The incoming chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) “must ensure more is done to protect workers,” the union Unite has said. The union made the call after it was announced Dr Richard Judge, currently the head of the Insolvency Agency, will take over as HSE chief executive in November. On the order of ministers, the initial recruitment process was abandoned late last year after final interviews, with the job description for the post then re-written (Risks 661) to emphasis the new chief’s role in “commercialising” the safety regulator (Risks 638). Unite said it was looking forward to working with Dr Judge, but said the union wanted him “to reverse the recent trend of removing Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP) and the cut in guidance on health and safety at work” and to address the “widespread manipulation of data to suggest that some companies are performing better on health and safety than they actually are.” Unite national safety adviser Bud Hudspith said he hoped the appointment would end the “decision-making paralysis” at HSE, adding: “We have been urging HSE to act against employers who fail to report workplace accidents, but it has not been willing to do so. This is why we are calling on Dr Judge to act as chief executive and ensure more is done to protect workers.” Prior to heading the Insolvency Service, Dr Judge steered the government environmental agency CEFAS through a controversial commercialisation process. He is a chartered mechanical engineer and chartered director. He will take over from Kevin Myers, who has been acting chief executive since August 2013.
In December 2006, Geoff Wicker and Brian Wembridge lost their lives tackling a fire at Marlie Farm. Despite a High Court ruling that compensation must be paid to the families, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has refused to settle (Risks 616). Now the firefighters’ union, FBU, has launched a campaign for justice. Marlie Farm, owned and operated by Festival Fireworks Ltd, was destroyed when a fire broke out and came into contact with a metal container, packed with unlicensed fireworks, which exploded killing the two firefighters and injuring at least 20 others. A report into the incident found several contributing factors to the tragedy including a lack of training for firefighters, a lack of information about Marlie Farm, inadequate equipment and a failure of the authorities to inspect the site regularly. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) has been found liable for the deaths in two court cases, with the High Court rejected its claim that it had no responsibility towards its firefighters and owed them no duty of care. After losing the High Court argument, instead of offering compensation to the firefighters’ families, ESFRS challenged the judgment again. The appeal has been listed for February 2015. FBU is urging the public to back its campaign for justice and to sign its petition. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Geoff and Brian dedicated their lives to the fire service and their families deserve much better. The way East Sussex Fire and Rescue have behaved is shameful but they still do not seem to get the message. I implore all members to get behind the campaign in order to get justice for Geoff and Brian.”
Ÿ Sign the FBU petition.
The journalists’ union NUJ has joined the international community in expressing shock at the video showing the murder last week of US freelance journalist James Foley, who went missing in Syria in 2012. US authorities confirmed the video, titled ‘A message to America’, is authentic. Another captive, identified as American journalist Steven Sotloff, taken hostage in 2013, was shown at the end, with the threat that his fate depended upon the actions of US president Barack Obama. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “It is deeply alarming to see that journalists are becoming direct targets and their lives are being put at risk.” She said UN figures showed two journalists a week “are killed for bringing news and information to the public,” noting: “With broadcasters shutting foreign bureaus and making cuts to their staff, it has been increasingly the freelance journalists who have been reporting these events. Newspapers and broadcasting organisations must have a responsibility in ensuring that the people who work for them are properly briefed and trained in safety measures. The NUJ and the IFJ provides such training.” The union leader added: “The NUJ has also called on the international community to expose the shameful failure of governments to properly investigate and prosecute the killers of journalists and bring the perpetrators to justice. It is a simple fact that freedom of the press and free expression are not possible where journalists face extreme violence for doing their job.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
Rail union RMT is demanded that Northern Rail explain to the travelling public why they are putting posters on trains highlighting the safety role of conductors while at the same time planning to axe the role. The union says the rail firm is going along with government cost-cutting plans for the new franchise, which would axe conductors and move the whole service over to Driver Only Operation. The poster displayed on trains across the Northern Rail routes says: “Our priority is to keep you safe, so if you have any concerns please speak to the conductor.” Acting RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has argued that the conductor/guard role on our trains is essential in delivering both a safe environment and high quality services. That position is backed up by Northern in their external publicity while behind the scenes they are conniving with the government to axe those very same staff in the future. The whole situation stinks and exposes again that the new franchises are about nothing more than maximising profits.” He added: “The only solution to this racketeering on our railway tracks is public ownership and the return of our railways to the people on the basis that they are run as a public service and not as a get-rich-quick scheme for greedy private train companies.”
A refusal by Tube managers to respect the dignity of train drivers led to rock solid strike action on 22 August. The ASLEF members on the Central and Waterloo and City lines walked out in protest against “management’s refusal to treat drivers with respect.” The union’s district organiser Finn Brennan said: “Not a single ASLEF driver went to work on the Central line.” He said the union had been “working up to the last minute to try to persuade management to agree to abide by agreements they have made.” The union organiser said at the heart of the dispute is management’s refusal to treat drivers with the respect and dignity they deserve at work. “Our members will not tolerate a situation where vulnerable people leave sickness review meetings in tears and drivers with years and years of good and long service are threatened with disciplinary action for a delay of 33 seconds in leaving a terminus.” He said London Underground Ltd “is also cutting annual refresher training for drivers on the Central line by 20 per cent. This flies in the face of recommendations made by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch in its report into the ‘uncontrolled evacuation’ of a train at Holland Park last August which recommended staff on the line needed additional training.”
University College London (UCL) is under international pressure to do more to help workers on its campus in Qatar. UCL is one of eight universities from the UK, US and France criticised by the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) for not clamping down on the poor treatment of workers on their campuses in Qatar’s ‘Education City’. UK lecturers’ union UCU is backing the campaign and said it was disappointed UCL had not accepted responsibility for the welfare of people working on its Qatari campus. The union said that the university should be setting an example to the rest of the world through challenging human rights violations and promoting academic freedoms, not using subcontractors to try and discharge itself of responsibility. The ITUC has recently exposed modern-day slavery of workers building facilities for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. According to case studies in an ITUC letter to the universities, rather than bringing about change, the Qatar Foundation providing the subcontract labour to the universities is guilty of the same abuses of rights that are blighting the lives of the 2022 migrant construction workers. In a response to the ITUC, UCL said it has no direct influence over the subcontractors, even if their practices do not fit its 'world view'. The university did concede that it is concerned about working conditions in Qatar. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Our universities have a duty to ensure that people working on their foreign campuses have access to the same rights as they would be afforded in the UK. UCL should be using its influence to end this type of modern-day slavery and challenge practices that risk curtailing important academic freedoms. Hiding behind subcontractors is indefensible.”
The union GMB has described an industry compensation scheme for blacklisted construction workers as “grossly inadequate.” The scheme offers payments between £4,000 and £100,000. The union called the scheme “a damage limitation publicity stunt” and said many could win more through the courts. Many of those affected say they have been denied work for years as a result of being blacklisted for union activities or raising health and safety concerns. GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “Most people blacklisted by the construction companies behind the compensation scheme stand to win many times more from the courts. Therefore they should not be fooled by the cut price compensation on offer and should see it for what it is - a damage limitation publicity stunt.” The High Court in July gave unions permission to write to blacklisted workers to explain their compensation options. According to GMB’s Justin Bowden: “When we write to all those blacklisted we will tell them that one purpose of the scheme is for the companies involved to avoid High Court litigation. We will urge workers to get in touch with their current or previous union for advice first.”
Ÿ The Herald.
The family of a Newcastle upon Tyne retired firefighter, who died aged 78 from an asbestos cancer, has received compensation. The FBU member, whose name has not been released but who worked at a central Newcastle fire station for over 25 years, was diagnosed with mesothelioma on 1 August 2011 and died three days later. With the support of the FBU, union law firm Thompsons gathered crucial witness statements from former firefighters employed at the same fire station, who described asbestos exposure from attending fires in local shipyards, factories and houses. This evidence was vital in linking the member’s mesothelioma to his employment. Dave Green, FBU national officer, said: “This was a tragedy for the family and firefighter involved. It once again highlights the dangers faced by firefighters everywhere.” He added: “Although compensation cannot make up for the loss of a loved one, it does give security to the family left behind. The FBU can help firefighters and their families who find themselves in this awful situation.”
A UNISON member has been awarded more than £20,000 of damages for life-changing injuries suffered at work. Craig Buckingham was working at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust in 2009 when he slipped and twisted his knee on wet carpet tiles that had not been dried by cleaning contractors the night before. The 50-year-old ruptured his cruciate ligament, which needed replacing, and the following year needed knee replacement surgery. In total, he was off work for more than 10 months. The pain in Mr Buckingham’s knee was so agonising that he was barely able to leave his house. He said: “The accident had a massive impact on my life, because I couldn’t do the things I used to. At one point I couldn’t even walk without constant pain. It affected my family a lot too, because my wife had to take on extra responsibilities. My employers tried to deny knowledge of my accident even though they had been informed of it at the time.” UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna said: “What happened to Craig shows the importance of basic health and safety. One patch of damp floor with no warning signs caused no end of trouble. Craig suffered because simple procedures were not followed. I’m glad we were able to help our member secure compensation for his injuries.”
A volunteer nurse is being treated at a hospital in London after contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone. William Pooley returned to the UK on Sunday and is being kept in a special isolation unit at Hampstead's Royal Free Hospital. He had been caring for victims of the Ebola outbreak in Africa, which has killed almost 1,500 people. His is the first confirmed case of a Briton contracting Ebola in the current outbreak. The 29-year-old volunteer nurse is being treated in a unit designed for patients with highly infectious diseases, the only one of its kind in Europe. A special tent ensures medical staff can interact with the patient but are separated by plastic and rubber. Last week, two Americans who contracted the disease in Liberia made a recovery and were discharged from hospital in the US after being given an experimental drug called ZMapp. The drug has also been provided to Mr Pooley. In July, the global union federation Public Services International warned that health care workers in Africa had died in the ‘worst ever’ Ebola outbreak because they did not have the necessary tools and equipment. It said “criminal neglect” had led to the preventable deaths of dozens of healthcare workers (Risks 666). Department of Health deputy chief medical officer Prof John Watson has said the risk of Ebola to the UK remains “very low.”
Two brothers from Stoke-on-Trent with little or no experience of building and construction work have been given prison sentences after they exposed workers to asbestos, continually ignoring official orders to stop. At least seven workers are known to have been exposed to asbestos – one aged just 17 at the time – by snooker hall manager Akram Hussain, 52, and taxi driver Inam Hussain, 47, during refurbishment work at a former print works in Burslem. Stafford Crown Court was told that neither was qualified or experienced in construction, demolition or refurbishment work; nor were they licensed to remove asbestos. Nonetheless, they have been carrying out the work on the building for around ten years. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the brothers after an investigation found work was being carried out without the necessary asbestos surveys and without a Construction, Design and Management co-ordinator (CDM) in place, which is required if work is to take more than 30 days. Despite repeated visits from HSE inspectors and numerous enforcement notices warning them of their failings, the brothers continued to refurbish the building and disturb asbestos material. A prohibition notice was issued on 17 February 2012 stopping all work with, or liable to disturb, asbestos. A ‘Direction to Leave Undisturbed’ was also issued for the building until HSE had provided written confirmation that work could continue. However, several lorry-loads of waste contaminated with asbestos were removed from the site and taken to an unlicensed waste disposal site in Stoke-on-Trent. Workers were also witnessed exiting the site covered in dust and not wearing the correct protective clothing. A further prohibition notice and an improvement notice were served on Akram Hussain on 25 February 2012 when inspectors again found work being carried out without an asbestos survey or a CDM coordinator. A separate prohibition notice was also served on Inam Hussain on 18 May 2012 for the non-licensed removal of asbestos from the building. An improvement notice was served at the same time for the ongoing failure to appoint a CDM coordinator. Akram Hussain and Inam Hussain both pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. Akram Hussain was jailed for 22 months and ordered to pay costs of £43,000. Inam Hussain was jailed for 14 months.
An Edinburgh-based aviation services company has been fined more than £45,000 in the United States after an investigation into the death of a baggage handler found the firm had broken safety rules. Menzies Aviation was fined by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) following the death of Cesar Valenzuela, 51. He was killed after being thrown from a baggage cart at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that did not have a functioning seat belt. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) expressed concern because Mr Valenzuela was the fourth Menzies worker to die at California airports in eight years, with three deaths at LAX and one at San Francisco International Airport. Cal/OSHA fined Menzies nearly £60,000 ($95,000) in 2013 for using unsafe practices, including the type of safety violations that can cause serious harm or death. One of the 23 citations was for failing to comply with state seatbelt rules. More than 100 Menzies workers went on strike in May 2012 to protest at working conditions at LAX, citing concerns about the serious health and safety risks they faced on the job. In the latest case, Cal/OSHA investigators determined Menzies' safety policy did not require seat belts and discouraged use of safety belts in parts of the airport. Menzies officials said the firm would appeal the decision.
Ÿ The Herald.
A Scottish company has been found guilty at Jedburgh Sheriff Court of failing to ensure the health and safety of an employee who died at a Galashiels abattoir. Scottish Borders Abattoir Limited was convicted of a string of criminal safety offences and was fined £100,000. On 19 January 2011 David Barker, an employee at the company’s premises in Galashiels, was engaged in loosening fixings attaching the support frame of a partition door to tracking attached to the ceiling of a container unit and preparing the support frame for removal. Mr Barker died when the support frame of the door he was dismantling collapsed, trapping him by the neck and suffocating him. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to provide proper instruction, training or supervision and that there was no suitable and sufficient risk assessment carried out for the task and the system of work was unsafe. The incident could have been avoided had reasonably practicable precautions been taken, it found. Gary Aitken, head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) Health and Safety Division, said the criminal offences by Scottish Borders Abattoir Limited “led to the death of an employee. This was, sadly, an entirely avoidable tragedy which resulted in the loss of a loved one for the Barker family. Hopefully, today’s outcome will highlight the need for companies to keep the health and safety of their employees to the fore.”
The director of a Stockport-based building firm has been fined after leaving workers at risk from toxic dusts for three months. Roland Couzens, 67, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after it emerged bricklayers, plasterers and a roofer could have suffered skin burns or lead poisoning as there was no hot water to wash off dust and contaminants. Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Couzens, a director at CSC Construction Ltd, had been overseeing a project to refurbish a row of Victorian terraced houses between May and September 2013. The company, which has since gone into administration, had been stripping the houses bare before plastering them and fitting them with new kitchens and bathrooms. HSE carried out an inspection of the site on 4 September 2013 and found that one of the vacant properties was being used for the site office and to provide welfare facilities for the workers. However, there was no hot or warm water supply in either the kitchen or bathroom. The court was told that bricklayers and plasterers were put at risk of skin burns as they were working with cement and plaster, but could not use hot water to clean themselves. A roofer working with lead could also have suffered lead poisoning from residues on his skin. Roland Couzens was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £3,102 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.
An NHS Trust has been fined after it was found likely to have exposed workers to potentially fatal asbestos material for more than a decade at its three hospitals in Hertfordshire. Between April 2000 and December 2011, the estates team at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust was maintaining buildings at Watford General Hospital, Hemel Hempstead Hospital and St Albans Hospital without knowing that asbestos was present or being trained to identify and control exposure. The estates team, whose work is to carry out small repairs and maintenance projects where external contractors are not needed, could have disturbed asbestos fibres in the course of a job, but would have had no way of knowing or of protecting themselves. St Albans Crown Court was told that over the 11-year period, the Trust had identified some of the asbestos materials at their sites but did not have a management or monitoring plan in place to control the risks associated with the deadly fibre. It was only when additional surveys were carried out in December 2011 that the Trust realised more asbestos was present at all three hospitals than initially identified. West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £55,000 and ordered to pay £ 34,078 in costs after pleading guilty five criminal safety breaches.
OSHwiki – described as the first multilingual web platform allowing users to create, collaborate and share knowledge on occupational safety and health (OSH) – has gone live. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) says its initiative provides “a new way to network online with the OSH community, aiming to support government, industry and employee organisations in ensuring safe and healthy workplaces.” Dr Christa Sedlatschek, director of EU-OSHA, said: “The platform is an important step in the drive to improve health and safety in European workplaces and brings added value to those involved on both a professional and a personal level. OSHwiki allows experts to share their work with each other in one easy and convenient place, they can gain recognition from the global OSH community for their expertise, and benefit from having their work peer-reviewed by a wider audience.” A form on the OSHwiki page allows potential contributors to register as “accredited authors” who “can create and edit content quickly and easily.”
Poor safety systems at a rail company, compounded by lax government safety oversight, have been blamed oil train explosion that killed 47 people in Canada in 2013. Transportation Safety Board (TSB) chair, Wendy Tadros, presenting the official report into the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, said 18 factors played a role, including a rail company that cut corners and a Canadian regulator that did not do proper safety audits. The report came 13 months after a runaway train carrying 72 carloads of volatile oil from North Dakota derailed, hurtled down an incline and slammed into downtown Lac-Megantic. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways (MMA) went bankrupt after the disaster. The company and three of its employees, including the train driver, have been charged by Quebec prosecutors with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death. The official report now indicates the bulk of the blame lies with the company and the regulator. Wendy Tadros, chair of the TSB, said: “Accidents never come down to a single individual, a single action or a single factor. You have to look at the whole context.” She told a news conference in Lac-Megantic: “We now know why the situation developed over time. A weak safety culture at MMA, poor training of employees, tank cars that didn’t offer enough protection.” She added: “Transport Canada didn’t audit railways often enough and thoroughly enough to know how those companies were really managing, or not managing, risk.” The union USW said the report had identified “the true culprits.” Local union president Steven Hadden said: “They tried to make the workers carry the blame, but today's report clearly shows that the main parties responsible are the MMA and the federal agency.”
Ÿ Leader Post.
Ÿ Daily Mail.
Ÿ The Guardian.
A world without fatal or serious occupational injuries is possible, a major international conference has heard. Nearly 4,000 occupational safety experts, politicians and scientists from 139 countries gathered this week at the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2014 in Frankfurt, Germany. The event is co-organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA). According to the ILO, 2.3 million people worldwide die each year as a result of occupational illnesses and injuries. The global labour standards body puts the annual direct or indirect cost of occupational illness and injuries at US$2.8 trillion worldwide. “These figures are unacceptable and yet these daily tragedies often fail to show up on the global radar. Clearly, there is still much to be done. Serious occupational accidents are, firstly, human tragedies but economies and society also pay a high price,” said ILO director-general Guy Ryder. “The right to a safe and healthy workplace is a basic human right – a right to be respected at every level of development and in different economic conditions. Respecting this human right is an obligation – as well as a condition for sustainable economic development. Prevention is possible, it is necessary and it pays.”
The Indian government should end “manual scavenging” – the cleaning of human waste by communities considered low-caste – by ensuring that local officials enforce the laws prohibiting this discriminatory practice, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. In a 96-page report released this week, HRW says the government should implement existing legislation aimed at assisting manual scavengers find alternative, sustainable livelihoods. ‘Cleaning human waste: Manual scavenging, caste, and discrimination in India’ documents the ‘coercive nature’ of manual scavenging, with ‘low-caste’ workers compelled to remove waste by hand from dry toilets, sewers and septic tanks. “Successive Indian government attempts to end caste-based cleaning of excrement have been derailed by discrimination and local complicity,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director. “The government needs to get serious about putting laws banning manual scavenging into practice and assisting the affected caste communities.” HRW interviewed more than 135 people, including more than 100 people currently or formerly working as manual scavengers. It found women who clean dry toilets in rural areas often are not paid cash wages, but instead as a customary practice receive leftover food, grain during harvest, old clothes during festival times, and access to community and private land for grazing livestock and collecting firewood – all at the discretion of the households they serve. In other instances, wages have been withheld, with the workers forced against their will to continue clearing the human waste.
Ÿ HRW news release and full report, Cleaning Human Waste: ‘Manual scavenging,’ caste, and discrimination in India [pdf].
Workers in the fracking industry are exposed to high levels of dangerous chemicals including cancer-causing benzene, an official study has found. The US government’s occupational health research body OSHA evaluated worker exposures to chemicals during oil and gas extraction flowback and production testing activities. These activities are necessary to bring the well into production. Flowback refers to process fluids that return from the well bore and are collected on the surface after hydraulic fracturing (fracking). In addition to the mixture originally injected, returning process fluids can contain a number of naturally occurring materials originating from within the earth, including hydrocarbons such as benzene. NIOSH had earlier linked a series of deaths to chemical exposures from flowback operations (Risks 663). In the latest investigation, metabolites of benzene were found in the urine of fracking workers. The researchers also found technicians working over the flowback tanks were routinely exposed to benzene at above the NIOSH recommended exposure limit. They noted: “Task-based personal breathing zone samples for benzene collected during tank gauging on flowback tanks exceeded the NIOSH short-term exposure limit (STEL) for benzene (1 ppm as a 15-minute TWA). At several sites, direct-reading instrumentation measurements detected peak benzene concentrations at open hatches exceeding 200 ppm.” NIOSH concluded “that airborne concentrations of hydrocarbons, in general, and benzene, specifically, varied considerably during flowback and can be unpredictable, indicating that a conservative approach to protecting workers from exposure is warranted. Hydrocarbon emissions during flowback operations also showed the potential to generate flammable and explosive concentrations depending on time and where measurements were made, and the volume of hydrocarbon emissions produced.” The government body recommended changing work methods, providing improved training, limiting “the time spent in proximity to hydrocarbon sources” and provision of appropriate respiratory protection and impermeable gloves.
COURSES FOR 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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