Company directors will pay greater regard to workplace health and safety if there is a prospect they could end up branded safety criminals, the TUC has said. In the latest TUC briefing supporting its 2013 ‘Time for change’ health and safety manifesto, the union body calls for explicit safety duties on directors and notes: “You cannot put a company or local authority in jail if it kills someone. Also it is not companies that make decisions – individuals do.” It points to official figures showing only 43 directors, company secretaries or senior managers were prosecuted for workplace safety offences in 2010/11. “The current law means that if a board of directors refuses to have any involvement in health and safety, however bad the record of the company, there is almost nothing that can be done to force them to take responsibility beyond disqualification,” TUC notes, adding that disqualification is “very rare.” It concludes: “Trade unions want a new general duty on directors, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, backed up with an Approved Code of Practice which spells out exactly what directors should do. This new duty would be the biggest driver yet in changing boardroom attitudes towards health and safety.” TUC says its 10-point ‘Time for change’ health and safety manifesto (Risks 592), launched a year ago, counters the unsustainable but commonly cited claim that workplace safety is a “burden on business.” It says the 10 simple measures “would have a huge impact in reducing the toll of death, injury and illness which is still an everyday part of working life for so many people.”
Ÿ Time for change: A trade union manifesto for reclaiming health and safety at work, TUC, February 2013.
Massive bonuses for Network Rail’s top bosses should be axed in the wake of level crossing deaths, the union TSSA has said. The rail giant’s director for operations Robin Gisby, finance boss Patrick Butcher and infrastructure head Simon Kirby all receive six-figure salaries and are set to receive a £300,000 bonus top up in April. Manuel Cortes, the outraged head of the rail union TSSA, has written to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin urging him to end the bonus “gravy train”. He was speaking following criticism of the public sector firm by the Lord Chief Justice, who rejected Network Rail’s Court of Appeal challenge to a £500,000 fine imposed after a 10-year-old boy suffered life-changing injuries on an unmanned level crossing in Suffolk in 2010. In further criticism of the company’s record on crossing safety, an official report a fortnight ago found a 30-year-old cyclist died on a level crossing in Witham, Essex last year - ten years after Network Rail decided a bridge was required to make it safe but never got around to building it. The letter from the TSSA leader said the families of those killed on unsafe level crossings were aghast that the three Network Rail executive directors were set to receive retention bonuses of £300,000 in April on top of their annual and long term bonuses, potentially worth up to 93 per cent of their six figure salaries. Manuel Cortes wrote: “They simply cannot comprehend why directors will get a retention bonus of £300,000 of taxpayers’ money following the death of their loved ones. I can't either. Given this, I sincerely hope that you will use your power to eradicate this bonus gravy train as I seriously believe it would be extremely unwise to ignore the wise advice of the Lord Chief Justice.” The law lord criticised a system that means Network Rail directors only lose their bonuses in the event of “a catastrophic" loss of life.” In his ruling, Lord Thomas said bonuses should have been “very significantly reduced” after the Suffolk incident and called for future bonus curbs, noting: “The prospect of a significant reduction of a bonus will incentivise the executive directors to pay the highest attention to protecting the lives of those who are at risk from their activities.” Last year 10 people were killed on the crossings and in 2012 Network Rail was fined £1 million after Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were hit and killed by a train in Elsenham, Essex, in 2005.
Ÿ Daily Mirror.
Ÿ Morning Star.
A High Court judge had accepted a UCATT safety rep blacklisted for his safety activities was treated unjustly, but has ruled he has no legal redress because he was an agency employee. Dave Smith, a founder member of the union-backed Blacklist Support Group, was repeatedly dismissed and refused work after his name appeared on The Consulting Association blacklist. A large file held by the organisation itemises concerns raised by the safety rep about asbestos, poor toilet facilities and contaminated waste on London and Essex building sites controlled by Carillion companies. The original employment tribunal rejected his claim because he was an agency worker and not directly employed by Carillion. This decision was upheld by an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). In a ruling issued last week, High Court judge Mrs Justice Slade DBE said that UK employment law does not protect agency workers. But the judge also identified human rights violations and expressed concern that Smith, the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, had “suffered an injustice from blacklisting.” Mowlem, the construction firm taken over by Carillion that ran some of the sites where Smith was victimised, was a contributor to The Consulting Association. Dave Smith said he planned to appeal. “Being a union member is not against the law. Raising concerns about asbestos is not against the law. But despite mountains of documentary evidence proving that construction firms were systematically blacklisting union members who questioned safety standards, it seems that big business are above the law,” he said. “Blacklisting is a violation of human rights. We intend to fight this all the way to Europe until we achieve justice.”
Civil servants could be unfairly targeted under a new performance management system, the union Prospect has warned. It says the new process could see “line managers under pressure to deliver a forced distribution of performance markings. The union fears that if the process is not closely monitored and challenged, it may be used to force managed exits and drive down pay.” Under forced distribution, a predetermined proportion of the workforce will be told they are failing, with unions complaining disciplinary action and dismissal are a common consequence. These concerns tally with Strathclyde University research, which found the practice was leading to a “new workplace tyranny” and a massive intensification of work (Risks 624). This was leading to stress related ill-health and to workers on ‘performance improvement plans’ quickly being ‘exited’ from the organisation, the research found. Prospect deputy general secretary Leslie Manasseh said: “We are concerned because in most cases the new systems have been introduced into the civil service without meaningful consultation.” Launching a new union guide to performance management, he said: “We support performance management systems that are focused on improving performance in a positive way and focus on the development of staff. But previous experience suggests that appraisal systems introduced under the guise of performance management are vulnerable to abuse and may be used negatively to impose penalties. Our recent survey of members also showed lack of clarity about the procedure and how to receive a fair assessment of their performance.”
Britain’s civil servants are wilting under the pressure of escalating workloads and the government has an answer – but TUC is far from impressed. The civil service has introduced “resilience training” to help staff cope with the harrowing combination of cutbacks and mounting demands. The Financial Times reports that by 2015, Whitehall will have lost almost one in four civil servants in the government’s austerity drive, which has depressed staff morale. Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the ministry of justice, noting that officials have to manage “really difficult pressures”, told the FT: “You’ve got to balance training and preparing people to be resilient in the face of pressure, but not to be so stubborn that they don’t realise when it’s necessary to change tack and to alter their plans.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson was scathing, declaring there is “no evidence that resilience training actually works in making people more able to cope with stress and long hours.” He points to a survey by the First Division Association, the union for top civil servants, where two out of three reported excessive hours are a problem in their department. “Burn out and stress is a significant issue across the civil service at all grades and the solution is of course simple. Reduce the level of stress, give people control over their work and ensure sufficient staffing levels,” said Robertson. “It is not to provide them with training that more or less says they are going to have to put up with whatever is thrown at them but they can learn how to ‘chill’ better.” He added that there are laws against excessive working and stress “and the HSE should be coming down on the civil service like a ton of bricks.” But he noted that “given that there are no longer proactive inspections and the HSE is now firmly under the thumb of the same cabinet ministers who are forcing through much of the change that is destroying morale in the civil service, that is not going to happen.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
Workers at the BBC have said they are “disappointed and angry” at the media giant’s failure to abide by recommendations to tackle its bullying culture. A motion from NUJ union reps at the BBC, addressed to director general Tony Hall, was prompted by the corporation’s failure to act on the recommendations of the Dinah Rose review of bullying. Dinah Rose QC was brought in by the BBC to lead an investigation into harassment and bullying, leading to a May 2013 report. The motion from BBC union reps expresses “disappointment and anger that the principles of the BBC's Respect at Work policy, as recommended by Dinah Rose QC, are not being adhered to. It further notes that Respect at Work has already been diluted to Support at Work.” The meeting of union reps heard that, since the publication of the review, cases were taking much longer than the recommended 30 days to be concluded, that perpetrators of bullying were allowed to remain in post while the subject of bullying was moved and the corporation was dragging its heels on making decisions concerning complaints about senior figures at the BBC. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “We have major cases that have been going on for the best part of last year and are still not concluded. Whether the corporation is failing to cope with the reality of dealing with complex cases involving multiple victims of bullying, or whether it can’t bring itself to make difficult decisions about those senior managers implicated, the upshot is the same – individuals who have been treated appallingly are failing to get redress and not being properly supported by the BBC in the process.” She said: “This needs direct intervention from the top by the director general, and further work needs to be done to tackle the institutionalised problem that exists at the BBC despite the Rose Review and its recommendations.”
Government reports admit flooding is an increasing problem that is set to get worse, so why are ministers undermining the ability of the emergency services in England and Wales to respond, the leader of the firefighters’ union FBU wants to know. Matt Wrack, writing in the TUC’s Touchstone blog, says the current situation, where there is no duty on the fire and rescue service in England and Wales to respond to major flooding, is “ridiculous.” He says this means “the resources and investment needed currently have to come from existing budgets, which have been hit by nearly 20 per cent since this government came to power.” He writes that while there are more boats and high volume pumps, there are still serious deficiencies in the training, personal protective equipment and facilities provided for firefighters to do their jobs during flooding. The union wants a statutory duty on the fire and rescue service in England and Wales to respond to major flooding, already the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland. “We’re also calling for a wide review of the current arrangements for tackling flooding,” writes Wrack. “We believe a national debate on everything from flood defence to flood emergency intervention is an appropriate political response to the recent floods, and we hope a coalition of trade unionists working in flood management as well as those living in communities affected should be a powerful voice in this debate.”
Every terrorist attack is a tragedy for the victims, their families and communities. But Owen Tudor, head of the TUC’s international department, notes “we often lose sight of the fact that many people killed in such attacks are workers going about their daily business. Unions in conflict zones are often the only organisations to point out the link with people’s work.” Writing in TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he points to attacks in recent days in Somalia, where 14 telecommunications workers were killed by a suicide bomber, and Iraq, where TV reporter Firas Mohammed Attiyah was murdered, as the latest victims. Aid workers in conflict zones have also been targeted, with dozens dying every year. According to TUC’s Owen Tudor: “Unions are often the only organisations in such countries to bring different communities together, because they recruit and defend anyone at work, regardless of politics, religion or ethnicity. And because we approach terrorism in the same way as any other hazard at work: no one should have to go out to work not knowing if they’ll make it back home.”
Soaring rates of theft from shops are leaving workers facing intolerable levels of violence at work, the shopworkers’ union Usdaw has said. The union was commenting after the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) retail crime survey revealed the number of shop thefts had reached a nine-year high, with the survey also identifying significant under-reporting of incidents to the police. The BRC report also found there had been a trebling of incidents of violence, threats and abuse against retail staff, which included a four-fold increase in assaults on shopworkers. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “It is very concerning to hear that shop theft is on the increase because that is often linked to violence against retail staff.” He added: “Our message is very clear, shopworkers do not have to put up with customer violence, it isn’t just a part of the job and if they report we can start to sort it. However that is sometimes a difficult message to get over, with many shopworkers concerned that nothing will change if they do report incidents. So we are looking for employers, the police and government to work with us to make a real difference.” The union leader said it was a “major worry” that assaults on shopworkers were not taken seriously by the courts. “We are campaigning for a change in the law to provide stiffer sentences, by making the assault of a worker serving the public a separate offence additional to common assault,” he said, adding the new BRC figures “show just how serious and widespread this problem is.” Usdaw criticised the government’s refusal this month to support a stiffer sentencing law (Risks 638).
Workplaces with big pay gaps between the highest and lowest wage earners not only suffer more industrial disputes and higher staff turnover, they also make their workers sick. A report released this week by the High Pay Centre found on average workplaces where top earners get eight times the pay of junior staff report at least one case a year of work-related illness. Workplaces with pay differentials of 5 or less do not report any. Organisations with average pay ratios of 7:1 experienced higher staff turnover, the report found. ‘The High Cost of High Pay’ is based on a survey of almost 2,000 workplaces conducted by academics from the Centre for Equality and Diversity at Queen Mary, University of London. High Pay Centre director Deborah Hargreaves said: “High executive pay is not only frequently unmerited but has a huge hidden impact on the rest of the organisation and society as a whole. Whether it’s through staff turnover, sickness, low morale or industrial action, big pay gaps undermine employees’ loyalty to the company and their managers.” She added: “Employers suffer lost productivity, have to pay more sick pay and legal and recruitment costs as staff left feeling the financial and emotional strain are driven even further into the ground.”
Ÿ The High Pay Centre news release and full report: The High Cost of High Pay: An analysis of pay inequality, January 2014.
A wide range of dust and fume exposures lead to lung disorders including bronchitis and emphysema, a study has found. The literature review funded by the Danish Working Environment Research Fund found that there is strong and consistent evidence that many dusts and fumes are risk factors for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The findings would appear to support the union campaign for much tighter exposure standards on ‘low toxicity’ dusts (Risks 623). Even before this study confirmed this type of disease was linked to a very broad range of workplace dust and fume exposures, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimated at least 4,000 workers in the UK die of work-related COPD each year. The new study identified workplace agents included welding fume, coke dust, coal, asphalt, silica, cement, tunnel work, cadmium, dust in glass bangle manufacture, bleach, cotton, flax, jute, farming, grain, wood, rubber and endotoxin as responsible for development of COPD. According to the authors there was a “nearly uniform pattern” of exposure–response relationships between the various exposures and COPD. Dust exposure expert John Cherrie of the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh commented: “The review provides further evidence that occupational exposure to dust and fumes are risk factors for COPD.”
Ÿ Ø Omland and others. Occupational chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a systematic literature review. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, volume 40, number 1, pages 19-35, 2014. OH-world blog.
New research showing that night shifts can cause long term damage to health demonstrates the pressing need for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to update its guidance, the TUC has said. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team lead by Surrey University sleep geneticist Simon Archer observed the effects on 22 men and women aged 22 to 29 who stayed at the Sleep Research Centre where the lighting was controlled to transform a normal 24-hour day into a 28-hour day. Before the study, the activity of 1,396 genes rose and fell in line with a healthy circadian rhythm. Afterwards, only 40 or so maintained these rhythms. Another 180 genes, which normally had a steady level, began to rise and fall instead. They authors found that “the negative health outcomes” linked to jet lag and nightshift work may have their roots in this “profound disruption” of the usual rhythms of gene activity. Archer said: “Sleeping at the wrong time is bad for you. We know it has a massive effect on the temporal organisation of gene expression and that must link up with negative outcomes.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the report reinforced concerns about shiftwork’s links to breast cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and obesity, establishing it as a “major occupational health issue.” He said: “While we are not going to get rid of shiftwork, what we should be doing is trying to manage shift patterns and shift changes in a way that reduces the risk. Unfortunately the current guidance from the HSE is considerably out of date and does not take into account factors such as the risk of cancer.” The union safety expert concluded: “There is an urgent need for more work on this area, but given the move away from occupational disease issues that the HSE has taken in recent years, this may take a while. In the meanwhile thousands of workers will see their health suffer because employers have no idea how to manage shiftwork more safely.”
Ÿ SN Archer and others. Mistimed sleep disrupts circadian regulation of the human transcriptome, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi/10.1073/pnas.1316335111, 2014.
Ÿ The Guardian.
Tougher penalties including more custodial sentences are being handed out to employers who breach criminal health and safety laws following a change in the official approach to prosecutions, according to a government report. It says changes introduced under the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008, which include more cases being heard in the lower courts, have resulted in higher fines and more jail terms. Safety minister Mike Penning said: “By handing greater sentencing powers to Magistrates and Sheriffs it has sent a clear message to unscrupulous employers that if they do not take their responsibilities seriously they will face stiff penalties, which include heavy fines and – in the very worst cases – prison. At the same time it has removed the burden of prosecuting all but the most serious of cases through the Crown Courts, which is generally less efficient, more time-consuming and more expensive than hearings held at the lower courts.” The report says in the five years since the Act took effect, the average fine imposed by the courts for breaches of health and safety regulations alone increased by 60 per cent, from £4,577 to £7,310. A total of 346 cases attracted fines of more than £5,000. Prior to the Act the maximum fine that could be imposed by the lower courts was capped at £5,000; this ceiling is now £20,000. Magistrates and Sheriffs were also given greater powers to send an offender to prison. In the past custodial sentences were reserved for specific cases, but now someone can be sent to prison for the majority of offences. The report says that between 16 January 2009 and 31 March 2013, 18 per cent of cases that went before the higher courts (77) and 5 per cent of those that went before the lower courts (144) led to a custodial sentence, suspended sentence or community service. Certain offences that in the past could only be tried in the lower courts, such as the failure to comply with an improvement order, were made triable in either court, meaning the offender could face a much tougher sentence if their case was referred to the Crown Court.
A Sunderland-based marine engineering firm has been sentenced for criminal safety failings after a teenage apprentice was crushed and killed by a piece of machinery weighing almost a tonne. Jason Burden, 19, from South Shields, was in his fourth year as an apprentice engineer at Tyne Slipway & Engineering Co Ltd (TSECL) at South Dock when a 970kg tunnel thruster from a ship overturned and landed on top of him. Newcastle Crown Court heard that on 8 December 2011 he was reassembling the machine on a work bench when it toppled onto his torso and left leg, causing fatal crush injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although TSECL was aware that the tunnel thruster – a gearbox and propeller used to manoeuvre a ship – was only notionally stable, it did not take sufficient steps to ensure it was safe to work on or near. The court was told the company had no documented risk assessment for working on the machine while it was positioned on the work bench, and no documented safety management system for undertaking work on behalf of the thruster manufacturer. The incident could have been prevented had the tunnel thruster been securely strapped or bolted to supports fixed to the workbench. Tyne Slipway and Engineering Co Ltd was fined £75,000 plus £47,936.57 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Jason’s dad Trevor Burden told Judge James Goss QC, from the public gallery, that Tyne Slipway and Engineering would “never be forgiven” by his family for their actions. Following sentencing, he thanked HSE and said: “Jason was the most loving, caring, hardworking and funny lad that you could ever wish to meet. His death has left a huge hole in all our lives. We are all heartbroken over his death and the pain is unbearable.”
A lorry driver was crushed and killed by heavy graphite parts after being allowed to unload his vehicle in a dangerous manner, a court has heard. Ahmet Yakar, 52, was struck by parts weighing up to a quarter-of-a-tonne each in the fatal incident at Morganite Electrical Carbon Ltd in Swansea on 19 July 2011. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to ensure an unloading operation was properly and safely managed. Swansea Crown Court was told that Mr Yakar, a Turkish national who did not speak English, was reluctant to open up the sides of his curtain-sided lorry as he arrived to make a delivery at Morganite. Instead, he was supplied with a hand operated pallet truck to move the boxes to the back of the lorry, where they were transferred to a forklift truck. During the operation, the boxes – at the time stacked four high – became unstable and the top box toppled and knocked him off the lorry. The next box toppled onto him as he lay on the floor. Despite efforts to free and revive him, he died at the scene. HSE’s investigation found that Morganite did not have safe working procedures for receiving and unloading delivery vehicles and did not carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for unloading at the site. The company also had no set policy for dealing with drivers who did not speak English. Morganite Electrical Carbon Ltd was fined a total of £120,000 and ordered to pay a further £16,021 in costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of safety law.
A Devon company has been fined after a worker was seriously injured by a reversing vehicle at a recycling centre in Exeter in a near carbon copy of an earlier incident. Exeter Magistrates’ court heard that Leases Limited hired the telehandler in September 2012, but did not have it fitted with a reversing camera. On 4 October Marvon Van Rijk and four other pedestrian workers were sorting through recycling waste at the company’s site in Exeter when he was hit by the reversing telehandler. He suffered serious and life threatening leg injuries, requiring immediate emergency surgery and ongoing surgical treatment. Leases Limited had been prosecuted following an almost identical incident at the same site in October 2011. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £33,000 and ordered to pay £13,389 in costs. HSE inspector Simon Jones, said: “Marvon Van Rijk was hit by the reversing telehandler while he was in the blind spot of the vehicle. Leases Limited failed to ensure that all vehicles on their sites had their blind spots eliminated and Mr Van Rijk suffered serious and life changing injuries as a result.” He added: “The easiest way to eliminate such blind spots is to install reversing CCTV which is easy and inexpensive to fit. It is regrettable that Leases Limited did not learn the lessons from an almost identical incident and subsequent prosecution by HSE at the same site just 20 months ago.”
An Oldham roofing firm and a company director have appeared in court after being filmed breaking the law by the BBC’s Watchdog programme. Renov8 (North West) Ltd and Darren Potts were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after footage showed workers on top of house roofs using a pressure washer without any measures to stop them slipping and falling to the ground below. Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard that Watchdog had hired Renov8 to carry out roof cleaning at two bungalows after receiving several complaints about poor workmanship and trading standards issues. The work was filmed at two locations in May 2013 using hidden cameras, and then broadcast the following month. The footage showed an employee walking around a sloping roof at the first property in Droylsden using a pressure washer to remove moss. Company director Darren Potts was filmed watching the work from the ground. Both men were also shown walking on the roof of the second property in Salford, again with no scaffolding or other measures in place to prevent them being injured in a fall. The HSE investigation also found Renov8 did not have any employers’ liability insurance, despite this being a legal requirement. This meant the employee would not have been able to claim compensation if he had been injured. Renov8 (North West) Ltd and Darren Potts, 39, each pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Renov8 also admitted failing to have employers’ liability insurance. Renov8 was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £1,255 in prosecution costs. Darren Potts was ordered to undertake 200 hours of community service within 12 months and pay £1,255 in costs.
International trade union bodies and 30 global brands have joined forces to urge the Cambodian government to investigate the recent use of deadly force against garment workers striking for improved pay (Risks 638). Union bodies IndustriALL, UNI and the ITUC say they are encouraged that brands are taking responsibility for their production and are demanding a change from the Cambodian government. The letter to the Cambodian prime minister expressed concern at the killing and wounding of workers and bystanders by security forces on 2 and 3 January 2014, when peaceful demonstrations were taking place calling for an increase in the minimum wage. Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, said: “The government must now take responsibility for protecting the workers’ and unions’ rights. Employer and union representatives must engage in constructive dialogue resulting in a real living wage.” UNI general secretary Philip Jennings said: “These protests were the legitimate action of Cambodian workers who should be protected and afforded their right to campaign for a decent wage. We are pleased that a group of retailers shares our concerns about the rights of workers and is calling on the government to investigate this use of deadly force.” And Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global trade union confederation ITUC, added: “With big global brands from Adidas to Walmart calling for action jointly with unions, Cambodia’s government needs to fix the broken system which has left workers no option but to take strike action. Failure to do so will mean continued suffering for workers on poverty wages, and do immense damage to Cambodia’s lucrative export industry.” She said the authorities must also release immediately the workers detained earlier this month.
Ÿ The Guardian.
In the latest devastating workplace fire to hit China, at least 16 workers were killed when a blaze broke out on the afternoon of 14 January at a shoe factory in the eastern coastal city of Wenling, China’s official media has reported. Firefighters rescued 20 people, a number of whom were badly injured. Two of the owners and one manager at Taizhou Dadong Shoes were subsequently taken into custody by the local police pending an investigation into the cause of the fire. The blaze follows a fire at a wholesale market in Shenzhen in December, which also killed 16 people including three young children, and a roof collapse at an illegally constructed storeroom in the northern province of Hebei, which killed ten people. Campaigning publication China Labour Bulletin says there is little evidence of improvements to workplace safety standards in China since the worst factory fire in living memory killed 121 workers at a poultry plant in Jilin in June 2013. It says teams dispatched by the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) to assess safety standards at factories across the country in the wake of the Jilin fire concluded: “Problems are striking, and everywhere, and could cause serious accidents if they are not properly addressed.” SAWS inspection teams arrived at enterprises unannounced and “found a lot of problems - pipelines and wires were substandard, switches were not explosion-proof, and many valves had been rusted and could not be switched on or off,” SAWS spokesperson Huang Yi said. Huang was particularly critical of the lax enforcement of safety standards by local government officials and stressed that whenever SAWS investigated an accident it always looked into the possibility of corruption and collusion with local government officials.
The French government should block the appointment of a scientist with undeclared asbestos industry links as the head of CESP, the country’s leading public health agency, campaigners have said. In a letter to authorities, the National Association of Asbestos Victims (ANDEVA) said the nomination of Paolo Boffetta as head of France’s top institute of epidemiology and public health must be rescinded. “The candidacy of Dr Boffetta is seriously flawed by major conflicts of interest which are totally incompatible with leadership of France’s most important institute of epidemiology,” wrote ANDEVA in its letter to France’s National Institute for Health and Medical Research and the University of Paris-Sud. The letter was also sent to the government’s health and research ministers. Dr Boffetta is the only scientist being considered for the post, which will be filled this year. The group said Boffetta’s private consultancy “produces and sells expertise or ‘scientific’ articles to industries on health issues and health risks.” It added that a recent article authored by Boffetta and a colleague in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention wrongly claimed that continued exposure to asbestos causes no additional harm to workers. ANDEVA added that Boffetta was paid by a company facing criminal charges relating to the deaths of employees from asbestos-related diseases, to put forward this argument in court on the company’s behalf. Boffetta falsely stated that he had no conflicts of interest, ANDEVA wrote. The failure to declare a conflict of interest was repeated in a January 2012 paper in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC), co-authored by scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Criticism targeted at IARC (Risks 637) prompted the UN agency last week to send a correction to BJC. ANDEVA says the BJC paper has been severely criticised by scientists for putting forward inaccurate and misleading information that serves the interests of the asbestos industry by minimising and creating doubt about harm caused by chrysotile asbestos and by appearing to support the asbestos industry’s “controlled use” line.
The theme for Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April this year will be: 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights'. ITUC, the global union body coordinating the event worldwide, says it is also encouraging unions to use the slogan, 'Unions make work safer' on their materials.
Ÿ For news, resources and updates on UK Workers’ Memorial Day 2014 activities, see the TUC 28 April webpages.
COURSES FOR January to March 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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