-related injuries and ill-health.
CEP news release and full report, The Labour Market - CEP Election Analysis. More on the hazards of low pay and insecure work.



‘Fit for work’ man dies in job centre queue

A man collapsed and died while waiting for an appointment inside a Job Centre Plus - despite having been recently declared fit for work. The 65-year-old, who has not been named, was sat in the waiting area of Llanelli Job Centre Plus in Carmarthenshire, Wales, when he became unwell. Fellow customers and staff rushed to help him and started CPR but he died at the scene on the morning of 15 November. It is believed he was declared fit for work by the job centre earlier this year, and was waiting for an appointment about Jobseeker’s Allowance. Everyone in the building was asked to leave after the man collapsed. It remained closed for the rest of the day. A spokesperson for Dyfed-Powys Police said: “Police in Llanelli responded to a report of the sudden death of a 65-year-old man at Llanelli Job Centre this morning (Friday, November 15). There are no suspicious circumstances. Next of kin and HM Coroner have been informed.” Jennifer Jones of campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) told the Morning Star: “The saddest and most angering thing is that this man has not died in unpreventable circumstances - far from it. He has died in the jobcentre because he was found ‘fit for work’ when he was not, because somebody lied about his fitness levels and abilities and he wasn’t given the support that his individual needs deserved.” She added: “We demand that the DWP impose an immediate ban on personal independence payments (Pip) and employment and support allowance (ESA) assessments in light of this tragic incident and to open an investigation into the assessment centre in question. There must be no more deaths due to the inaccurate reports and lies from Atos/Capita assessors.” She said: “The only way to end this suffering is to end this process altogether. This shouldn’t have happened and must never happen again.”
The Mirror. Morning Star.
 

Labour backing for train guards welcomed by unions

Rail unions have welcomed Labour plans to scrap ‘Driver Only Operation’ (DOO) on trains and to guarantee the presence of a guard on every train. The move, announced by Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, would boost accessibility for older and disabled passengers and “will make train travel easier, safer and more secure for all passengers.” Rail unions have long campaigned against DOO, where only one staffer – the driver – is on the train. Both RMT and ASLEF have taken industrial action in defence of the ‘safety-critical’ role of the train guard. Commenting on the Labour policy announcement, Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “Passengers wants a guard on the trains on which they travel – to help disabled people get on and off, protect passengers, and evacuate the service in an emergency – as do drivers and platform staff. That’s why we welcome Labour’s decision to make Britain’s railways a safer railway system.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT guard members have been at the forefront of fighting Driver Only Operation and this welcome announcement reflects that their struggle has been absolutely right from the very start to warn of the dangers of Driver Only Operation to safety, security and accessibility.  Ending Driving Only Operation and putting safety critical guards back on trains is a modern, transformational policy that will provide real change, especially for disabled and vulnerable passengers.” A new Unite ‘Transport Matters’ manifesto backs public ownership of the rail and bus networks. It also calls for the ban on councils forming new bus companies to be lifted.
RMT news release. Labour Party news release. Unite news release and Transport Matters manifesto. LabourList.
 

Concern over ongoing asbestos timebomb

Asbestos-related cancers are claiming 2,500 lives a year in Great Britain despite expert predictions the death toll would peak several years ago. A leading asbestos lawyer has now warned an increasing number of non-industrial workers including teachers, nurses and office staff are becoming victims. Louise Larkin of Thompsons Solicitors was commenting on the disturbing trend ahead of this year’s 20th anniversary of the banning of asbestos in Britain. Since the ban took effect, her law firm has won £563m in compensation for more than 7,000 victims of the deadly killer dust, she said. She added a demographic change has seen asbestos harm more “young women who came into contact with asbestos in hospitals and schools in the 1970s and 80s. Traditionally, it was workers in heavy industry who developed the disease.” The latest figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) confirmed that deaths are yet to peak and around 2,500 people continue to die from mesothelioma each year. The figures are expected to peak in 2020, but previous predictions have suggested a peak in 2012, 2016 and 2018. There were 2,087 male mesothelioma deaths in 2017, a slight reduction compared with recent years, and 439 female deaths, a slight increase. However, mesothelioma deaths constitute no more than half the cancer deaths related to asbestos each year, with related lung cancers alone thought to cause at least as many deaths.
Daily Mirror. Sunday Post.

 

Serial criminal who killed finally gets banned

The director of a waste transfer company has been given a suspended jail term, community service and has been banned from running a company after knowingly exposing employees to seriously unsafe working conditions. Preston Crown Court heard that in November 2018 Zarif Mohammed, despite a conviction for transport related health and safety offences following a fatal incident in 2013, and further enforcement action in 2017 for using a poorly maintained and damaged telehandler, allowed the continued use of the same seriously damaged machine on the waste transfer site in Blackburn. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the telehandler was being used without working reversing lights, a camera or mirrors, which presented a serious risk of people being struck and seriously injured as the driver would not be able to see adequately when reversing the vehicle. Zarif Mohammed pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for 18 months, and 190 hours of unpaid work with a further six rehabilitation days. He was also struck off from working as a company director for five years. HSE inspector Steven Boyd said “Mr Mohammed had been previously convicted by HSE following a fatality at a previous company of which he was a director and then was served additional enforcement by HSE on a visit to a new company of which he was a director. Despite this, Mr Mohammed allowed serious unsafe conditions to prevail, presenting a high risk of persons being killed or seriously injured.”
HSE news release.
 

Site firm fined after ‘wholly avoidable’ dumper truck fatality

A leading construction company has been fined following a ‘wholly avoidable incident’ in which a worker was killed when a dumper truck overturned. Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that on 3 October 2019, David Scott Green, a groundworker working for Rose Builders Ltd, was manoeuvring a front tipping dumper truck on a spoil heap to offload top soil at a site in Colchester. He lost control of the truck which toppled forward and came to rest upside down at the base of the spoil heap. A colleague noticed the overturned truck and ran over to assist, but Mr Green had sustained a serious head injury during the fall and died at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found “major deficiencies” in the management of tipping operations on the spoil heaps. The operation was not properly planned; drivers were not given instruction or training on how to safely operate vehicles and tip on spoil heaps, and the job itself was poorly supervised. The victim did not have his seat belt fastened and the investigation confirmed that this was common practice on the site. Rose Builders Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £225,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,822.90. HSE inspector Kasia Urbaniak commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the employer to assess the risk related to tipping operations, implement safe systems of work, and failure to ensure that such systems were communicated to groundworkers and were followed.”
HSE news release. Essex County Standard.
 
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Australia: McDonald’s staff ordered to work despite bushfire warning

An Australian McDonald’s restaurant is under investigation by a workplace safety regulator following reports that staff were ordered to keep working despite being told by fire authorities to evacuate because of deadly bushfires. On Friday 8 November, when multiple suburbs in Port Macquarie in New South Wales came under threat, McDonald’s workers at the highway branch were instructed to keep working. Staff at the McDonald’s Port Macquarie Highway branch had received geo-located emergency text warnings via their mobile phones from the Rural Fire Service on Thursday night and again on Friday afternoon, informing them there were “multiple fires” in the region and they needed to “seek shelter”. However, management at the restaurant instructed staff to continue their shifts at the store, despite the adjacent fast-food chains KFC, Subway and Oliver’s all shutting their doors so staff could evacuate. The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RFFWU) said workers at Port Macquarie Highway branch received the SMS text emergency messages at the restaurant on two separate occasions during the devastating fires. Staff eventually took it upon themselves to leave. “The SMS was very clear and it described an imminent threat, but workers were told that it was not a real risk and they had to stay at work and keep working,” said union secretary Josh Cullinhan. “And obviously the staff were very upset and agitated by that.” He added: “What we are demanding is that McDonald's simply assure every staff member working at a McDonald's that if there is a risk in relation to bushfires that they are allowed to leave to go home, and they are allowed to not try to attend work against the advice and directions of the fire authorities.” The state safety regulator Safework NSW said it is investigating the incident.
Yahoo News Australia. Nine News.
 

Canada: Health experts ask Quebec to disown pro-asbestos group

Dozens of public health leaders from around the world have endorsed a letter calling on Quebec premier François Legault to remove the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) from the province’s business registry and stop the asbestos-promoting organisation from claiming a home in Quebec. The International Chrysotile Association, registered as a non-profit organisation in Quebec, continues to promote the use of asbestos around the world. Quebec closed its last asbestos mine in 2012, and the sale and use of the deadly fibre is now banned in Canada. “The ICA finances and disseminates dangerous misinformation that causes harm and loss of life,” notes the letter. “The ICA promotes the false claim that asbestos is an excellent product that can be safely used in developing countries - a product that Canada has banned as being a hazardous product that is not possible to use safely.” The letter was sent to Legault by Kathleen Ruff, who received the medal of Quebec’s National Assembly in 2016 in recognition of her decades of work to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos. The letter is endorsed by 28 environmental and health organisations from more than a dozen countries, including Canada. More than 40 prominent researchers, physicians and academics have also signed on. The Quebec government requires that any business that is registered in Quebec as a non-profit organisation must engage in non-profit activities that are “altruistic, moral, cultural, social, philanthropic, national, patriotic, religious, charitable, scientific, artistic, professional, athletic, sporting or educational” in nature, according to Quebec’s Registraire des entreprises. The activities of the ICA “are indefensible under any category” as asbestos has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, thanks in part to vigorous international promotion by the ICA, the letter says.
RightOn Canada news release. Montreal Gazette. Les Affaires and La Presse (both in French).


China: Coal mine explosion leaves 15 dead

A gas explosion at a coal mine in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi on the afternoon of 18 November killed 15 miners and injured another nine, China’s official media has reported. There were 35 miners working underground at the mine at the time of the explosion and all have been accounted for. The cause of the accident is now under investigation. It was the twelfth coal mine accident this year in Shanxi, China’s traditional coal heartland, to be recorded on China Labour Bulletin’s (CLB) Work Accident Map. This compares to seven accidents in the province last year, four in 2017 and four in 2016. CLB commented: “Mine safety in Shanxi improved considerably after the government closed down hundreds of small mines and restructured the industry in the late 2000s. However, it appears that safety standards may be slipping again. In the first five months of this year, the provincial authorities ordered 82 coal mines to close or halt production after uncovering 32,612 safety violations during 2,167 inspections from January to May.” CLB said in China as a whole, coal mine accidents and deaths continue to fall. There were 117 coal mine deaths in the first half of the year, compared with 333 during the whole of 2018. Last year was the first time China had recorded fewer than 0.1 deaths per million tons of coal produced. However, CLB warned “China still has a long way to go, not only in terms of accident prevention but in dealing with legacy issues such as the hundreds of thousands of former miners suffering from pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease. Just last week, for example, more than 100 workers with pneumoconiosis from ten different provinces arrived in Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan, to demand a formal diagnosis of their occupational disease, contracted while working in the province.”
CLB news report and Work Accident Map. New York Times.

 

USA: Police officers sue over exposures on toxic site

The engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech Inc and a pair of subsidiaries exposed hundreds of police employees to unsafe levels of hazardous materials at a former shipyard site, leading to chronic health problems and at least two deaths, according to a federal lawsuit brought by nearly 400 current and former officers and staff of the San Francisco Police Department, as well as 150 of their spouses and partners. The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard (HPNS) shipyard, which is owned by the Navy, was named a Superfund waste site in 1989 because it was heavily contaminated by radioactive substances and industrial chemicals. The new legal complaint, was filed against Tetra Tech Inc, Tetra Tech EC and Tetra Tech EM. It alleges that a Tetra Tech predecessor corporation, PRC Environmental Management, misled the city in the late 1990s about the extent of possible contamination at a shipyard building that was subsequently used as a police office and training centre for officers across the city. The lawsuit also alleges that between 1997 and 2014, the three Tetra Tech entities acted fraudulently in the clean-up, mishandling contaminated soil around the shipyard, falsifying records and further exposing police employees to danger. Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice joined a federal whistleblower lawsuit against Tetra Tech EC, alleging that top managers directed employees to commit widespread fraud in the shipyard clean-up. Two Tetra Tech EC employees had previously admitted to falsifying soil samples in order to make the site appear cleaner. Many police disliked working at the shipyard. At the time, a number of officers reported experiencing headaches and rashes, and didn’t understand why they were encouraged to go on runs in T-shirts and shorts while Navy contractors working on the base wore full-body Tyvek jumpsuits. Sarah Peters, a personal injury lawyer acting for the police officers, said some of her clients are suffering from chronic health conditions that they worry are linked to the shipyard, including lung cancer, blood disorders and adult-onset asthma. “As we looked at this case, we were kind of scratching our heads,” Peters said. “Why would we put our police officers out there?” The answer, she said, is that PRC gave assurances that “there’s nothing to worry about here.” The lawsuit alleges that two deceased SFPD personnel, John Portoni and Joseph Zamagni Sr, “were exposed at HPNS to hazardous substances and radiation, which were a substantial factor in causing each of them to suffer from fatal diseases.”
San Francisco Chronicle.

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