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TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Number 667 - 16 August 2014

Asbestos - the hidden killer Hazards magazine Hazards at Work

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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at






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Repugnant’ ferry move puts safety at risk

A seafarers’ union has condemned government plans to revoke four shipping safety regulations introduced after the 1987 Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster in which 193 people died. Nautilus International has accused the government of putting costs before safety in its ‘repugnant’ plan to scrap the requirements for roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) passenger ships to be fitted with on-deck emergency equipment lockers containing axes, crowbars, lifting gear and ladders. In its response to a public consultation on the proposals, Nautilus argues the move is being “driven by deregulatory dogma” and that it is wholly unacceptable to consider removing equipment that could help to save lives in an emergency. It adds the proposals have been built on a “dangerously complacent” assumption that the root causes of the Herald disaster have been addressed by subsequent safety measures. The union says emergency equipment lockers are more important than ever because of the increasing size of ferries. “The importance of such equipment — or the lack of it — was demonstrated in the recent Sewol ferry disaster in South Korea,” Nautilus said. Around 300 are thought to have died in the April 2014 sinking. Last month the TUC described the move to weaken the onboard safety requirements as another example of “stupid, dangerous, ideologically-driven, anti-regulatory, claptrap” (Risks 664).

Ÿ  Nautilus news release.

Safety worries in the media

A spate of high profile safety incidents in film and television production has highlighted the need for stringent safety rules, the union BECTU has said. It said the broken leg sustained by movie star Harrison Ford while filming the new Star Wars film and a coastguard warning about ‘unnecessary’ and ‘silly’ risks taken filming cliff top scenes for the ITV drama Broadchurch had drawn attention to the folly of the government’s deregulatory plans (Risks 662). “With such attention being given to the hazards of film and TV production, it seems odd that a planned exemption from health and safety rules for most of the industry’s freelancers looks almost certain to be approved,” the union said. “The Deregulation Bill is due to go into committee stage in the House of Lords in October. If passed, it would exempt the UK’s 4.6 million self-employed workers from health and safety regulations, unless their industry or activity appears on a list drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE will review comments on the proposed list in September, which apart from activities like electrical work, diving and some elements of special effects involving gas or explosives, leaves out the entire entertainment industry.” Criticising the approach, BECTU said “safety laws will no longer apply to the industry’s biggest hazards – falls from height, slips and trips, and accidents involving vehicles and moving equipment.” The union warned: “Without a legal health and safety responsibility on all workers in the industry, freelancers could be asked to cut corners, exposing themselves to unacceptable risks and causing dangerous confusion in the many situations where self-employed freelancers work alongside PAYE employees, who will still be covered by health and safety laws.” According to the union: “If the industry doesn’t take steps to maintain its strong health and safety record, it could find itself getting even more publicity in the future, and all for the wrong reasons.”

Ÿ  BECTU news report.

GMB action call on Amazon insect invasion

Concerns about tropical insect borne diseases affecting Amazon workers have surfaced after a GMB member employed in a UK depot fell ill after handling packaging on imported goods. GMB says the worker “is convinced” the symptoms are linked to insects carried in the packaging and is calling on Amazon to conduct “as a matter of urgency a risk assessment of the dangers to the health and safety of staff of… insect invasion in wood and other packaging of goods imported from abroad.” Jeff Beck, GMB regional officer in South Wales, said: “Amazon is in denial that insect invasion is even possible. GMB is not expert in this field but are aware that this stance is not sustainable.” He added: “GMB want Amazon to undertake a proper risk assessment, involving proper experts in the field of insect invasion and health professionals, to come to conclusions on the threats invasions pose to the health and safety of members in their warehouses and to the wider economy. GMB want to see Amazon specify that suppliers and shippers use packaging materials that have been properly treated to prevent insect invasion.” GMB reports that in May 2014 the Ecological Society of America established that the emerald ash borer has been carried into North America in wooden packing material.

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Footballers back new head injury rules

New rules on the management of concussion and head injuries in football, produced with the support of the players’ union PFA, will take effect in the Premier League this season. The PFA said it will be offering an education programme to help raise awareness amongst players of the potential dangers, in conjunction with the Premier League, Football League and League Manager’s Association (LMA). The rule changes come after a series of high profile injuries to players who then remained on the pitch, and a review by a Concussion Commission comprised of the PFA, Football Association (FA), Premier League, Football League and LMA. Chair of the FA’s medical committee, Dr Ian Beasley, said: “We have worked closely with the stakeholders to develop these new guidelines and the message is clear for players; listen to medical advice and take no chances – stop playing and take your time to recover.” Under the new rules, a player suffering a head injury must now leave the pitch and the club doctor must decide if a player is capable of continuing, not the team management.  Home teams in the Premier League must now have a third “tunnel” doctor on match days to support the work of the doctors for both sides. This additional doctor will serve as an extra pair of eyes to spot potential concussions and watch TV replays to determine the severity of incidents.

Ÿ  PFA news release and background briefing.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.


Groups rally to back migrant rights campaigner

A British human rights activist who was arrested and bailed after exposing grievous safety and employment abuses of migrant labour by a giant Thai fruit products firm has received support from the TUC and nearly 100 other international union and labour rights groups. A joint letter to members of the Thai Pineapple Industry Association (TPIA) calls on it to urge TPIA member Natural Fruit Co Ltd to drop the criminal and civil charges it levelled against researcher Andy Hall. Signatories to the letter include organisations from more than 20 countries, including the TUC, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the European Coalition for Corporate Justice and Human Rights Watch. The letter requests the removal of Wirat Piyapornpaiboon, chief executive of Natural Fruit, as TIPA president and the revocation of Natural Fruit’s membership of TPIA if it refuses to drop the case. Natural Fruit filed its first criminal defamation charge against Andy Hall in February 2013 after he contributed to a report by a Finnish non-profit group, Finnwatch, which reported serious rights abuses at its factory in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The report, ‘Cheap Has a High Price’, used worker interviews to document abuses including violence, long hours and the use of child labour (Risks 664). TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Vulnerable workers need people like Andy Hall – working with trade unions in Thailand and internationally – to stand up against exploitation and abuse. We need to be free from harassment and victimisation so we can protect working people from corporate greed and government inaction. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

Ÿ  Finnwatch news release and Andy Hall’s blog.

Ÿ  Letter in support of Andy Hall.

‘Monumental’ ruling on diesel fumes and lung cancer

A decision to award compensation to the widow of a bus maintenance worker who died of diesel exhaust-related lung cancer has been hailed as a ‘monumental’ breakthrough by his union. Anthony Nigro, a member of Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) Local 100 in New York, USA, died a few months after retiring in 2012. His oncologist told his widow, Dorota, he believed diesel exhaust exposure in his 28 years working for the New York City Transit Authority was the cause of his cancer. Lawyer Robert Grey, who filed a workers’ compensation claim on behalf of the family, said this is “the first case where a Workers’ Compensation Board, or any other court, has recognised the cause and effect of diesel to occupational disease.” The company contested the claim, noting the victim’s history of smoking. But an expert providing testimony for the family said his job provided “ample exposure… to diesel exhaust emission.” The expert witness said that while smoking was also “a likely contributor” to the lung cancer, the diesel emissions were “more likely than not a significant contributing factor in causing or aggravating” Mr Nigro’s illness and death. In a judgment that is not being contested by the firm, Judge Jay Leibowitz ruled in favour of the family and awarded them a weekly benefit of $773, $100,000 in backdated benefits and $6,000 in funeral expenses. Dr Frank Goldsmith, director of occupational health for the TWU local, said: “This case is really a monumental decision. It’s reminiscent of where we were with asbestos in the 1970s.” He added: “We need to find out more about diesel and cancer trends among transit workers. We need to know how many of our members have been stricken by lung cancer, and target which job titles those cancers came from.” The family of a Canadian miner who died of diesel exhaust linked lung cancer was awarded compensation last year (Risks 597).  In June 2012, an expert panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified diesel fume as a top rated 'Group 1' carcinogen (Risks 560). A study published in 2013 concluded almost 5 per cent of lung cancer deaths in the United States and the United Kingdom may be due to workplace exposure to diesel exhaust (Risks 635).

Ÿ  TWU Local 100 health and safety newsletter: diesel special.

Experts confirm formaldehyde cancer risks

Industry claims that formaldehyde does not cause cancer have been dismissed by US government experts. A National Academies of Science (NAS) assessment of the cancer risks from formaldehyde - a common industrial chemical found in furniture, building materials and other household products - concluded it poses a threat to humans for three types of cancer: nasopharyngeal cancer; sinonasal cancer; and myeloid leukaemia. According to Jennifer Sass of the US Natural Resources Defense Fund (NRDC), the finding will be a blow to the industry lobby as the NAS review “was politically motivated, the result of a campaign by the chemical industry and its allies in Congress to protect formaldehyde and styrene, another common chemical linked to cancer.” According to Sass, when subject to close scrutiny the chemical industry’s case “added up to little more than a baseless defence of their toxic products. The chemical industry needs to start producing safer products, and stop attacking independent science and defending cancer-causing chemicals.” In 2009, formaldehyde’s top Group 1 human cancer risk rating from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was broadened to include leukaemia in the list of cancers with an established link to the chemical (Risks 432).

Ÿ  National Academies of Science news release and report summary and full report on formaldehyde

Ÿ  NRDC blog.

Ÿ  Greenwire.

Bust contractor fined £1 for falling steel injuries

Two workers were left with broken bones but escaped with their lives after being struck by a length of steel that fell from nine floors above them, a court has heard. Ryan Smith, 31, damaged a vertebrae and was forced to wear a brace for several months as a result of the incident at a renovation project in Bournemouth on 16 July 2013. Co-worker Paul Martret, 42, suffered a fractured elbow. East Dorset Magistrates’ Court was told that both could have been killed. Harbourview Developments Ltd appeared in court as the principal contractor for the refurbishment and conversion of two properties. The work involved removing a stairwell and converting it into a lift shaft. A temporary platform was created using a series of scaffold planks resting on a scaffold tube structure, which was then put in place over the opening to the stairwell. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that a subcontractor placed a 1.4 metre, 5kg piece of steel on a structural beam running parallel to the temporary work platform in order to step over it. However, he knocked the steel as he raised his leg, sending it plunging into a gap in the stairwell and towards the workers nine floors below. Magistrates heard the incident could have been avoided had Harbourview Developments Ltd better managed the temporary works to ensure there was no risk from falling materials. The company, which is now in liquidation, was fined a token amount of £1 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.

Ÿ  HSE news release and work at height webpages.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Directors in the dock over asbestos risks

A Hartlepool firm and two of its directors have been fined along with a second company after putting workers at risk from exposure to asbestos. Baxketh Ltd, a metal recycling business, agreed to remove the steel work from the premises of Billingham firm UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd on the basis that the recycler would take the value of the scrap metal as payment for the work. However, the steel included several pipe work systems covered in lagging containing asbestos, which were removed by workers without the firm putting any measures in place to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told Teesside Magistrates’ Court that inspectors visited the site on 22 February 2013 following a complaint from a worker at a neighbouring business and an investigation resulted. Inspectors saw Baxketh Ltd directors Michael Almond Senior and Michael Almond Junior on the site, with a significant amount of pipe work and damaged insulation scattered on the ground. Almond Jnr was operating a mechanical excavator with a grab to move steel work from the ground into a skip. A prohibition notice was served on Baxketh Ltd to prevent further work. An improvement notice was also served on UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd that required it to carry out an asbestos survey and develop a system to ensure the results were shared with those likely to disturb any asbestos. Baxketh Ltd was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £3,804.20 in costs and UK Tankcleaning Services Ltd was fined £10,000 with £2,243.40 costs. Both firms admitted two criminal safety offences. Michael Joseph Almond Snr, 73, was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £204.80 in costs for a criminal breach. Michael Vincent Almond Jnr, 47, was fined £650.

Ÿ  HSE news release and asbestos webpages.

Gas giant fined after plant explosion injures worker

A multinational industrial gas supplier has been fined after an explosion left a worker with life changing injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted BOC Ltd after a plant explosion and fire caused Alan Garton, 57, to suffer serious burns and other injuries. Two other employees, Craig Knight and Dale Roberts, were also injured in the incident. Bristol Crown Court heard how on 7 January 2010 Mr Garton, at that time an employee at BOC Ltd’s Dissolved Acetylene Filling Plant in Brislington, was filling an acetylene cylinder as part of a routine operation. The acetylene solution within the cylinder became unstable and the cylinder exploded, starting a fire which was allowed to burn for eight days until, after careful consideration, it was extinguished by Avon Fire & Rescue Service. Mr Garton suffered multiple lacerations and significant burns to his left thigh, left arm and head. An investigation by HSE found that BOC did not take necessary measures to prevent a major accident. BOC Ltd was fined £175,000 plus costs of £85,000 after admitting a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Evan Bale said: “BOC Ltd’s plant in Brislington is a top tier major hazard site and is subject to the COMAH [Control of Major Accident Hazards] regulations. There is no excuse for any major hazard operator failing to take all necessary measures to prevent major accidents.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and explosives webpages.

Food packaging firm in court over forklift injuries

A food packaging company in Buxton has been fined after an employee suffered severe injuries to his leg when he was struck by a forklift truck. Primopost Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the company did not have a safe system of work in place. High Peak Magistrates’ Court in Buxton heard that Michael Booth had just given some cleaning materials to a colleague, who was working on a machine, when the incident happened on 20 November 2012. As he stepped backwards to turn around, he was hit by a forklift truck carrying a large reel of printed film. The 42-year-old broke his right leg in three places and was in hospital for six days, where he had metal bars and pins inserted. The court was told there should have been a separate walkway to keep pedestrians away from vehicles, or the company should have found another way of moving goods around the factory. Primopost Ltd was fined £30,000 plus £2,979 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Stuart Parry said: “Michael suffered injuries which have had a significant impact on his life because the factory where he was working wasn’t safe.” He added: “Forklift trucks are responsible for around a quarter of all injuries involving workplace transport and so it’s vital companies have systems in place to keep them away from pedestrians. This can be as simple as painting a white line on the floor. Alternatively, they should find other ways of moving goods around factory floors. If pallet trucks had been in use at the time of the incident – as they are now – then Michael’s injuries could have been avoided.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and workplace transport webpages.

Cleaning company convicted on rooftop dangers

A Stoke-on-Trent company that uses jet washers to clean roof tiles has been convicted of criminal safety offences after a worker was spotted on a roof without any fall protection in place. A member of the public spotted a worker standing on the pitched roof of a domestic property in Cheddleton, Staffordshire, while carrying out the cleaning work on 25 October 2013. The concerned individual took photos of the work and contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who carried out an investigation. Stafford Magistrates’ Court heard that an inspector found that Roof Right UK Ltd routinely arranged for this type of work to take place without any suitable fall protection being in place. A prohibition notice was issued to Roof Right UK Ltd preventing them from carrying out further work unless suitable controls such as scaffolding were provided. Roof Right UK Ltd, which did not attend the hearing, was found guilty of two criminal safety offences and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,277. HSE inspector Andrew Bowker said: “I would like to thank the member of the public for bringing this matter to our attention as they have undoubtedly prevented a serious injury.” He added: “It is staggering to me that a company operating in 2013 thought that it was acceptable to allow workers onto pitched property roofs to carry out jet washing work without providing scaffolding or other suitable falls protection measures.” 

Ÿ  HSE news release and work at height webpages.

Firms fined after worker’s life-threatening fall

Two firms have been sentenced for criminal safety failings after a Liverpool worker suffered life-threatening injuries when he fell through the roof of a former Cheshire factory. Peter Tracey was removing asbestos roof sheets from a disused building in Poynton when he stepped onto a fragile panel and fell more than five metres to the concrete floor below. He was airlifted to hospital with critical injuries, before being placed in an induced coma. Haydock-based Local Asbestos Services Ltd and Leicestershire-based Construction Contracting UK Ltd were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the firms had allowed workers onto the roof without safety measures in place. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court was told that 59-year-old Mr Tracey was part of a group of labourers hired by Local Asbestos Services to remove the asbestos sheets from the roof of a former factory during its demolition. Construction Contracting was overseeing the project as the principal contractor and both companies had agreed that the sheets would be removed using a cherry picker or scissor lift underneath the roof. This would have allowed workers to cut the bolts holding the sheets in place, without the need for them to go onto the roof itself. But on 5 April 2013, Mr Tracey and a colleague instead started removing an asbestos sheet from on the roof when it started to slip away. As he went to grab it, he stepped onto a clear plastic panel, which gave way under his weight. Mr Tracey suffered critical injuries, including two collapsed lungs, blood in his left lung, fractures to his ribs and hip, and a ruptured left shoulder tendon. He was in hospital for a month and will be affected by his injuries for the rest of his life. Construction Contracting UK Ltd was fined £12,000 plus £23,502 costs after being convicted of a criminal safety offence. Local Asbestos Services Ltd was fined £8,000 plus £6,191 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach.

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Timber firm fined after worker crushed by tree

A Herefordshire timber firm has been fined after a worker was crushed against a machine by a tree trunk. The 24-year-old forestry operator, who has asked not to be named, fractured his hip and damaged a knee in the incident at Westhide Wood on 24 August 2012. He was hospitalised for two weeks, and has had to seek alternative employment in another industry because he can no longer do manual work. He is also no longer able to play sport at the level he used to. Hereford Magistrates’ Court heard that he was one of a two-man team working for Leominster-based Chalford Timber Ltd. One was using a large forestry vehicle called a forwarder to crane trees into position to enable the injured worker to chainsaw the trunks into three-metre lengths. One tree became tangled in the branches of another as it was being moved and when it broke free it hit him, forcing him against the machine. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had not followed established industry procedures to ensure no-one was within the “risk zone” of the machine while it was in operation. The operator of the machine should have ensured that the man on the ground was clear of the designated working zone, in a safe area and in view. Chalford Timber Ltd was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £16,335 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.

Ÿ  HSE news release and forestry webpages.


Australia: Union fights attacks on safety rights

An Australian union has launched a television advertisement in a new phase of a campaign against a watered down of workplace safety protections. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is challenging attacks on safety rules at both the federal and state level. In Victoria, for example, the union is responding to what it describes as a downgrading of the workplace safety agency WorkCover – it suffers from chronic understaffing and has not run a safety campaign since December 2012 - with a commitment to increase the number of its union health and safety representatives in the state from 500 to 600 by the end of the year. The second phase of the CFMEU's ‘Stand up. Speak out. Come Home’ campaign was launched in Melbourne by CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor and Ged Kearney, president of the national union federation ACTU. “A worker is seriously injured or dies every six minutes in construction, forestry and mining – a rate 50 per cent higher than all other industries combined,” CFMEU’s Michael O'Connor said. “But despite this, governments around the country are winding back workplace health and safety protections.” The union is particularly concerned at moves already introduced in Queensland (Risks 650) to restrict the union right of entry to investigate safety complaints. O’Connor said the federal government was seeking to introduce similar restrictions nationwide. He said these “partisan and costly attacks on unions are attacks on people's right to be safe at work, and to come home to what matters most.” ACTU president Ged Kearney said: “The evidence is clear that trade unions save lives. There are fewer accidents and better health and safety records in unionised workplaces around the world.”

Ÿ  CFMEU news release and TV advertisement.

Ÿ  Stand up. Speak out. Come Home.

China: 'Hazardous' factories closed after deadly blast

Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou have shutdown more than 200 factories pending safety checks in the wake of a massive explosion at a car parts factory that killed at least 75 people. The blast tore through a polishing workshop owned by Taiwanese-invested Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products on 2 August. Local officials have accused the factory management of a “very serious dereliction of duty,” blaming excessive metal dust for the explosion. China's cabinet, the State Council, has now ordered a comprehensive safety check on factories processing aluminium, magnesium, coal, wood, paper, tobacco, cotton and plastic, as well as other potentially flammable or explosive materials, state media said. Chinese labour activists and academics have issued an open letter calling for workers to be given the right to supervise workplace safety (Risks 666). And the Hong Kong–based advocacy group SACOM has called on all companies linked the car parts supplier - including GM contractor CITIC Dicastal, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Honda - to provide for victims’ compensation and healthcare, noting that their responsibility for safety issues had been “outsourced to developing countries.” SACOM activist Pui Kwan Liang told US publication The Nation these firms have an obligation to “take concrete action to provide adequate resources to support their downstream suppliers,” to maintain the best safety protections and standards.

Ÿ   Radio Free Asia.

Ÿ  SACOM open letter.

Ÿ  The Nation.

Ÿ  China Labour Bulletin.

Panama: Canal workers in safety struggle

The global transport workers’ federation ITF has ramped up its campaign against the Panama Canal Authority over an ongoing failure to provide decent pay and safe working conditions for more than 9,000 affiliated maritime workers in the canal zone. The 44-mile canal is currently undergoing a US$5.25bn redevelopment. Representatives from four Panamanian unions, accompanied by ITF leadership, raised their concerns last week with International Labour Organisation (ILO) director-general Guy Ryder. The groups submitted an application to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) against the government of Panama. Explaining the move, ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “The ITF is very concerned about the lack of proper respect and bargaining on issues surrounding health and safety provision on the job and workers being forced to undertake double shifts and 18-hour workdays. This has an unacceptable impact on safety and there are also concerns around pay, training and freedom of association.” ITF acting general secretary Steve Cotton said: “Freedom of association and collective bargaining are among the founding principles of the ILO and we hope our intervention leads to an improvement in working conditions for the Panama Canal workers.”

Ÿ  ITF news release and ITF video on the dispute.

USA: Some improvements in poultry slaughter rules

When in late July the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new regulation governing the poultry slaughter inspection system, he didn’t just have food safety on his mind. Workplace safety researcher Celeste Monforton said “throughout his press call, Vilsack said things like ‘we heard concerns about line speed,’ and ‘we listened to concerns about line speed’.” Vilsack explained that USDA abandoned a plan to allow certain poultry processing plants to increase line speeds from 140 birds per minute (bpm) to 175 bpm (Risks 666). Monforton, writing in The Pump Handle blog, notes that the National Chicken Council is not pleased with USDA’s decision to forego the line speed increase. The industry lobby group had responded: “It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that politics have trumped sound science, 15 years of food and worker safety data and a successful pilot program with plants operating at 175 birds per minute.” Monforton and other workers’ advocates, including the union UFCW, had pointed out at USDA hearings into the proposed rule that at even at the current rate, a high proportion of workers developed debilitating injuries. Safety measures in the new rule include displaying a poster encouraging workers to report these injuries without a fear of retaliation. Employers will be required to “attest” they are monitoring and documenting the conditions, and do not take action to discourage reporting. USDA also notes it “expects that a prudent establishment” would have an injury and illness prevention programme in place. However, the new system allows the privatisation of parts of the poultry inspection process, a move condemned by government employees’ union AFGE. It said: “Handing this critical function over to poultry companies is an open invitation to cut back on safety in the name of higher profits.”

Ÿ  The Pump Handle.

Ÿ  AFGE news release.

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