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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 680 - 15 November 2014
Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at





Government misled Lords on self-employment

A government minister misled the Lords over plans to exempt most self-employed workers from the Health and Safety at Work Act, new information indicates. Ministers have claimed consistently that their proposals stem from Professor Ragnar Löfstedt’s government-ordered review which recommended withdrawing safety duties from self-employed people “whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others” (Risks 534). But the government turned that on its head and instead proposed exempting all self-employed people unless they are on a list of prescribed activities. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “This, as the HSE has admitted, will mean that many self-employed people who do pose a risk to themselves or others will no longer be covered by the Act.” Professor Löfstedt has consistent and publicly said that this was not what he proposed. During a 21 October Lords debate on the Deregulation Bill, however, government minister Lord Curry said: “I was in contact with Professor Löfstedt in the past week. He has seen the wording of the Bill and appears to be very content with it.” The Lords then voted to support the self-employed exemption. It has since come to light that Professor Löfstedt subsequently wrote to Lord Curry refuting his claims. “It is not correct to say that I was content with it,” he told Lord Curry. “I noted that it should be the other way around – that is we should be looking at exempting self-employed individuals who don’t pose risks to others such as novel writers, web designers and academics.”  The Bill is expected to return to the Lords before the end of the year, where Labour’s Lord McKenzie will once again try to amend the Bill. “Let us see whether the government will put their hands up and admit they have got it wrong,” commented TUC’s Hugh Robertson, adding: “Somehow I doubt it.”

Ÿ  TUC health and safety facebook page.

Ÿ  Lords debate, 21 October 2014.

Police ‘covered up’ links with union blacklisting

Scotland Yard has been accused of covering up its involvement in the blacklisting of more than 3,200 construction workers. The charge came after the emergence of minutes of a meeting between a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police anti-extremism unit and the organisation operating the blacklist. The document, leaked to the Labour MP John McDonnell, proves that as late as 2008 a detective chief inspector in the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Netcu) briefed members of the Consulting Association, the shady organisation that ran the illegal blacklisting service. The two-page document contains Consulting Association minutes of a meeting between six representatives of construction companies, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Costain, with detective chief inspector Gordon Mills. Mills, now a lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, was a “senior officer in national extremism unit dealing with UK domestic extremism”, according to his profile on the online networking site LinkedIn. The document, written by Ian Kerr, who ran the covert blacklister, records that Mills told the group the unit was expanding and that the purpose of the meeting was “to liaise with industry”. Scotland Yard has said it is investigating the allegations of police briefings. John McDonnell has written to home secretary Theresa May to demand an independent inquiry into blacklisting and the role of the police. The Blacklist Support Group, which supports blacklisted workers and about whom the police would “neither confirm nor deny” it held files (Risks 676), described the leak as “a major breakthrough for the campaign.” Group secretary David Smith said: “It is a cover-up. We have a name of a senior police officer, not a rogue constable, who was meeting with them.”

Ÿ  The Observer.

Ÿ  The Guardian.

CIPD ‘shamed’ by blacklisting inaction

Five years of failing to act against blacklisting has left the professional organisation for human resources managers “shamed” for failing to address “the rot in its own ranks”, GMB has said. Protesting outside the 6 November conference of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in Manchester, the union said the body “now appears little more than a self-serving organisation happy to take its members affiliations without question about who they are and what they have done.” GMB said its research has established that CIPD leadership failed to discipline any of the 19 members known to have been involved in the illegal blacklisting of construction workers, mostly targeted for making a stand on site safety. Last year CIPD told parliament it was investigating the allegations against the 19 members. It has now said no action will be taken until High Court proceedings for damages are completed.  GMB national officer Justin Bowden said CIPD “has been cowardly and ineffective in its efforts to remove the rot from its own ranks.” He added: “Hiding behind spurious excuses for inaction is an abdication of leadership by the CIPD hierarchy, who must abandon their disgraceful strategy of avoidance and appeasement and take action now.” Pledging to continue the campaign, he warned: “Just as the construction companies who paid their wages are being called to account in parliament, the courts and the media, every single one of these secret blacklisters will have their role dissected in public.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Deadly danger warning at army ranges

The lives of the public could be put at risk due to staff ‘being cut to the bone’ at Britain’s military training ranges, Unite has warned. Commenting ahead of a series of planned 24 hour strikes at army ranges, the union said it members at Landmarc Support Services, which runs the ranges for the Ministry of Defence (MOD), were concerned at proposed redundancies, safety issues and a lack of consultation. Unite said that the core of the dispute was “the lowest possible bid” put in by Landmarc to secure the five-year contract, after the company feared that it was going to lose the contract it had held for a decade. The union fears over a third of the company’s 1,000 strong UK workforce could go. It has written to the MOD asking for the contract to be reviewed. Unite added that “it is likely” that the ranges will have to close on health and safety grounds as the rolling programme of strike action unfolds during November. In his letter to the MOD, Unite regional officer Bob Middleton said: “If the professional range wardens are removed during live firing training it is our view that it will be a matter of time before a fatality occurs.” The jobs covered by Unite members include range wardens, technicians, administrators and estate workers.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  Westmorland Gazette.

Coastguard service changes put lives at risk

Decades of knowledge that could mean the difference between life and death are being lost because of coastguard cuts and restructuring, the union PCS has warned. It says high-tech gadgets and centralising services cannot replace in-depth local knowledge in the battle to save lives at sea. The union was commenting as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) pressed ahead with the closure of nine coastguard stations as part of a cost-cutting reorganisation programme. Resources are instead being concentrated in a centralised command post in Fareham, Hampshire. The union says this will mean a loss of local expertise and could lead to slowing of response times. PCS says since the government's closure programme was announced “the MCA has been haemorrhaging staff and this is putting the safety of seafarers and our coastal communities seriously at risk. We believe pressing ahead with the programme is putting communities at risk.” It adds: “The agency is having to recruit new staff because too many experienced coastguard workers have left, something we warned would happen. This means decades of knowledge about our coastlines, which in an emergency can mean the difference between life and death, are being lost.”

Ÿ  PCS news release.

Ÿ  Western Morning News.

Ÿ  Cornish Guardian.

Refinery workers walk out over safety concerns

Hundreds of contract workers walked out this week at an oil refinery in North Lincolnshire over safety concerns. At least 450 contract workers at the Philips 66 plant in South Killingholme left the site on Monday, following a gas leak the week before which led to two people being taken to hospital. The company employs 1,000 contractors and 750 staff. Mechanical engineers, scaffolders, welders and pipefitters are among the workers who walked out. GMB regional organiser Shaune Clarkson, speaking on Monday 10 November, said: “All we want is a reassurance that the site is safe, some safety issues addressed. Unfortunately, the employer has failed to do that and because of that then men have reacted. This is the straw that's broke the camel's back.” Commenting on 11 November, GMB national officer Phil Whitehurst said: “Following a major stoppage of work we have been advised that there is a major health and safety issue on the site. GMB has been refused access to the site in order to resolve what has been described to us as a major hazard. We urge the company to allow the union onto the site to try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible for the safety of workers and the public.”

Ÿ  Grimsby Telegraph.

Ÿ  Scunthorpe Telegraph.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Over 300 shopworkers assaulted a day

Over 300 shopworkers are assaulted every day according to the retail union Usdaw. General secretary John Hannett, speaking on 10 November at the start of Respect for Shopworkers Week, said: “Too often retail employees are confronted with violence, threats and abuse and it is really important we stand together and ask people to keep their cool and respect shopworkers.” He added that while shopworkers were expected to enforce the law on issues like under-age alcohol sales, they were poorly protected by the law themselves. “I’ve been shocked by the leniency of some of the sentences handed out for the assault of workers and our survey shows there is a real need to tackle this problem,” he said. “Every minute of every day another shopworker is assaulted, threatened or abused and it is time to say enough is enough. The government must act to address this issue and act quickly. Usdaw continues to campaign for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out. We must give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”

Ÿ  Usdaw news release.

Ÿ  Usdaw Freedom from Fear campaign.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Call for action 10 years after rail crossing tragedy

Rail union RMT has called for the phasing out of level crossings to be speeded up. The union, commenting on the tenth anniversary of the deadly collision between a train and a car on the crossing at Ufton Nervet on the Paddington to Plymouth line (Risks 183). Seven people died, including train driver Stanley Martin. RMT says that despite a Rail Accident Investigation Branch call for the crossing to be closed, Network Rail’s plans for a replacement bridge have failed to materialise. The union adds that since the crash on 6 November 2004, a further 11 people have died at the crossing, with the latest fatality occurring just last month. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “On the 10th anniversary of the disaster at Ufton Nervet we remember the driver and the members of the public who lost their lives in the tragedy. They will never be forgotten.” He added: “Ten years on it is almost impossible to believe that the action that needs to be taken to make this particularly crossing safe has not been implemented and that the death toll continues to rise. RMT continues to press both Network Rail and the local council to take the measures that have been talked about and promised for years to protect both the public and staff alike. There should be no more delays.” He said the tragedy “serves as a constant reminder of the ever-present danger of mixing road with rail and RMT will continue to campaign for the speed-up of the phasing out of level crossings and their replacement with modern solutions that put the safety of both rail staff and the public as an absolute priority.”

Ÿ  RMT news release.

Ÿ   BBC News Online.

Tesco warehouse worker hurt by forklift

The union Unite has secured more than £86,000 in compensation for a warehouseman who was seriously injured in an incident involving a forklift truck at a Tesco distribution centre. The member, an employee at Tesco’s Purfleet distribution centre, was standing on a pallet truck in an empty loading bay in the Essex warehouse when a colleague suddenly drove a forklift truck into it. The force of the impact threw the man off the pallet truck to the floor, and as he landed, he struck his left hip hard against another nearby truck. He suffered significant injuries to his back, left hip and left wrist, which doctors said are likely to affect him for the rest of his life. His injuries were so serious he was unable to carry out his usual work duties at Tesco and he ended up losing his job. The Unite member now works part-time in a less physically demanding role at a Post Office. After he initiated a Unite-backed compensation claim, Tesco admitted liability and agreed an £86,070 payout. Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “Tesco has no excuse and in areas where there is a risk of vehicle collisions it is all the more unforgiveable that they didn’t have systems in place.”

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Head injury at work caused epilepsy

A tall worker whose head smashed into a low doorway frame in poor lighting developed post-traumatic epilepsy as a result. Unite member Simon Davies has now received £266,500 in compensation. The 41-year-old was working as an LGV driver for Kuehne & Nagel Logistics based in Greater Manchester. Simon, who is 6ft 4” tall, hit his head on a low doorway at the entrance to his employer’s transport building because the area was poorly lit. The head injury caused post-traumatic epilepsy, seizures and serious psychological effects. Kuehne & Nagel Logistics initially offered to fund his rehabilitation but, after compiling a report into the incident, they withdrew their offer. Simon, who was forced to give up his job as an LGV driver because of his ongoing epilepsy, contacted Unite who started a compensation claim. Kuehne & Nagel Logistics’ contention that it was not to blame for the onset of Simon’s epilepsy was shown to be wrong by medical experts retained by union solicitors, who proved that the injury was the direct cause of his condition. Mick Whitley, Unite northwest regional secretary, said: “The importance of accessing early intervention treatment through rehabilitation cannot be underestimated. It almost always has a positive impact on the recovery of an individual, and it’s astonishing that Kuehne & Nagel offered and then retracted their offer to fund the treatment.”

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.


Bust waste firm guilty of corporate manslaughter

A defunct Rotherham recycling firm has been fined £500,000 after being found guilty of corporate manslaughter following the death of a worker three years ago. Waste processing machine operator Michael Whinfrey, 42, was killed working at the Sterecycle plant when a door failed and blew out under pressure in January 2011. Another man suffered “serious life-changing injuries”. Sterecycle, which denied the charge and was not represented in court during a five-week trial, is in liquidation. Det Sergeant Rob Platts of South Yorkshire Police, who led the joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said the verdict recognised the systemic failings of a company that had a duty of care to its employees. “The company was aware of a longstanding issue with the autoclave doors and made no effort to repair the problem properly, putting the lives of their employees at risk,” he said. Mr Whinfrey’s partner of 28 years, Margaret Crofts, said: “I have had to cope on a daily basis of not knowing or understanding what actually happened to Michael. With this guilty verdict now in, I know that through the negligence and incompetence of Sterecycle the company, Michael, through no fault of his own, was unlawfully killed.” Former maintenance manager Kevin Goss, 57, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice. Goss, former operations manager Steven Weaver, 38, and former operations director Paul Greenwell, 51, were earlier cleared of criminal health and safety breaches.

Ÿ  Rotherham Advertiser.

Ÿ  Sheffield Star.

Ÿ   Daily Mail.

Ÿ  Mirror.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Rail contractor told to explain serious incidents

Network Rail has hauled in the chief executive of a major contractor to explain a series of serious injuries, believed to include a worker who was airlifted from Cardiff Central station with “pelvic crush injuries” and severe blood loss. BAM Nuttall received nearly £210m in Network Rail contracts last year. But Network Rail’s chief executive, Mark Carne, was dismayed by what recent board minutes described as “several serious incidents”, and took the rare step of summoning BAM’s boss Stephen Fox to face the board and discuss plans to improve safety. The Independent reports that the minutes did not name the supplier, but said it had confirmed it was BAM, which is one of the UK construction industry’s biggest companies with 2013 revenue of £756m. The minutes state: “A hard line had been taken with the supplier and the company’s hard line had been communicated to all major suppliers.” Industry sources told the paper that two more suppliers might have been forced to explain themselves as Mr Carne looks to improve the railways’ safety record. Last year, the number of workforce injuries on the mainline network was 6,040, a 3.5 per cent increase on the previous 12 months. The regulator has approved plans to give Network Rail more than £250m of dedicated funding to better protect workers on tracks over the next five years. In September, BAM was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay costs of £42,700 after pleading guilty to criminal safety offence. A subcontractor was badly injured when a beam fell on him. BAM was found to have not assessed the risks properly.

Ÿ  The Independent.

'Toilet tax' hits call centre staff, says MP

Call centre staff are being hit with a "toilet tax" for leaving their desks, an MP has claimed. Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon said a constituent found he had lost £50 from his month's pay for “toilet visits”. The Labour MP said it seemed staff were “fined” for comfort breaks despite being given “copious amounts of water” to help them keep speaking to customers. During business questions at Westminster, Ms Moon told House of Commons leader William Hague: “A constituent found his payslip contained a deduction of £50. When he asked why he was told it was for toilet visits. It appears that call centre staff, while provided with copious amounts of water to keep their voices lubricated, are also then fined for going to the toilet.” She asked: “Can we have a debate on the toilet tax?” Mr Hague replied: “If it was a widespread issue or problem there might well be demand for this in the House but I hope you're able to resolve this for your constituents without us having to debate it on the floor of the House.” The TUC has warned workers do not have a legal right to go to the toilet during working hours without losing pay, and has called for the law to be changed (Risks 447). It noted that serious adverse health effects are linked to a lack of opportunities to use the toilet when required, a problem it said was widespread at work. The union body noted: “There is also a need for a specific legal right to use toilets in the employer's time [as opposed to the employee's time] without a deduction in pay, and without any harassment.”

Ÿ  Hansard, 6 November 2014.

Ÿ  BBC News.

Ÿ  ITV News.

Ÿ  Evening Telegraph.

Vector Aerospace workers get vibration disease

An international aerospace company based in Hampshire has been prosecuted after 13 employees were found to be suffering a debilitating nerve condition. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Vector Aerospace International Limited, of Gosport, after investigating reports that workers were being diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). In total, 13 employees who had worked at the same site for between five and 45 years were affected. Two of them were diagnosed at Stage 3 – showing the most severe and painful symptoms. Portsmouth Magistrates were told the firm, which has a workforce of around 2,700 internationally and 1,100 at Gosport, had surveyed the tools being used by workers in 2007. At that time they decided no controls were needed. As a result, and despite later reviewing their risk assessment, the recognised risks of vibration from the use of around 1,600 tools by 400-450 employees on the site was never controlled. The absence of mitigating measures for led to some workers being exposed to vibration levels likely to have exceeded the legal limits. HSE also found that the staff working with the tools had not been provided with any information or training about the risks posed by the work. The 13 cases were identified in 2013/14 after improved health surveillance was eventually introduced. Vector Aerospace International Ltd was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £2,514 in costs after admitting three criminal charges under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

Ÿ  HSE news release and vibration webpages.

Firms fined after worker is crushed

Two Derbyshire companies have been fined for criminal failings after a worker was crushed whilst dismantling steelwork. Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court heard the 47-year-old from Chesterfield was dismantling surplus steelwork and associated fittings for MMD Mining Machinery Developments Ltd at premises in Somercotes when the incident happened on 3 May 2011. He was employed by Instant Installations Ltd, which had been contracted to supply labour for the dismantling work for MMD Mining Machinery Developments Ltd’s newly-acquired building, next to its existing factory. He and other colleagues were using a scissor lift type work platform and other equipment to remove steelwork including some of the steel beams on which the overhead travelling cranes ran. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found both companies failed to plan or record the arrangements for carrying out the work. MMD Mining Machinery Developments had failed to notify HSE of the construction project, only doing so six weeks after the incident. In order to gain access to the steelwork to remove bolts, Instant Installations Ltd used a scissor lift that had been leased by MMD Mining Machinery Developments. But the scissor lift was also used to lower steel beams by resting them on the guard rails of the platform, a job for which an appropriate lifting device or crane should have been used. A heavier beam caused the lift’s alarm to sound, indicating the lift was overloaded. The beam subsequently toppled towards the factory floor, striking the worker operating the lift. He suffered serious head and chest crush injuries and remains off work. MMD Mining Machinery Developments Ltd was fined £26,666 and ordered to pay £8,013 in costs after pleading guilty to three criminal breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. Instant Installations Ltd was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,013 after admitting a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, and two of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Ÿ  Derbyshire Times.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Waste firm had a ‘dismal’ safety record

A waste firm in south-east London has been prosecuted after repeatedly putting its employees at potentially deadly risk from heavy machinery. Westminster Magistrates was told the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had to serve Greenwich-based Murphys (Waste) Ltd with a total of ten enforcement notices between 2009 and early 2014. The most serious breaches related to defects in machines which presented a “risk of death or serious personal injury to employees and people on site.” HSE told the court the latest two failures, relating to a loading shovel and a 360 degree excavator, had prompted the prosecution. An annual inspection by an engineer in October 2013 found a loading shovel had faults including extensive damage to the bolts fixing the front bucket to the machine, which could have led to the bucket falling off and crushing anyone nearby. Murphys (Waste) Ltd was advised not to use it until repairs were carried out but was later found to have kept it in use until a visit by HSE in January 2014, when a prohibition notice was served to halt any further use of the vehicle. In a visit just days later, HSE identified an excavator was being used but had neither its left-side mirror or rear mirror in place, severely restricting the visibility of the driver, again posing a risk to other workers. HSE served a further prohibition notice on the company preventing its use. The court was told that on top of these two breaches, the company had been inspected by HSE six times over five years resulting in eight enforcement notices. Two of these had related to defects on a shovel loader and one had required the firm to introduce a proper system for maintenance of the vehicles. Murphys (Waste) Ltd was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £1,287 in costs after admitting two criminal offences under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Ÿ  HSE news release.


Asia: Low standards in the hitech industry

Every day thousands of workers in Asia are exposed to dangerous chemicals without the required protection while making computers and other hitech equipment, a new report has found. ‘Winds of change’, produce for ElectronicWatch and which involved fieldwork in South Korea, noted that the chemicals used included benzene, a heavily restricted and potent human carcinogen. Case histories also linked exposures to pregnancy problems. The report found that workers attempting to unionise Samsung plants and its suppliers both inside and outside South Korea faced harassment. It noted that Samsung's has a no union policy along its supply chain. The multinational employs a range of tactics to deter attempts to unionise, including dispatching workers to other factories, dismissing workers, and issuing threats to workers and their families. According to ElectronicsWatch: “The suppression of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining make it impossible for workers to promote fairer and safer working conditions.” It adds: “European governments have a declared goal of being socially responsible in all its investments. This is however made impossible by the lack of structures and transparency in the electronics industry.” 

Ÿ  Electronics Watch news release and full report, Winds of change: public procurement's potential for improving conditions in the ICT industry.

Ÿ  Green America blog.

Global: Union campaign wins cargo safety code

Sustained campaigning by the global transport union federation ITF has helped secure an international code of practice on safety in the packing of cargo containers. ITF’s road, rail, dockers’ and seafarers’ sections all participated in the campaign, which has now seen the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) governing body endorse a code of practice on the safe packing of cargo transport units. This means the code now has the approval of all three agencies that developed it – ILO, the International Maritime Organisation and UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe). The process was kicked off three years ago, when ITF lobbying led to an ILO global dialogue forum on safety in the container supply chain and then to the creation of a working group. The code sets out practical guidelines on packing and securing (including for fumigation and dangerous goods), safe handling, receipt and unpacking. It also addresses training and the chain of responsibility. Mac Urata, ITF inland transport secretary, said the code “is hugely important, as it can be turned into national legislation to make packing, weighing, loading and transporting containers safer for workers and reduce accidents.” He added: “We encourage our affiliates to step up the pressure in their own countries so that as many governments as possible adopt its provisions and get them implemented.” Canada has already adopted the code’s provisions into national legislation.

Ÿ  ITF news release and the ITF container safety campaign.

New Zealand: Unions press for safer workplaces

The New Zealand government should act after a series of highly critical reports and upgrade the country’s failing workplace safety system, the national union federation CTU has said. Presenting its submission on a Health and Safety Reform Bill to parliament’s Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, CTU vice-president Richard Wagstaff said: “The government has now instituted or supported three thorough inquiries in to the state of workplace health and safety. These reviews have been unanimous in their recommendations for change and the government must now stay the course and respect their findings.” CTU says the Health and Safety Reform Bill contains several important measures such as stronger duties on directors of companies, shared responsibilities for companies that share a workplace, greater powers for health and safety representatives and stronger enforcement measures. “We are concerned that some employers are trying to undermine the recommendations of these inquiries by weakening the Bill. The arguments for doing so rest on flimsy evidence and we call on the Committee to challenge scaremongering and weak evidence by submitters,” Wagstaff said. The CTU believes changes to worker participation requirements are a “crucial weak link” in the Bill. It notes many weaknesses in worker participation were identified by an Independent Taskforce and says some changes from their recommendations in the Bill are a backwards step. The union body says that a default system of worker participation should be retained and health and safety committees must be strengthened.

Ÿ  NZCTU news release.

South Korea: End abuse of migrant agricultural workers

South Korea’s agriculture industry depends on migrant workers – but these suffer appalling living and working conditions. ‘Bitter harvest’, a new report from Amnesty International, says that government's Employment Permit Scheme (EPS) directly contributes to this exploitation. The report documents intimidation and violence, squalid accommodation, excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, an absence of weekly rest days and workers forced to apply pesticides without protective clothing. There are approximately 20,000 migrant agricultural workers in South Korea, with many arriving from Cambodia, Nepal and Vietnam under the EPS. The majority take on huge debts equivalent to two years’ salary in their home country to get a job in South Korea. “The EPS leaves migrant workers at the mercy of unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the system’s severe restrictions on migrants’ ability to change jobs. For many migrants saddled with huge debts, staying with an abusive boss appears the only option,” said Amnesty International researcher Norma Kang Muico. Global food and farming union federation IUF has joined with Amnesty in calling for urgent action by the Korean government to stop this systematic pattern of exploitation. IUF Asia/Pacific regional secretary Hidayat Greenfield commented: “We are supporting education and organising of migrant workers employed on farms in Korea, particularly workers from Cambodia, to raise awareness of their rights and build collective bargaining power to tackle abusive working conditions.”

Ÿ  IUF news report

Ÿ  Amnesty International news release.

Ÿ  Support the Amnesty International campaign. Bitter Harvest [pdf], Amnesty International, October 2014.

USA: Study finds cancer chemicals at fracking sites

Tests of air around homes near natural gas drilling wells and other production equipment in five US states have found sometimes grossly elevated levels of chemicals linked to cancer. The results of the study, published last week in the journal Environmental Health, detail airborne chemical levels around gas production sites in Pennsylvania, where hydrofracking has boomed for seven years, as well as Wyoming, Arkansas, Colorado and Ohio. “All the attention being paid just to pollution to water from fracking has been misplaced,” said David Carpenter, lead author of the study and director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany. “Our tests show that the air around gas sites is much more dangerous.” The paper notes: “Levels of eight volatile chemicals exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances. Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulphide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels.” Some samples, all taken off site in the community, were in excess of occupational standards. Both benzene and formaldehyde are rated as group 1 human carcinogens by the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Study co-author Gregg Macey, an associate law professor at Brooklyn Law School: “Our study focuses on complex mixtures of chemicals that can persist at ground level in air that residents routinely breathe. This includes spots that are a considerable distance from well pads, and beyond prevailing setback requirements.” Setbacks are buffer zones between drilling activities and local communities. Exposures faced by some fracking workers within these zones are likely to be significantly higher. Studies by US government safety agencies have already confirmed high exposures to carcinogenic and toxic chemicals including benzene during some fracking operations (Risks 669), with some related poisoning deaths also confirmed (Risks 663).

Ÿ  Gregg Macey, David Carpenter and others. Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study, Environmental Health, volume 13:82, 2014.

Ÿ  Times Union.

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