|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
There are a lot of health and safety myths out there – like workplace safety regulations are a burden or there is a costly compensation culture gripping the country – but the safety regulator’s myth-busting mission is seriously off target, warns the TUC. The union body was speaking out after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a report it commissioned from the University of Exeter that examined cases referred to HSE’s ‘mythbusters’ panel. The report found a lot of the ‘myths’ referred to the panel are about fear or legal action, deficiencies in training and the avoidance of costs. It also determined most of the cases that the HSE panel looks at are nothing to do with occupational health and safety – with just 15 per cent on topic. “And that is part of the problem,” according to TUC head of health of safety Hugh Robertson. “The work of the HSE on mythbusting does not seem to differentiate between workplace health and safety stories and all the rest, despite the fact that it is the regulator for occupational health and safety, not hanging baskets, putting up bunting and school uniform policies (all of which were looked at by the panel).” He notes: “Where the HSE has often been really good is in rebuttals of some of the stupid press stories about ‘health and safety gone mad’, but for some reason the press seem to be reluctant to report on their own mistakes.” The union safety specialist concludes: “For me it all comes down to priorities. Myth-busting is useful, because misinterpretation can be confusing and unhelpful but, as far as I know, no-one ever got killed by an overly-zealous employer. I think we can all agree that it is those employers who are not even complying with their minimum legal requirements that are the problem, such as the half of employers who have not even done a basic risk assessment. Given that over 2 million people are suffering from a condition caused by, or made worse by, their work, that really has to be the priority.”
Workplace stress causes heart and other chronic diseases, higher rates of sickness absence and suicides. So why, asks TUC’s Hugh Robertson, are the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and employers doing ‘sod all’ of any use to tackle the bad management practices at the root of the problem? In a special report in Hazards magazine he points to an October 2014 report from the HSE that found: “The rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, for both total and new cases, have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.” According to the TUC safety specialist: “What that means is that after 10 years of stress management standards sod all has happened, or at least what has happened has made no difference.” He says while occupational stress is clearly recognised at a top workplace health problem, it is not been addressed by the regulator like other workplace risks. “So given that over 400,000 workers are being made ill every year, how many prosecutions has it taken? None. HSE inspectors are told they cannot prosecute an employer on stress,” he reveals. “HSE inspectors have issued a small number of improvement notices since 2002 where stress has been mentioned, usually as part of a more general problem. But there have been none in the past five years .If this was any other hazard and any other condition I think there is little doubt that the HSE would be taking a different approach. This lack of action means that employers are getting away scot-free.” Employers, meanwhile, “see it as being a ‘well-being’ initiative, not a health and safety one.” The TUC safety specialist concludes: “The problem is that tackling stress can mean changing working practices, increasing staffing levels or changing management systems and so it is clear that the majority of employers are just sticking their head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away, or instead, are trying to fix the workers. The result is hundreds of thousands of workers have to live with totally avoidable depression or anxiety.”
Ÿ Distressing failure: Who says work has to be like this?, Hazards magazine special report, December 2014.
Journalists’ unions have condemned the killing of 12 people in an attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Eight journalists and cartoonists - including the magazine's editor - died along with two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor when masked men armed with assault rifles stormed the office on 7 January. Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the journalists’ union NUJ, said: “The assassination of journalists at Charlie Hebdo, cynically targeted on press day to maximise casualties, is an attempt to assassinate the free press.” She added: “Supporters of free speech and civil liberties must stand together with governments to condemn this act and defend the right of all journalists to do their job without fear of threats, intimidation and brutal murder.” Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, president of the European Federation of Journalists said the attack was “a barbaric act of violence against journalists and media freedom.” The head of the TUC’s international department, Owen Tudor, writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, said: “Violence at work is a key health and safety issue for many unions, but it has a particular importance for journalists because of the function they perform in keeping democracy and freedom of speech alive. The attack on Charlie Hebdo came all too soon after the publication of the annual International Federation of Journalists’ (IFJ) report of 118 journalists’ deaths in 2014.”
An online survey of members of construction union UCATT has highlighted the massive safety failings that workers in the industry continue to face. Over a fifth (21 per cent) of the 750 respondents to the survey did not believe that their employer took their health and safety seriously. The union said a “worrying” 11 per cent of those responding believed their workplace had become more dangerous in the last 12 months, with 55 per cent of the total saying that there had been no improvement in safety in the last year. The three biggest safety concerns were falls from height, manual handling and lifting, and stress. Three out of five survey respondents (60 per cent) said their jobs could result in contact with asbestos, with nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of these believing it was a major safety concern. Over a third of respondents (36 per cent) said they or their colleagues had been exposed to asbestos in the last 12 months. A significant minority of workers (38 per cent) believed their employer did not have adequate procedures in place to prevent exposure to asbestos and over a quarter (28 per cent) did not believe that they had received adequate training on asbestos awareness and what to do if asbestos was discovered. Despite it being a legal requirement for an employer to supply workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), 8 per cent of respondents said that this was not supplied by their employer. Where PPE was supplied a further 15 per cent reported it was not regularly replaced and did not meet their workplace needs. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “The findings of this survey are alarming and demonstrate that far more needs to be done in order to improve workplace safety. Employers are playing fast and loose with the safety of workers. When considering these findings it also must be remembered that in general levels of safety are higher in union organised workplaces.”
Cowboy fuel tanker operators face being driven off the road after a new Petroleum Driver Passport (PDP) covering over 6,000 tanker drivers across England, Scotland and Wales came into force on 1 January. The passport, introduced by the Downstream Oil Industry Distribution Forum – a partnership of employers, industry bodies and the transport union Unite - is aimed at driving up health and safety standards. The union says it will see fuel depots and refineries refusing to load tankers whose drivers do not hold a PDP. Several thousand tanker drivers have already completed the training accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to obtain the passport, which covers the safe delivery of petrol and diesel to the nation’s forecourts. Training is a mixture of classroom and practical learning. The passport is renewed on a five year cycle, but also has an annual refresher requirement. Unite national officer Tony Devlin said: “Drivers working for cowboy operators often have little or no idea of the equipment they are supposed to use. If the equipment is not properly understood, or the inflammable nature of the product being delivered, then a serious incident or explosion could occur.” He added: “The petroleum driver passport is a real success for our members in helping halting the race to the bottom and drive up standards in health and safety. It will ensure professionalism and bring about stability to a vital, but increasingly fragmented, industry which has over 300 contractors in the UK. The new system should discourage cowboys and low cost operators who come into to the industry to make a quick buck and then get out again.”
Teaching union NUT is scaling up its campaign on the deadly risk posed by asbestos in schools, and is pressing the Department for Education (DfE) to come clean about the findings of a policy review. The union notes: “Asbestos in schools is dangerous and the number of deaths is increasing. It is unacceptable, therefore, that the DfE is delaying publication of the findings of its review of asbestos policy in schools, which could set an agenda for change.” It is urging people to send an online letter to the education minister demanding action on the issue. The letter notes that, as well as the “even greater” risk to children, hundreds of teachers have died of asbestos cancers. “You may not be aware that in 2012, 22 teachers died of mesothelioma,” it says. “The number dying has increased from three a year in 1980 and 16 in 2011. 291 school teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980; 177 have died since 2001.” In December 2012, a retired teacher who spent 35 years in Lancashire primary schools appealed to her former colleagues for help in a legal battle with Lancashire County Council after she was diagnosed with the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Penny Devaney was diagnosed with the disease in July 2013. The 64-year-old mother-of-two and grandmother-of-four worked at a number of schools around Lancashire between 1978 and 2004. She carried on working as a supply teacher until her retirement in 2012. She says she was exposed to “dirty and dusty environments as construction was taking place at the schools.”
Equity member Rachael Presdee has been awarded £3.7 million compensation after suffering a life-changing injury at the Soho Theatre in London which means she now needs to use a wheelchair. Rachael was a stage manager on the Headlong Theatre production of Boys in 2012. On 9 June 2012 she fell through an unguarded backstage door and dropped three metres on to the open stage, suffering serious and permanent injury to her spine. Rachael, who had not worked at the Soho before, was preparing for a matinee and went up a set of spiral stairs to find a theatre employee who could locate the stage light controls. She went through a standard, unmarked door which had no warning signs or notices. When she opened the door she was immediately met with a black curtain which she assumed was a light blocker commonly found in theatres. She went into what she thought was a room but stepped into open air above the stage. In December 2014, damages of £3.7 million were agreed in an out of court settlement. In a separate, criminal action the Soho Theatre was prosecuted by Westminster City Council for a criminal safety offence related to the incident. At a December sentencing hearing, the firm was fined £20,000 plus £10,000 costs. Rachael, who now lives in Australia, commented: “I am immensely grateful for the support I received from Equity throughout this whole process, and take this opportunity to urge all theatre operators to please ensure that safety risks, no matter how seemingly big or small, are properly managed so that no other theatre worker has their life so catastrophically altered by something which could have been so easily prevented by simple, cheap and obvious steps.” Equity general secretary Christine Payne commented: “I am in awe of Rachel’s good humour and strength,” adding: “Equity was with her from the day of the accident and all the way through, including funding the legal case for her compensation. This is what we do – give unstinting support to members when they need it most.”
Ÿ The Stage.
Ÿ The Express.
Ÿ The Guardian.
East Sussex fire bosses who forced the families of two fallen firefighters into a gruelling court battle have finally agreed to pay compensation. The announcement marks the final chapter in a painful struggle for the relatives of Geoff Wicker, 49, and Brian Wembridge, 63, who were killed by an explosion during a fireworks factory blaze at Marlie Farm in 2006. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) revealed in a 27 December 2014 statement that it would no longer appeal against a 2013 High Court judgment ordering payouts to the families of the dead and injured colleagues. Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said the decision was “welcome” but added that it was a “scandal it has taken this long for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to admit its guilt and to honour the ruling of the court. Those responsible for these outrageous decisions should hang their heads in shame for prolonging this painful process.” Factory owners Martin and Nathan Winter were jailed in 2009 for seven and five years respectively for manslaughter. ESFRS was also found guilty of criminal offences contributing to the deaths of the men, including failures of training, planning, and a communications breakdown which led to a flawed evacuation when the danger became evident. In 2013 the High Court, hearing a compensation claim, found in the firefighters’ favour but the authority appealed. Mr Wrack told the Morning Star the union’s “tireless campaigning” had “paid off.” He added: “Geoff and Brian died in the line of duty serving the public. We have a duty to make sure their families are looked after and that justice is done.”
A worker has received a £2,500 payout after a scissor-wielding company director threatened to kill him. BECTU member Peter Fermor was injured in the assault. At the time he was working for Bristol Film Television Services where he was responsible for the transport requirements of the television production team. He was accused by the company director of breaking a generator - an accusation BECTU says he strongly denied and had no knowledge of. Suddenly the director, without warning, lunged towards him in the company’s tea room in an attempt to stab him. As he did so, the director shouted that he would “kill” him. A colleague was unable to restrain the company director as he violently pushed Mr Fermor against a wall by the throat, causing him to hit his head with enough force to make it bleed. Following the assault, Mr Fermor and the colleague who had tried to assist him were forced to stay in the same room by the director for 40 minutes as he continued the verbal onslaught against them, despite Mr Fermor saying he was unwell. The company director was formally cautioned by the police following the incident. Faced with a BECTU-backed compensation claim, Bristol Film and Television Services admitted liability for their senior employee’s attack on the company premises and agreed a £2,538 compensation settlement. Mr Fermor said: “The attack was absolutely terrifying, I can’t bear to think what could have happened if another colleague hadn’t been in the room and was willing to intervene. I had undergone open heart surgery just a few years before the attack, and at one point I thought I was about to have a heart attack.” He added: “I had worked at the company for 15 years so this was a really terrible way for my time there to come to an end.” BECTU general secretary, Gerry Morrissey, said he was “disappointed” that more serious criminal action was not taken against the director responsible. He added: “Violent and aggressive behaviour like this should not happen anywhere, and certainly not in the workplace.”
Bad genes, bad luck and bad habits are frequently blamed for cancers, but stronger evidence of the occupational and environmental origins of our cancers is much more likely to be disputed or dismissed. A December 2014 paper in journal Science, concluded two-thirds of the cancer types analysed were linked to chance mutations. It noted: “These results suggest that only a third of the variation in cancer risk among tissues is attributable to environmental factors or inherited predispositions. The majority is due to ‘bad luck,’ that is, random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells. This is important not only for understanding the disease but also for designing strategies to limit the mortality it causes.” The mention of the role of ‘bad luck’ attracted blanket coverage in the popular press. In another December announcement to attract widespread press coverage, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) said more than four in 10 cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. According to CRUK, nearly 600,000 cancer cases in the UK could have been avoided in the last five years if people had healthier lifestyles. However critics say the tendency to blame genes, personal habits or just plain bad luck, steers the blame from many of the major environmental and occupational factors where regulatory and other interventions could eliminate the risk. ‘Chance mutations’ are frequently the product of exposure to carcinogens, with benzene exposure a particularly well documented example. Ted Schettler, science director of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), criticising the “bad luck” paper, noted: “By drawing conclusions that go beyond their data, the authors may deflect attention from the critical need to expand public health cancer prevention programmes in our homes, communities, and workplaces. That would truly be an unfortunate outcome.” Hazards magazine points to the 100 per cent mortality from bladder cancer in workers exposed to beta-naphthylamine in one US plant. Or the conservative 2009 study that concluded one in 10 UK carpenters born in the 1940s would die of asbestos-related lung cancer or mesothelioma (Risks 396). Other examples like nasal cancer in leather workers or mesothelioma hotspots in areas with high concentrations of dockwork or chemical production show that the working and living environment is frequently the difference between being at risk and being killed. Almost all causes of lung cancer, the UK’s biggest cancer killer, were identified in workplace studies.
Ÿ Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein. Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions, Science, volume 347, number 6217, pages 78-81, 2 January 2015.
Ÿ Lifestyle behind more than half a million cancers in five years, CRUK news release, 26 December 2014.
Ÿ Ted Schettler. Cancer, stem cells and bad luck, critical online commentary from the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, 6 January 2015.
A new analysis of data from the world’s largest and longest-running study of women’s health finds that rotating night shift work is associated with higher death rates. The new findings add to a growing awareness that long-term night shift work comes with serious occupational health risks. An international team of researchers investigated possible links between rotating night shift work and all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality in a study of almost 75,000 registered US nurses. Using data from the Nurses' Health Study (NHS), the authors analysed 22 years of follow-up and found that all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related mortality were significantly increased among women who worked more than five years of rotating night shifts when compared to those who never worked the night shift. In addition, the study found that working 15 or more years of rotating night shifts was associated with a modest increase in lung cancer mortality. The findings published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine “add to prior evidence of a potentially detrimental relation of rotating night shift work and health and longevity,” the paper concludes. In December 2014, Health Survey for England data showed there were higher rates of obesity and ill-health in shiftworkers than the general population. It showed shiftworkers were in worse health despite often being young. The report, by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, showed 33 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women of working age were doing shift work.
Ÿ Fangyi Gu, Jiali Han, Francine Laden and others. Total and Cause-Specific Mortality of US Nurses Working Rotating Night Shifts, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published online ahead of print, 5 January 2015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.10.018
The Scottish government should consider regulating mountain guides, a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) has recommended. Sheriff Derek Pyle made the recommendation following the inquiry into the death of Graham Paterson almost two years ago on the Isle of Skye. Outdoor pursuits website Grough reports that Mr Paterson, who had 20 years mountaineering experience and was a former member of the Skye Mountain Rescue Team, was fatally injured in a fall on the Cuillin in December 2012, while he was guiding a Bristol teacher on an icy mountain route. The 60-year-old had been hired by Ildiko Kerek to take her on a hillwalking trip. Although she was a hillwalker, and had undertaken routes in the Lake District, the Pyrenees and Kilimanjaro, she had only once used crampons in winter, and had no experience on technical winter routes and did not know how to use an ice-axe. Mr Paterson fell while the pair were climbing up the corrie, suffering chest injuries that led to his death. In his determination, Sheriff Pyle said “consideration should be given by Scottish government and relevant stakeholders to discovering a means, whether statutory or otherwise, to ensure that mountain guides in Scotland are properly qualified and equipped to provide a commercial mountain guiding service for adults.” Although commercial trekking and climbing activities for the under 18s are covered by legislation covering competence, there is no legal requirement for those leading and instructing adults in the UK to have relevant qualifications.
A 20-year-old man died on his first day at work for a new company when the four-tonne dumper he was driving toppled over a bank and crushed him. Daniel Whiston, from Dulverton, was allowed to drive the dumper, which had a number of serious defects, before it overturned down the embankment at Sweetings Farm, near Tiverton, on 27 October 2009. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident, and prosecuted Mr Whiston’s employers, company directors William Friend and Robert Plume, at Exeter Crown Court. The court heard that Plume and Friend’s company, Wedgewood Buildings Ltd, had been contracted to expand a pond on the farm, which involved excavating and moving spoil around the site. Mr Whiston received about 30 minutes’ training from a more experienced colleague, who was also operating an excavator and filling the dumper, before he started his first day’s work. During the afternoon, the excavator operator, who was the only other worker on site, saw the fully-loaded dumper driven by Mr Whiston topple off the side of the causeway and down the 60 degree slope, turning over and crushing him underneath. Robert Plume and William Friend each pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. Each was given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, and 180 hours of community service, to be completed within a year. They were also ordered to pay costs of £25,000 each. HSE inspector Jonathan Harris said the death was “needless”, adding: “Mr Whiston was not given suitable basic or advanced training under the industry’s Construction Plant Competence Scheme and was, instead, given a short briefing by a worker who himself had no formal qualifications for driving the dumper.”
Criminal employers continue to jeopardise the health of workers, with several facing the courts in late December 2014 after a worker was killed. Glass recycling firm Recresco Ltd was fined £180,000 plus £38,693 costs after Ian Aliski, 29, was killed on his first day at work when the unsuitable forklift truck he was driving overturned. He had been hired on a temporary four-day contract. Global metal recycling company European Metal Recycling Ltd was £150,000 plus £80,000 costs after subcontract worker William (Billy) Ward, 56, was killed when part of a 33-tonne metal barge he was dismantling collapsed on top of him. Barnet Homes Ltd was fined £37,000 plus £75,000 costs after heating engineer Alan Young, 68, was found dead in a communal boiler house on one of their housing estates. It is believed the lone worker, whose body was only discovered the next day, fell from an unsafe mobile scaffold. Malcolm John Reeve, a senior partner and co-owner of the Urra estate, was fined £20,000 plus £1,681 costs after occasional worker James Gaffney, 79, died in an overturned all-terrain vehicle on remote moorland, used by the business for pheasant shoots. Yorkshire’s National Coal Mining Museum Trust and two companies were told to pay £590,000 in fines and costs after Michael Buckingham, 58, was crushed and killed at the museum in 2011. He died after he became trapped between a tunnel construction machine 138 metres below ground and a dumper loader that he was operating. His employer, Amalgamated Construction Ltd, was fined £110,000 plus £245,000 costs. Machinery supplier Metal Innovations Ltd was fined £80,000 with £110,000 in costs. The museum trust was fined £10,000 with £35,000 in costs. Contractor Ward Bros (Plant Hire) Ltd was fined £85,000 plus £55,000 costs and quarry operator CEMEX UK Materials Ltd £60,000 plus £37,500 in costs after Gary Ian Ward, 43, went to investigate a problem with a large mobile crushing machine, which moved and crushed him causing death by asphyxiation.
A Surrey-based civil engineering firm and a Hampshire fabrication company have been fined for exposing workers to lead during refurbishment work on the iconic Nab Tower in the Solent. Russell Leggett and Robert Peach required hospital treatment after inhaling dust and fumes when steel coated in lead paint was cut into and removed from the structure in July 2013. Blood tests showed levels of lead far in excess of the maximum legal level for lead in blood –almost double the limit in Russell’s case. Both workers required intensive treatment and months of monitoring before their blood tests returned to allowable levels. Bam Nuttall Ltd and Four Tees Engineering Ltd were both prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified failings with control measures surrounding the steel cutting work. Portsmouth Crown Court heard that Bam Nuttall was responsible for a project to remove weathered steel from the Nab Tower, a former military control installation that has become an important beacon for captains navigating the busy waters around the Isle of Wight and the Solent. The work involved removing sections of steel using industrial torches, a job that was sub-contracted to Four Tees, with workers from both companies involved. HSE inspectors concluded little had been done stop the spread of lead dust and contamination. Russell and Robert, whose blood tested positive, were both employed by Four Tees. Robert had a reading of 97 and Russell 110 micrograms/dl of blood against an official limit of 60. Three Bam Nuttall workers were also exposed and put at risk, although their tests proved inconclusive. Bam Nuttall was fined £56,000 plus £6,165 in costs after pleading guilty to four criminal safety breaches. Four Tees Engineering Ltd was fined £14,000 with £2,081 costs for criminal breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.
The theme for Workers’ Memorial Day 2015 will be “removing exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace”, global union confederation ITUC has announced. The union body says the theme includes an opportunity for unions to highlight chemical-related hazards, asbestos “as well as the Ebola virus and other potentially hazardous biological exposures.” It adds slogans, twitter hashtag suggestions and other communication tools will be posted on the ITUC/Hazards 28 April webpages. Europe-wide, the ETUC has already announced it will use the 28 April event to further its campaign on hazardous substances.
Individuals with chronic exposure to lead at work are 80 per cent more likely to develop Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Canadian researchers have concluded. Publishing the findings of the analysis of 13 studies of individuals with ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’ in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the authors note the association was first spotted a century ago. The new research found people with a history of work-related lead exposure were 1.81 times more likely to develop ALS. The authors note: “The available data suggest that about 5 per cent of all sporadic ALS cases may be attributable to occupational exposure to lead, although the actual attributable fraction could be somewhat lower because of the assumptions in this calculation.” They conclude: “Confirmation of the present findings in future studies would serve both to elucidate the causes of ALS, and to support risk mitigation actions to further reduce the risk of ALS because of exposure to lead from occupational and other sources.”
Ÿ Ming-Dong Wang and others. A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies of the Association Between Chronic Occupational Exposure to Lead and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 56, number 12, pages 1235-1242, December 2014. The Pump Handle.
Seven company bosses and eleven local officials have been given jail terms of up to nine years for their part in China’s worst factory fire in recent history. The fire at Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co killed 121 workers and injured another 76 in June 2013 when an electrical short circuit ignited combustible material inside the factory. This set off a series of explosions in the plant’s ammonia pipelines. Many of the nearly 400 workers in the factory were trapped behind locked exits. Baoyuanfeng’s chairman, Jia Yushan, was given the harshest sentence, nine years in prison and a one million yuan (£137,000) fine, for “failing to ensure a safe working environment.” Other managers at construction and engineering companies associated with operations at the factory were sentenced to between three and seven years in jail. In a separate court hearing, the local fire chief Lü Yandong and his deputy Liu Guicai were sentenced to five and half and five years’ imprisonment respectively. Other health and safety officials and local police were sentenced to between three and five years.
One of the final acts of the Italian presidency of the European Union, which ended on 31 December 2014, was to host a conference on future health and safety at work policy. The event on 4-5 December 2014 heard Laurent Vogel, a researcher with the European trade union research organisation ETUI, call for the Europe-wide directive on carcinogens and mutagens in the workplace to be overhauled. He told delegates: “100,000 people die each year in the European Union from a failure to prevent work-related cancers,” adding: “The review process was started ten years ago; it is high time something was actually done at last to cut down workers’ exposure to countless carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxins.” The Italian Labour Ministry’s director general for occupational health policies, Paolo Onelli, said that Italy would join with Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands to fashion a common legislative framework for more effective preventive action on occupational cancers. The issue of occupational health will return to the EU agenda in March 2015 at the EU Council of Ministers meeting.
Ÿ ETUI news report and Laurent Vogel’s presentation: The point of view of the European trade unions: It is urgent to revitalise the EU occupational health and safety policy.
Unions have reacted with dismay to the appointment of a deregulation-obsessed German right wing politician as a European Commission special adviser on ‘better regulation.’ The appointment came two months after the European Commission’s Stoiber-chaired High Level Group on Administrative Burdens published a deregulatory template described by TUC’s Hugh Robertson as “pretty dangerous.” He added that Stoiber’s approach was “totally absurd and will make it virtually impossible to get any new regulation on health and safety.” After Stoiber’s 18 December 2014 appointment as an EC special adviser, unions again expressed concerns. Veronica Nilsson, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, said: “I fear Mr Stoiber will not help with better regulation, but lobby on behalf of business for less regulation. That risks being at the expense of workers, consumers and the environment. It could mean further delays in much needed health and safety regulations such as on exposure at work to cancer-causing chemicals.” She added: “I urge President Juncker and Vice President Timmermans to treat Mr Stoiber’s advice with extreme caution, and not to go anywhere near his proposal to exclude SMEs from regulation. It would be absurd to have one law for large companies and another for small ones.” A 31 October 2014 report from Corporate Europe Observatory and Friends of the Earth Europe predicted the “neoliberal push to weaken or block new legislation and scrap existing rules, especially environmental and social protection laws, under the misleading banner of tackling ‘red tape’, promoting ‘better regulation’ or safeguarding ‘competitiveness’ appears likely to expand with Jean-Claude Juncker's new Commission team.”
Ÿ The crusade against ‘red tape’: How the European Commission and big business push for deregulation, Corporate Europe Observatory/Friends of the Earth Europe, October 2014.
TUC Education still has places available on our online courses for Union Health and Safety Reps starting in January 2015.
Ÿ Further details can be found here: http://www.unionlearn.org.uk/courses/course-list
The website is being redesigned and pending the re-launch you will not be able to register online. If you would like to register for any of these courses please contact Julie Lawrence: email@example.com
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