Issue date
26 Feb 2015
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 692 - 28 February 2015
 
Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]
 
Contents

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

EVENTS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

UNION NEWS

Latest steps towards justice for blacklisted workers

Construction unions have renewed their appeal for blacklisted workers to come forward and join a claim for compensation for those whose lives were wrecked as a result. The Morning Star reports that UCATT and GMB have both issued the call after an initial court hearing on the compensation claims this week. The full hearing is not expected until early next year. So far, however, only a fraction of the number of victims have been traced or come forward despite decades of victimisation stemming from trade union activities and raising health and safety concerns. A 3,000-strong blacklist was unearthed when the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the offices of the Consulting Association in 2009. The covert and illegal blacklister vetted the names of potential employees for 40 major construction companies, who also bankrolled and directed the organisation. UCATT, GMB, Unite and the Blacklist Support Group are now pursuing a joint action for compensation. They say though that the number of workers who have come forward is still only in the hundreds. GMB solicitor Michael Newman said: “Given that it was secret for so long, there’s a worry that they might not know they are on a list.”

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Ÿ  Liverpool Echo.

Crossrail death inquest opens

An inquest into the death of a worker on the Crossrail project opened this week. René Tkacik, 44, died on 7 March 2014 while working as a concrete sprayer at Fisher Street in Holborn, London. Europe’s biggest construction job has been problematic for unions, who have raised concerns about victimisation of union reps after raising safety concerns (Risks 621, Risks 691) and about restrictions on union access to investigate safety issues raised by members. René, a specialist concrete sprayer employed by main contractor the Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) consortium, was dragged out by colleagues but could not be resuscitated by paramedics. In a statement read out at St Pancras coroner’s court, his wife Renata Tkacikova said when she visited the Slovakian national weeks before his death the clean living former uranium miner “looked terrible. He lost his sleep rhythm and found it hard to get back.” A police officer told the inquest that Mr Tkacik had been in the “danger zone” of the tunnel. The coroner heard submissions from the family's legal team for the evidence from two witnesses to be heard, who would have given information about safety processes at other Crossrail sites. However the request was rejected by the coroner, Mary Hassle, who said: “There is a danger this inquest will turn into a review of Crossrail, this inquest cannot do that and this is not a public inquiry to consider Crossrail's operations across London.” Concerns have been raised about the safety of the shotcreting process. Safety campaigners held a silent vigil was outside the Coroners Court. In the immediate wake of René Tkacik’s death, the union Unite demanded an urgent meeting with Crossrail contractor BFK so the company could explain the circumstances surrounding the first fatality on the £15 billion construction project (Risks 646).

Ÿ  ITV News.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Ÿ  Sky News.

Ÿ  The Standard.

Ÿ   Daily Mail.

Crane tragedy shows the low value put on life

It took nine year gap from a crane collapse that killed two to the start of the related criminal court case. But in the intervening period the government said rules governing crane safety introduced in the wake of the tragedy were unnecessary ‘red tape’ and revoked them, said the union GMB. It said these events “provide a clear example of how little human life is valued.” Falcon Crane Hire Ltd and its director, Douglas Genge, faced Westminster magistrates on 25 February, charged with criminal safety offences. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident, and concluded the crane was inadequately maintained and was overloaded. Crane driver Jonathon Cloke, 37, fell to his death when the crane snapped at a Barratt Homes site in South London in September 2006. A section of the crane struck and killed local resident Michael Alexa, 23, as he cleaned his car in an adjacent street. John McClean, GMB national health and safety officer, said: “It has taken nearly nine years for charges to be brought against the company and the director for these deaths due to a crane collapse. Faulty crane maintenance caused these deaths.” He added: “The Notification of Conventional Tower Crane Regulations 2010, introduced after a Battersea led campaign to prevent further crane deaths, which set out the duty to notify the use of conventional tower cranes on construction sites to HSE, have since been revoked as ‘red tape’. Employer pressure led to these regulations being revoked and the associated register closed down so from April 2013 there is no longer a duty to notify tower cranes on construction sites to HSE.” The union safety specialist concluded: “The long interval between the deaths and the court case and the revoking of regulations on crane collapses ‘as red tape’ provide a clear example of how little human life is valued.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Fire service admits criminal breaches after death

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has admitted criminal health and safety breaches in connection with the death of an Edinburgh firefighter. Ewan Williamson died in July 2009 after becoming trapped while tackling a blaze at the Balmoral Bar in the city. The fire service had faced three charges, including a failure to prioritise the 35-year-old's rescue. The charges also covered failures of the fire service communications system. Mr Williamson, who was 35, became trapped in conditions of zero visibility and extreme heat as he was deployed at the incident on 12 July 2009. At the High Court in Edinburgh, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service pled guilty to a single charge arising from the incident. It admitted failing to provide firefighters, including Mr Williamson, with a system of work that was, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. It failed to have in place effective systems of radio communication and implementation of procedures for firefighters using breathing apparatus on the date of the incident. It also admitted failing to adequately monitor and ensure attendance by firefighters at training courses and adequately training them to ensure that close personal contact was maintained during firefighting and search and rescue operations. Scottish Fire and Rescue took over from the eight regional fire services in 2013. Commenting in early February as the criminal prosecution commenced, Roddy Robertson, executive council member for the firefighters’ union FBU in Scotland, said: “After more than five years since the tragedy we are pleased this case is finally coming to trial. Although nothing can bring Ewan back, we hope that the evidence which comes out will allow all concerned to learn lessons which can prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.” An FBU-commissioned report published in January examined the circumstances of the 14 firefighter deaths on duty in the last decade, including Ewan Williamson’s. It concluded some of the deaths “could and should have been prevented” and warned “good practice” had sometimes been ignored (Risks 689).

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Ÿ  FBU news release.

Union survey of stressed out Telegraph staff

Editorial staff at the Telegraph are being asked by their union about workload, work pressures and the effect cost-cutting changes at the paper have had on the quality of news. The NUJ said it was acting on concerns arising after a “brutal” spate of redundancies. Union reps at the paper say the staff cuts have been followed by significant restructuring. The NUJ survey covers work conditions at the paper and also allows editorial staff to make other comments in confidence. Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “The brutal cuts at the Telegraph titles during the past few months have seen experienced and long-serving staff axed under the disguise of investment in digital, with remaining staff expected to maintain and boost quality with fewer resources.” She added: “This survey will give staff an opportunity to voice their concerns anonymously about these changes and wider issues.”

Ÿ  NUJ news release.

Train driver injured on unsafe walkway

A train driver who fractured his calf bone when he tripped and fell while walking at St Pancras Station, has secured £20,000 in compensation. The 40-year-veteran had been told by a manager to exit his train in the sidings, which meant he had to walk along a pathway that runs adjacent to the rail line. As he did so, the ASLEF member tripped on a retainer board that was sticking up and fell. The 56-year-old fractured his left calf bone and dislocated his ankle joint. He spent nine nights in hospital, six weeks in a cast and had to use crutches for four months. In the end he was forced off work for almost six months. Commenting on the union-supported legal claim, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Our member has been a hard-working train driver for more than four decades but he was failed by his employer. A simple risk assessment would have highlighted the potential danger that a board protruding from level ground could pose. Instead, the risk was ignored and our member suffered a traumatic accident and injuries that continue to cause disruption to his life.” Angela Staples, from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by ASLEF to act in the case, said: “It’s actually quite simple for companies to stop accidents like this happening: make sure that there aren’t boards jutting out to trip up employees and if they are either get rid of them, signpost them or don’t insist employees walk past them. Workplace safety standards and regulations are in place for a reason, and companies that choose to ignore them should be held accountable.”

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

OTHER NEWS

UK body refuses to recognise two asbestos cancers

The body that advises the UK government on additions to the ‘prescribed industrial disease’ list has said cancers of the larynx or ovary linked to asbestos exposure should not be added to the list. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) reviewed the evidence for prescription – including a condition on the list eligible for government Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit payments – after a request from the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum. This was prompted by the publication in 2012 of an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) monograph that concluded “there is sufficient evidence in humans that asbestos causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovary.” Lung cancer and mesothelioma related to asbestos are already recognised for payouts, but cancers of the larynx and ovary are not. Declining to add cancer of the larynx caused by asbestos to the list, IIAC noted “that the evidence of a doubling of risk of laryngeal cancer associated with asbestos exposure remains inconsistent.” For cancer of the ovary, IIAC “concluded that exposures to asbestos probably increase the risk of ovarian cancer and may do so by more than two-fold if very high.” It said however the exposure level causing a doubling of risks is difficult to define so IIAC “does not therefore recommend prescription for cancer of the ovary in relation to asbestos exposure.” Critics of the IIAC system say the doubling of risk criteria it uses rules out most occupational cancers and is an arbitrary rule that sets an unfair benchmark not required by the regulations governing IIAC’s operation. Cancer of the larynx caused by asbestos is already recognised for state compensation payouts in countries including Germany, France, Denmark and Italy.

Ÿ  IIAC summary and Cancers of the larynx or ovary and work with asbestos: IIAC information note, February 2015.

Ÿ  IARC Monograph 100C, 2012.

HSE defends its asbestos awareness campaign

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said it is “surprised and disappointed” at criticism of its new asbestos awareness campaign. The HSE statement came after an asbestos industry training body said HSE’s Beware Asbestos app could encourage a DIY attitude to some short duration asbestos work. In a response on the HSE website, Kären Clayton, the director of HSE’s long latency health risks division, said the “United Kingdom Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) appears to be arguing for the removal of free advice aimed at those who might otherwise remain unaware of the risks they face with regards to asbestos.” UKATA and members of HSE’s online asbestos licensing community had said the app seemed to indicate it was OK to undertake work normally requiring an asbestos licence if that work was of short duration. The predominately critical discussion on HSE’s website now appears to have been discontinued. In her online riposte, Kären Clayton said: “HSE’s Beware Asbestos campaign is aimed at, and reaching, thousands of trades people and workers who undertake jobs on a daily basis that intentionally or unintentionally disturb asbestos. Many of these workers are ignorant of the risks they face when they carry out common tasks such as drilling holes in textured ceilings and replacing old panels around baths. The web app takes already existing advice on how to do these tasks safely and presents it in an easy to understand way that workers can carry around with them.” She continued: “The web app is very clear in stating what jobs tradespeople must not do, and indeed helps them to find and contact licensed asbestos contractors in their area who can do those jobs for them.” In a follow-on statement to Hazards magazine, HSE said: “The web app provides clear, simple advice, with ‘how to’ instructions for non-licensed tasks, that will provide more protection to those who won’t take training, read lengthy guidance, nor seek advice – those who are arguably most at risk. It was developed using HSE specialists and specifically takes into account the current knowledge level of the audience, how they access information and how we could help to change their behaviour so they work more safely.” HSE added: “The web app complements existing advice from HSE and others, it does not replace it – and it is not intended to provide every last detail of what someone must do to comply with all the requirements of the law.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Ÿ  Daily Star.

Ÿ  Construction Index.

Ÿ  Hazards magazine.

IOSH says criminal safety penalties must deter

Safety professionals’ body IOSH has said penalties for criminal safety offences should help improve health and safety standards, remedy defects, deter future offending and reflect societal disapproval. IOSH – the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health - suggested that the use of ‘victim impact statements’ could also be considered, if those affected wished to provide them. It also emphasised the importance of appropriate use of director disqualification for convicted individuals. IOSH head of policy Richard Jones said: “It’s absolutely vital that those sentencing for serious health and safety failures fully appreciate the devastation and lasting harm these offences can bring. Well-designed guidelines can help ensure that sentencing is consistent and effective. The goal here is to ensure safe and healthy work for all.” Sentencing guidelines help judges and magistrates decide the appropriate sentence for a criminal offence. The TUC has welcomed the Sentencing Council call for tougher sentences but said the absence of clear guidance on the disqualification of directors remained a “major omission” (Risks 690). It added that the system must reflect the fact that safety offences are breaches of criminal law and should be treated with the same seriousness as other crimes involving violence.

Ÿ  IOSH news release.

Attacks on Tube workers soar

Labour has called for more protection for London Underground workers after figures showed a 44 per cent increase in assaults on staff since 2009. The figures sparked renewed concern from Labour and unions about plans to cut hundreds of jobs through the closure of ticket offices on the Tube. London Assembly member Val Shawcross said the cuts would leave staff at some stations feeling “dangerously isolated.” Labour said figures published for February’s Transport for London board meeting showed the number of assaults on Tube staff have increased from 1,917 in 2009/10 to 2,753 in 2013/14. Ms Shawcross said: “With assaults on staff up 44 per cent since 2009, the Mayor needs to show he is taking his responsibilities to protect staff seriously. Axing almost 900 staff from the Tube stations and spreading the remainder out across the ticket halls and platforms risks leaving staff feeling dangerously isolated.” She added: “We need to see immediate action from the Mayor to get to the bottom of this worrying rise in assaults and to show that his station staff cuts aren't going to leave workers more vulnerable in the future.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said: “The fight against ticket office closures and job cuts goes on and is widely supported by the public. The new research from Labour shows that assaults have nearly doubled in just five years and it is RMT members who are left vulnerable and isolated and at constant risk of attack as the cuts are driven through.”

Ÿ  Val Shawcross news release.

Ÿ  The Standard.

Ÿ  RMT ‘Every job matters’ campaign.

WHO calls for use of ‘smart’ syringes

Smart syringes that break after one use should be used for injections by 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. Reusing syringes leads to more than two million people being infected with diseases including HIV and hepatitis each year. The new needles are more expensive, but WHO says the switch would be cheaper than treating the diseases. A 2014 study sponsored by WHO, which focused on the most recent available data, estimated that in 2010, up to 1.7 million people were infected with hepatitis B virus, up to 315,000 with hepatitis C virus and as many as 33,800 with HIV through an unsafe injection. The new WHO injection safety guidelines and policy provide detailed recommendations highlighting the value of safety features for syringes, including devices that protect health workers against accidental needle injury and consequent exposure to infection. “Adoption of safety-engineered syringes is absolutely critical to protecting people worldwide from becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. This should be an urgent priority for all countries,” said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO HIV/AIDS department. WHO is also calling for sheathed needles that prevent doctors accidentally pricking their fingers. This has happened many times during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But they would treble the cost of the syringes and WHO says these would have to be introduced “progressively.”

Ÿ  WHO news release.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Benetton agrees to pay Rana Plaza compensation

High Street fashion chain Benetton will compensate victims of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. A statement from the company said the amount will be announced “in the next few weeks and in any case no later than April 24, 2015” – the second anniversary of the fire - and forms “part of a broader programme of further social engagement by the Group for 2015, the details of which will be announced in the coming days.” The move comes after pressure from the global union federations IndustriALL and UNI, who spearheaded the creation of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the campaign for compensation. IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said: “We are pleased that at long last Benetton has promised to pay into the Rana Plaza Trust Fund. Now, it’s time for Benetton to show us the colour of their money. We call on Benetton to do what’s morally right and compensate with compassion. We expect to see a significant contribution to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund by Benetton in keeping with a major brand that sourced from Rana Plaza and has a considerable investment in Bangladesh.” UNI general secretary Philip Jennings said:  “We understand that Benetton promises to step up and take their share of the responsibility for the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy. For a company with a profit of more than US$200 million and turnover of US$1.6 billion, we expect Benetton to show their most generous colours. UNI and IndustriALL are ready to talk to ensure fair compensation.” Benetton said and unnamed “third party” would set the compensation level.

Ÿ  Benetton news release.

Ÿ  UNI news release.

Ÿ  IndustriALL news release.

Ÿ  Bangladesh Accord.

Worker’s death exposes criminal safety failures

An investigation into the death of a worker installing guttering at a home in Llandudno discovered he was using a ladder in an “extremely poor state” that should have been taken out of service. Gethin Kirwan, 35, who lived in Hoole, Chester, was working at a property in the town on 4 April 2013 when he fell from the ladder, sustaining a fatal head injury. Thomas Price, who runs a roofing business, employed Mr Kirwan to carry out the work and was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Wrexham Magistrates’ court. HSE’s investigation found the defective ladder was not responsible for Mr Kirwan’s fall, but it did have a number of serious safety defects which had the potential to cause serious incidents. Two other ladders provided for use on the job had similar critical defects. HSE found the feet of the ladder were worn through, rungs were bent and one was missing. The defects were obvious through even a cursory inspection and made the ladder unfit for use. Thomas Price pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 in costs. The court also granted a Forfeiture & Destruction Order for the ladders. HSE inspector Chris Wilcox, speaking after the hearing, said: “Although Mr Kirwan’s death was not attributable to the ladder it was in an appalling state and should never have been used.” He added: “All work equipment must be maintained in a safe condition for use and checked regularly for any damage. For ladders, a quick and simple visual check should be done to look for any obvious defects. The most common and critical issues are worn or missing feet and damage to the rungs and stiles which are very easy to spot.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and falls webpages.

New arrival killed in 5 metre asbestos roof fall

An Aberdeenshire business has been fined for serious criminal failings after a man died when he fell more than five metres through a fragile roof. Latvian national Nikolajs Naumovs, 57, had arrived in Scotland only two weeks before his fatal fall. He had been working on a roof at premises in Fraserburgh, owned by local butchery company Bruce of the Broch 1886 Ltd. Peterhead Sheriff Court was told that on 21 August 2009 Mr Naumovs was working with his nephew to remove asbestos cement sheets from the roof of a building. They had reached the roof using a telehandler, and, while the basket was on the ground being unloaded, the two were sitting near the apex of the roof. Suddenly and without warning, the roof collapsed beneath them. His nephew managed to grab something and was left hanging from a wall but Mr Naumovs fell five and a half metres to the concrete floor below and died at the scene from head injuries. The court heard that Mr Naumovs and his son Juris had arrived in Scotland in early August to work and were staying with his other son, Vjaceslavs, and nephew Nikolajs Cernovs. Both Vjaceslavs and Nikolajs were employed by the company which, although it was primarily a family butchers, was converting premises it owned into residential property. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the evening before the incident the company’s managing director had visited the property to plan the next day’s work with the pair, who concluded wrongly they were expected to start removing the roof the following morning. The investigation concluded that the circumstances leading up to the fatal incident showed poor communication, a lack of instruction and supervision, the use of equipment which was not suitable for the task, and the work being carried out in a manifestly unsafe manner. Although the men should never have been on the roof itself at all, as the telehandler being used was not suitable for this work activity, the company would have been able to intervene to stop the roofing work had there been more effective and regular supervision. Bruce of the Broch 1886 Ltd was fined £80,000, reduced to £60,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE principal inspector Niall Miller said: “In this case the difficulties arising from the language barrier resulted in fatal consequences.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Tata sentenced over molten metal burns

Global steel giant Tata has been fined £200,000 after three employees suffered serious burns when tonnes of molten metal spilled onto the factory floor. Swansea Crown Court heard that trainee crane driver Kelvin Watts and two colleagues escaped from the top of a crane and over the boom when a huge ladle dislodged spilling the molten metal, which then caught fire, at Tata Strip Products in Port Talbot on 2 April 2013. Mr Watts, 50, was operating an electric overhead crane and being supervised by an experienced trainer and had another trainer present when the incident happened. He had picked up a full 300 tonne ladle of molten metal using the crane and had asked for confirmation that one of the hooks was properly on the ladle as the crane’s camera system was not working. When he was alerted by the plant control room that the hook was not fully attached, he stopped the crane and put it into reverse. But the ladle dislodged, spilling the load onto the floor. Moments later, fire broke out and reached the cab of the crane, resulting in burns to the three men as they desperately tried to escape to safety. Mr Watts suffered severe burns on his head and forearms and spent several days in hospital. He has suffered repeated infections in the burns since and has been unable to return to work. His two colleagues were less severely burnt and although they are back at Tata, neither can face driving the cranes or entering the area where the incident occurred. Tata has since installed a new camera system, improved lighting, and managers now scrutinise all pre-use checks. If the camera system fails, spotters are put in place to ensure crane hooks are properly latched onto ladle handles. The firm was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,190 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.  HSE inspector Joanne Carter said: “There was clear evidence at Tata Steel of poor maintenance, inconsistent training and managers misunderstanding the problems faced by operators.” She added: “Reacting after the event is not acceptable and can be too late for some workers.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and molten metals webpages.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

EVENTS

National Hazards Conference, 4-6 September 2015

It’s time to book your place at the National Hazards Conference, the once a year chance to meet hundreds of safety reps, exchange ideas and get inspired. As ever, the conference organised by the Hazards Campaign will have top headline speakers and workshops that will give you the knowledge and tools to make workplaces safer and healthier. Topics covered include safety reps and organising, finding out what is harming members, making the most of the enforcement system, and dealing with risks. The event is union-supported and this year has the theme ‘Safety reps: Reclaiming the health and safety agenda’.

Ÿ  Safety reps: Reclaiming the health and safety agenda, National Hazards Conference, 4-6 September 2015, Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent.

Ÿ  Booking form.

Ÿ  Sponsor the conference.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Global: ITF launches aircraft air quality group

The global transport union federation ITF has launched an air quality working group amid concerns about the health risks posed by contaminated air on commercial aircraft and at airports. ITF said it has long recognised the negative implications for flight safety and workers’ health of exposure to engine oil fumes on commercial and cargo aircraft. Airline workers and passengers can be exposed to fumes as a result of defective designs that use as the sole source of onboard air unfiltered engine air. ITF said there has been an increase in reported fume incidents in which flight safety was compromised because of related crew member impairment. The union body added this finding, backed up by academic studies, reflects the experience of union members, who report being made sick by exposure to oil fumes on board. Ground workers are at risk, too. The can be exposed to the exhaust from aircraft engines or diesel engines in service vehicles. ITF civil aviation secretary Gabriel Mocho said: “The formation of this working group confirms the high priority that the ITF has assigned to addressing the hazards of exposure to oil-contaminated ventilation air on aircraft. It complements our existing efforts to raise awareness in our affiliated unions about how to recognise and respond to the presence of onboard oil fumes.” He added: “The expert members from our affiliates will play an influential role in deciding future ITF actions to address this flight safety and worker health hazard.” ITF hosted the annual meeting of the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) on 25 February, attended by world authorities on the health impact of exposure to contaminated aircraft cabin air.

Ÿ  ITF news release, cabin air qualitywebpages, GCAQE forum and aviation blog.

Ÿ  The Independent.

UAE: Fire kills migrant labourers in Abu Dhabi

At least 10 migrant labourers have been killed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by a fire that tore through the warehouse they were sleeping in. The workers were staying in the al-Mussafah district of Abu Dhabi, an industrial area filled with warehouses, factories and workshops on the outskirts of the capital. Police said the blaze started early the morning of Friday 20 February in a car repair shop at the base of a commercial building. It spread to a two-storey warehouse that had been illegally rented out as accommodation to the labourers and gutted the building before firefighters could extinguish the flames. Eight people were injured, police said, and 10 bodies have been found. The victims, who have not been named, were reported by officials to be from Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan and India. Last year, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called on the United Nations to investigate the “international scandal” of migrant labour in the UAE, saying human rights abuses were present even in high profile projects run by Western firms. And a report this year from Human Rights Watch warned that migrant workers in the country faced destitution, summary arrest and deportation if they complained about their squalid and unsafe conditions (Risks 690). The plight of the migrant workers who died in the 20 February fire has been contrasted with that of wealthy ex-pats, who the following day were evacuated from the 80-storey Torch skyscraper in Dubai when a fire burned through several floors. The Washington Post reports “the evacuation was swift and orderly… No one was killed, and only a handful of people suffered smoke-related breathing problems.”

Ÿ  The Independent.

Ÿ  Washington Post.

Ÿ  Sydney Morning Herald.

USA: Nuke workers hurt by toxic exposures

Evidence “strongly suggests” a causal link between chemical vapour releases and ill-health in workers at a nuclear facility in the US. Since March 2014, nearly 60 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state have sought medical attention for on-the-job exposure to chemical vapours released by highly toxic waste stored at the site. At a public meeting held last week in Pasco, Washington, Hanford workers described symptoms that include chronic headaches, respiratory problems, nerve damage and bloody urine. The meeting, hosted by the local 598 of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters union and Hanford Challenge, an environmental watchdog, was convened in the wake of a report into worker exposures at Hanford’s tank farms. It found ongoing emissions of toxic chemical vapours from waste tanks, inadequate worker health and safety procedures and evidence that “strongly suggests a causal link between chemical vapour releases and subsequent health effects.” The underground storage tanks - known as “tank farms” - at the US Department of Energy (DOE) site contain more than 50 million gallons of concentrated radioactive and chemical waste left from processing nuclear materials, including uranium and plutonium, for the US weapons programmes between 1943 and 1987. Local 598’s Pete Nicacio told the meeting: “We’re here to make sure the contractor and DOE do the right thing and follow up out there.” In November last year Local 598, Hanford Challenge and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility filed a 90-day notice of intent to sue the US DOE and WRPS, which manages work at the Hanford tank farms for the DOE, over violations of the Federal Resources and Recovery Act that endanger workers’ health. “Workers are not being taken care of,” said Nicacio. “Workers are having health issues and DOE does not want to acknowledge those issues,” he said. “We’re here to make sure we do our part to ensure that they’re going to take some action.”

Ÿ  Working In These Times.

USA: Refinery blast highlights oil strike concerns

An 18 February explosion at Exxon Mobil's refinery in Torrance, California, is raising new concerns about high risks, weak standards and lax regulatory oversight in the US oil refining sector. The incident is the latest in a spate of fires to strike US oil plants in the past few years. “There are inherent hazards in a refinery, but the idea is to keep the risks as low as possible. We don’t think that’s happening sufficiently in the industry,” said Mike Wright, safety director for the union USW. The union is leading a refinery strike, with safety concerns a central issue (USW). The blast at Exxon’s refinery in Torrance shattered a section of the facility, rained down ash and rattled nearby homes with earthquake-like tremors. Four contract workers suffered minor injuries. Initial reports suggest the problem might have started in an ultra-hot cracking unit, which turns crude oil into gasoline [petrol]. Unions say the sector is under-regulated and that existing regulations are not adequately enforced. They are pushing for stronger worker safety standards in their collective bargaining negotiations with refinery operators. USW’s Mike Wright said the union is pushing for limits on consecutive work hours to “make sure that workers in the industry aren’t stressed out or bone-tired.” He said refinery operators routinely work more than 80 hours a week, raising the risk of mistakes that can lead to tragedy. The union also wants to limit the amount of work that is passed off to contract workers, who might not have the same training or expertise as directly employed staff. USW president Leo Gerard said: “Our members work in dangerous and too often deadly conditions. While employers have reaped billions of dollars in profits over the past several years, they have done little to improve conditions for workers and surrounding communities.”

Ÿ  USW news release.

Ÿ   AFL-CIO Now blog.

Ÿ  International Business Times.

Ÿ  NBC4 News.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

Courses for 2015

Ÿ  Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

 

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