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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 690 - 14 February 2015
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






Government floundering on self-employed move

Government dithering on plans to exempt most self-employed workers from health and safety law does not mean the much derided proposals will be dropped, the TUC has warning. The union body has been joined by business groups and safety organisations in renewed calls on ministers to drop the exemption, progress on which stalled last week in a House of Lords debate (Risks 689). The government amendment to the Deregulation Bill is due to return to the parliamentary agenda later this month. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: “If they do not come up with an amendment to their own proposals then we will be left with a proposal that is one of the most dangerous health and safety deregulatory measures we have seen and which has been condemned by the person whose proposal they claim to be implementing. If they do propose an amendment there will have been no discussion, no consultation and no consideration of the actual consequences.” Urging the government to listen to the criticism, he warned the Health and Safety at Work Act “is now being ripped up in the last throes of parliament by a government who are hell-bent in pushing through this move to be able to show that it is being ‘tough’ on regulation and damn the consequences.” Tom Jones, head of policy at union law firm Thompsons Solicitors, also called on the government to rethink the move. “This is a case of the government being unable to face up to the overwhelming opposition - including from groups it usually calls friends – to its ridiculed proposals,” he said: “Given the strength of opposition, rather than waste more civil service and parliamentary time the government should do the decent thing and withdraw their proposals.” And IOSH head of policy Richard Jones said: “We urge the government to heed the serious concerns raised by Peers, business, professional bodies and trade unions and to drop these misguided proposals.” He added: “Industry has heavily criticised them as not fit for purpose and creating a substantial burden. Peers have labelled them a ‘step backwards’ and said leaving the law as it is would be the far better option.”

Ÿ  Stronger Unions blog.

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Ÿ  IOSH news release.

Court backs unions on sickness absence

The Department for Transport (DfT) broke employees’ contracts by introducing new, more punitive, sickness absence policies without reaching agreement with unions, the High Court has ruled. Prospect, the FDA and PCS brought breach of contract claims against the DfT on behalf of members in DfT’s central department and its agencies in November 2014. Other organisations affected are the Highways Agency, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, Driving Standards Agency, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Vehicle Certification Agency and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. The central DfT staff handbook says the contract of employment cannot be changed without agreement from employees or recognised unions. But in July 2012, the department imposed a new blanket attendance management procedure, after failing to reach agreement with unions. This introduced new formal and informal ‘trigger points’ for absence management. Absences of five working days or three occasions in a rolling 12-month period would require mandatory informal action. Absences of eight working days or four occasions in a rolling 12-month period would require a first written warning and then a final written warning, possibly leading to dismissal. “The new trigger points are much stricter,” said Prospect legal officer Linda Sohawon. “They stigmatise individuals who may have chronic complaints or unrelated illnesses and create anxiety because of the threat of disciplinary action.” She added: “This ruling is good news for employees suffering under these new procedures as the old sickness absence policy must now apply.”

Ÿ  Prospect news release.

Fail grade for ‘insufficient’ plans on teacher workload

Government plans to reduce “unnecessary and unproductive” teacher workload at schools in England will not have the required impact, teaching unions have said. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and education secretary Nicky Morgan said a series of “decisive measures” to be introduced in England would include an end to major government reforms being introduced during the academic year, with schools also given notice of major changes. The new strategy comes in a government response to the Department of Education's Workload Challenge survey. Respondents said they were faced with too much bureaucratic paperwork, unrealistic deadlines and excessive marking. Teachers had been left feeling “browbeaten and undervalued”, said Mr Clegg as he announced the series of commitments alongside the education secretary. Unions said they were “bitterly disappointed” with the government response. NUT general secretary Christine Blower said the “simply insufficient” measures meant teachers “will not see any great reduction in their workload”, with a failure to revise the role of Ofsted a critical omission. “Teachers will be bitterly disappointed at the government's failure to listen to one of the central concerns of teachers and the failure to heed the workable solutions to excessive workload offered by the NUT. Ofsted is central to the ludicrous levels of pressure on schools. Only a root and branch reform to put in place a professionally acceptable system can win teacher confidence.” Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the government response “demonstrates its contempt for the teaching profession,” adding it “wilfully misinterprets and misrepresents” the evidence on chronic workload burdens.  “The coalition government has created a culture in schools where anything goes and where any adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of teachers is simply regarded as collateral damage,” she said. ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Brushing the views of thousands of teachers under the carpet will not help raise the status of teaching or make teaching attractive to top graduates. The government has dodged the issue of tackling the problems caused by Ofsted and the unreliability of its inspections.”

Ÿ  DfE news release. Government response to the Workload Challenge, DfE, February 2015.

Ÿ  NUT news release.

Ÿ  NASUWT news release.

Ÿ  ATL news release.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Study explodes EU over-legislation myth

Government claims that the European Union has fuelled an increase in legislation have been proven to be a myth, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after an an academic study concluded that far from producing too much legislation, the EU is only producing a small minority of the new laws coming into effect in Britain. It showed the number of new directives has halved in the past five years and this trend seems set to continue, as the European Commission’s Work Programme for 2015 has abandoned 80 proposals and introduced just 23. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, writing in the Stronger Unions blog, noted: “For many of us, the fact that the EU is regulating less is not a matter for celebration, but anger. We have recently seen proposals for new regulations on carcinogens and musculoskeletal disorders ditched by the Commission after pressure from the UK and, in the current climate, many ordinary workers would welcome new laws on employment protection, fairness at work or decent hours, wherever they come from.” He added that other studies of the impact of EU laws only examined effects on business. “The Commission has just conducted a study on the effect of EU health and safety legislation, but the main question is what have been the costs and benefits to business.  In fact EU regulations in areas like health and safety, consumer rights and employment, have been of huge benefit to hundreds of millions of people throughout Europe, so why is the Commission not evaluating the benefits to its workers and citizens that its regulation brings, rather than just perpetuating the myth that regulation is about burdens and ‘red tape’?”

Ÿ  Stronger Unions blog.

Ÿ  LSE Europp blog.

Ÿ  Democratic Audit UK.

BBC and unions agree bullying policy

Extensive discussions between the BBC and unions within the Federation of Entertainment Unions over a new policy to address complaints from staff and freelancers over bullying and harassment have led to an agreement. A statement from the BBC and BECTU, Equity, the Musicians’ Union, NUJ, Unite and The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain reads: “Agreement has now been reached on a number of additional elements to our proposals, including the involvement of an external expert from the initial grievance through to any subsequent appeal. Both the BBC and the unions welcome these agreed changes which are designed to improve the way complaints are handled and how staff and freelancers are supported throughout the process.” The agreement adds: “The Bullying and Harassment Grievance Policy and Guide, which apply to staff and freelancers, will be amended to incorporate the agreed changes to the formal procedure and will be published in the near future.” Discussions with the unions will continue to confirm the timescale for the publication of an amended Bullying and Harassment Grievance Policy and Guide. The unions will also be consulted over the appointment of the external experts.

Ÿ  BECTU news release.

Ÿ  Equity news release.

Ÿ  NUJ news release.

Waste workers threaten action over safety

GMB members at East Sussex Waste Partnership are to be balloted for industrial action over safety, bullying and other concerns. The union said the ballot, which will close on 24 February, will involve 154 GMB members employed by Kier Environmental Services on three partnership contracts. The union said the ballot came after the firm refused to act on or take seriously the health and safety concerns of GMB members, including widespread intimidation and bullying by local managers. Gary Cook, GMB regional organiser, said: “GMB members are rightly angry at the lack of response and the seeming disregard that Kier management have for the concerns and wellbeing of their staff. This has led them to an overwhelming mandate for GMB to ballot for industrial action. As a result of bullying and intimidating attitudes of Kier management a number of GMB members have been signed off sick with stress. Some staff have turned up for work and then had to go home because of the way they get treated.” He added: “Despite agreeing with GMB that the bins used for glass recycling can present a danger from falling glass when lifted, Kier have taken no steps to address this issue which puts both GMB members and general public at risk.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.


Government plugs mesothelioma payouts hole

Sufferers of an asbestos-related cancer will in the future receive extra payouts after the government revised its mesothelioma compensation rules. Under new rules for the government’s Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme compensation will rise to match 100 per cent of average civil claims, up from the current 80 per cent. The government says this could mean an increase of up to £54,000 a person. When the scheme took effect, asbestos disease victims groups criticised the 80 per cent payouts ceiling. The government said the scheme, which has paid out over £19 million in its first 10 months, is aimed at mesothelioma sufferers unable to claim compensation as their employer or employer’s liability insurer is untraceable. Announcing the new measures on 10 February, safety minister Lord Freud said: “From today we are raising compensation payments to 100 per cent of average civil claims. It is partly thanks to the success of the insurance industry in tracing liable insurers and employers that we are able to make these changes as part of our on-going commitment to support mesothelioma sufferers.” Adrian Budgen of personal injury law firm Irwin Mitchell said the change left other flaws in the scheme untouched. He said: “The increase in payments should of course be welcomed but it is disappointing that it isn’t retrospective. It is also disappointing that mesothelioma sufferers diagnosed before 25 July 2012, who would otherwise have been eligible for a payment, were excluded from the outset. The scheme has a number of inadequacies but, for those people who have received payments to date, it has afforded them some financial security.” Asbestos campaigner Doug Jewell contested the claim that claimants stand to get an additional £54,000. He said that would only apply to those suffering the deadly cancer who are aged under 40 – and he said there have been none to date. In reality, claimants would normally receive an additional sum of £21,000.

Ÿ  DWP news release and ministerial written statement.

Welsh asbestos NHS costs law overruled

The Supreme Court has sided with insurers who claimed an assembly law passed in 2013 to recoup asbestos treatment costs from employers’ liability insurers was outside its competence. The court said Welsh ministers had no right to impose charges to fund the NHS, and insurers should not be given extra liabilities for asbestos exposure which long predated the bill. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) welcomed the judgment, but asbestos campaigners expressed dismay. Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw, who first proposed the bill, said he was “gutted” at the ruling, having predicted the measure could have raised £1m a year for the NHS in Wales. The bill had been referred to the Supreme Court by the Welsh government's Counsel General Theodore Huckle, following objections from the insurance industry. In a statement, the Welsh government said it would give “careful consideration to this judgment.” Presiding officer Dame Rosemary Butler called for “greater clarity” so everyone understood what laws the assembly could pass. Jo Barnes-Mannings, co-founder of Asbestos Awareness and Support Cymru whose own father died of mesothelioma, said: “We are extremely disappointed. This would have had a huge impact for asbestos related illnesses. The families that have had their lives turned upside down and have been devastated by this illness deserve the best treatment, support and care. This bill could have helped deliver that.” Early indications are that similar measures proposed last month in the Scottish parliament (Risks 686) will not be subject to similar legislative hurdles.

Ÿ  Supreme Court press summary.

Ÿ  Welsh Assembly statement.

Ÿ  Wales Online.

Workers given baby wipes to wash off asbestos

A Suffolk building company has been fined after removing asbestos insulation board without a licence and failing to protect its workers from falls of up to four metres at a farm building in Waltham, Essex. Workers were potentially exposed to dangerous asbestos fibres and only provided with baby wipes or access to a hose for decontamination. Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was alerted by a member of the public concerned that unsafe work was being undertaken at the farm building. HSE’s investigation found LJW Cladding Ltd did not have a licence permitting it to remove asbestos, despite telling the farm owner it held the necessary approvals. None of the workers were trained to work with licensed asbestos and were also placed in danger of falling from height while removing the fragile asbestos boards. Instead of the full three-stage decontamination unit required for such work, all the workers had access to were baby wipes and the farm’s cold water hose. Contaminated overalls over normal clothing continued to be worn while the workers took their lunch break on site and also meant they could have taken asbestos contamination home with them each night. The investigation also identified the workers were at risk of falls of up to four metres owing to absent or inadequately installed safety netting and a harness and inertia reel being used inappropriately. LJW Cladding Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,365.50 after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations and the Control of Asbestos Regulations.

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Ÿ  Ipswich Star.

Don’t neglect work causes of cancer

There must be a far greater acknowledgement of the role of work in causing cancers, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection (BOHS) has warned. Commenting on World Cancer Day - 4 February -  BOHS said that neglecting to understand and control occupational exposures to carcinogens, by means of highly effective occupational hygiene solutions, threatens future progress in the battle against the disease. It added that it was “concerned that, all too often, the work-related causes of cancer fail to be properly acknowledged and are overlooked in the media and other sources of information about cancer.” Simple and cost-effective solutions could “eliminate” workplace risks, it said. BOHS president Mike Slater said “it is vital that governments, employers and the public understand that occupational exposure is a major cause of cancer, which should be much more publicly highlighted, along with smoking, and diet and alcohol consumption.” He added: “Rather than simply waiting for cures to be discovered, we should be aware that, right now, we already have the occupational hygiene technology and skills to prevent many types of cancer from developing in the first place. This is not wishful thinking – these occupational hygiene solutions are currently available and within our grasp.” Unions pioneered the preventive message, having long called for substitution of carcinogens with safer alternatives or the use of inherently safer production methods.

Ÿ  BOHS news release.

Ÿ  World Cancer Day.

Ÿ  Global unions zero cancer campaign.

Flawed drug-driving rules about to take effect

People who have been prescribed powerful anxiety or pain relief drugs are being told to be aware of a new drug-driving law. As well as outlawing driving while under the influence of illegal drugs, the new legislation will include some prescription medicines. The government says the new law, to take effect on 2 March 2015, aims to catch those driving under the influence of drugs. It sets very low levels for eight well known illegal drugs, including cannabis and cocaine, but also includes eight prescription drugs. Most of them, including Temazepan and Diazepam, are used for treating conditions such as anxiety. But the list also includes methadone, a heroin substitute, and morphine, a powerful opiate used for pain relief. Road safety minister Robert Goodwill said as long as they stay within prescribed levels, most people will still be able to get behind the wheel of a car. The TUC, however, said the new limits are not safety based (Risks 652) and has warned consistently that one of the biggest problems is the use of prescription and “over-the-counter” medications which can cause drowsiness or reduce attention or awareness of risk. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “The new drug-driving laws cover only a few of these, and at the same time confuse the picture by having different legal limits for some drugs depending on whether it is obtained through prescription or illegally.” He added: “Safety limits should be clear, effective and based on science. These limits are not. Drugs and work do not mix and it makes no difference whether they are prescribed or not. Anyone who is taking any medication of any kind should read the instructions, speak to a pharmacist or their doctor and if they are in a safety critical job, or drive for work, should let their employer know.”

Ÿ  DfT news release.

Suspended sentence for corporate manslaughter

A Cumbrian building firm and its owner have been sentenced after pleading guilty to corporate manslaughter. Peter Mawson Ltd admitted corporate manslaughter and a criminal safety offence in December.  On 3 February, the firm was fined £200,000 for the corporate manslaughter offence, and £20,000 for the safety breach. Company owner Peter Mawson was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to undertake 200 hours unpaid work and handed a publicity order to advertise what happened on the company website for a set period of time, and to take out a half page spread in the local newspaper. The company boss was also told to pay costs of £31,504.77. The prosecution came after an incident on 25 October 2011. Emergency services attended West Cumberland Farmers Ltd in Lindal, Ulverston, following a report that a man had fallen through a roof. Jason Pennington, 42, had been working on the roof and had fallen through the skylight from a height of approximately 7.6 metres onto a concrete floor. He was taken to Furness General Hospital where he died a short time later. DS Paul Yates for Cumbria Constabulary said: “This has been a long and complex investigation, and we have worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive to establish what happened on that tragic day.” He added: “Our thoughts remain with the family of Mr Pennington at this difficult time.” Chris Hatton, the investigating inspector at HSE, added: “Jason tragically lost his life because the company that employed him did nothing to make sure he was safe while he worked on a fragile roof.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Ÿ  News and Star.

Suspended sentences after scrap worker’s death

Two subcontractors have been handed eight-month prison sentences, suspended for 18 months, after a worker was killed when part of a 33-tonne metal barge he was dismantling collapsed on top of him. William Ward, 56, from Sheffield, sustained catastrophic crush injuries in the incident at European Metal Recycling Ltd’s Kingsbury depot in Warwickshire on 12 October 2011. Warwickshire Crown Court heard he was working for and alongside brothers, Stuart and Dennis Cheesman, also of Sheffield, to cut and dismantle two large steel barges using oxy-acetylene torches. Mr Ward had finished cutting through the outer skin of the barge’s hull and had moved inside the now unsupported structure to cut some supporting braces when the side collapsed in on him. The married father of two died at the scene. The brothers, who were contractors working for European Metal Recycling (EMR), failed to ensure the barge was adequately supported to prevent a possible collapse, and did not properly assess or manage the work. Stuart Cheesman, 42, and Dennis Cheesman, 47, both pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence. They were each sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work in the community. They must both also pay costs of £3,000 each. European Metal Recycling Ltd was sentence on 19 December 2014. It was fined £150,000 after HSE identified serious flaws with the method of work being used to dismantle the barges. Mr Ward’s wife of 25 years, Mrs Jayne Ward, said: “I think of all the things that Billy will never see – the boys getting married, having children, children which would have been our grandchildren. As a couple, you build up a picture of your life together going forward – seeing the boys settled, grandchildren, retiring and spending time together. All this has been taken from him, from me and from the boys.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and scrap recycling webpages.

Ÿ  Sheffield Star.

Ÿ  Yorkshire Post.

Three firms sentenced after worker’s death

A renewable technology company and two subcontractors have been fined for safety failings after a worker was killed when he fell seven metres from a roof while installing solar panels. Kevin Brookes, 35, from Tamworth, suffered fatal injuries in the incident on a Southam industrial estate on 31 May 2012. Principal contractor Alumet Renewable Technologies Ltd was jointly prosecuted with subcontractors Midlands Solar Solutions Ltd, who employed Mr Brookes to install the panels, and Rugby Scaffolding Services Ltd, responsible for installing edge protection. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified serious flaws with the health and safety plan and the way the work was managed. Coventry Crown Court heard that Mr Brookes was attempting to retrieve a drill that had started to slide down towards the edge of the roof when he slipped and slid through the handrail, over the edge of the building, landing on his head. Mr Brookes, who was the sole carer for his elderly disabled father, fell into an immediate coma and died 19 days later in hospital. Alumet Renewable Energy Technologies Ltd was fined £66,000 and ordered to pay £12,491 in costs after admitting a criminal safety offence. Rugby Scaffolding Services Limited also pleaded guilty and was fined £60,000 with £12,491 costs. Midlands Solar Solutions Ltd admitted a criminal safety breach and was fined £50,000 with £12,491 costs. HSE inspector Amy Kalay said: “This fatal fall was entirely and easily preventable. The health and safety plan and mechanisms put in place to carry out the work fell far below the required standards.” She added: “All three companies had copious experience of working at height to install solar panels and as such should have been experts.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and falls webpages.

Stevedores fined for worker’s severe injuries

A Glamorgan stevedoring company has been fined for a criminal safety offence after an employee suffered severe leg injuries falling from a trailer. Nigel Preece, 58, was unloading steel coils from a flatbed trailer when he fell 1.3 metres, sustaining two broken legs. Mr Preece’s employer, Briton Ferry Stevedoring, appeared before Swansea Magistrates in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident. The court heard that Mr Preece had to stand on the trailer and feed a lifting strap through the centre of the coils so they could be taken off the vehicle. After lifting a coil, he replaced the loose board on the trailer floor which covered the well used to hold the coil in place during transport. When Mr Preece stood on it, the board moved causing him to lose his balance and fall off the trailer, breaking both his legs above the knee. He had to undergo a 10-and-a-half hour operation and was treated in intensive care for one week. He was unable to walk for three months without support and it was six months before he could walk unaided. An investigation by HSE found the company had failed to make sure the work was carried out safely or that there were measures in place to prevent or reduce the effects of any fall. Briton Ferry Stevedoring Ltd of Giants Wharf, Briton Ferry, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £13,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,497. HSE has stopped almost all unannounced inspections of dock work.

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Carpet firm in court after worker breaks leg

A Rossendale factory that makes carpet underlay has been fined after a worker was badly injured when he was struck by a 300kg bale of foam. The 59-year-old from Todmorden, who has asked not to be named, broke his left leg in two places and suffered damage to his knee as a result of the incident at Interfloor Ltd in Haslingden on 4 December 2013. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found it had become standard practice for heavy bales to be stacked up to four levels high, with no measures in place to prevent them falling and injuring workers below. Preston Crown Court heard that Interfloor buys waste from car seat and furniture manufacturers, which is then processed and used to produce underlay. Large bales of the foam were stacked in a storage area at the factory, where an employee labelled each bale so that a consistent mix could be used in the production process. As he was doing this, a bale from the third level up fell and hit him on his back, knocking him down face-first onto the concrete floor. He was in hospital for a week and was off work for several months as a result of his injuries. The court was told that bales had fallen from stacks on several previous occasions and the company had identified the risk of workers being injured in a written assessment. However, no action had been taken to stop this from happening or to prevent employees from accessing the dangerous area. Interfloor Ltd was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £7,200 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.

Ÿ  HSE news release and manufacturing webpages.

Ÿ  Rossendale Free Press

Worker loses forearm in printing machine

An Edinburgh manufacturing company has been fined for serious safety failings that led to a worker having to have his arm amputated after it became trapped in a machine. Akshay Phale, then 27, was working at the rear of a machine at Farnbeck Ltd at its Leith premises when the incident happened on 5 June 2012. Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard that Mr Phale was attempting to wrap cotton fabric around a rotating wooden cylinder on a machine that is then used in the security printing industry worldwide for the printing of banknotes. As he carried out his task, a nearby colleague heard a scream. He shouted to another worker to shut everything down and ran to Mr Phale’s aid. He saw his colleague’s arm had been entangled between the rotating cylinder and the wrapped fabric. Mr Phale was unable to release his fingers due to the tension of the fabric around the cylinder. As the cylinder was rotating it pulled his hand around it, causing his forearm to become trapped. The fabric was cut to ease the tension, but he was trapped for almost an hour until other employees, together with the fire service, were able to disconnect the motor and release his arm. The injured worker was taken to hospital where he underwent several operations over a 17-day period, including the amputation of his right arm below the elbow. He has not yet been able to return to work. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the practice of allowing the cylinder to continue to turn when the wrapping process was being carried out had been in place at the firm for over 30 years. However, for that entire period the risk to employees of having their fingers, hands and clothing caught within the mechanism had not been identified. Farnbeck Ltd was fined £46,660 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Hazel Dobb said: “This unsafe practice had been carried out for many years and it is fortunate that there have been no other serious incidents as a result.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and machinery safety webpages. Scotsman.


Central America: Sugar cane worker disease is occupational

The strenuous working conditions endured by sugar cane workers in Central America is responsible for an outbreak of deadly kidney failure, a study has found. The Boston University study, which was part-financed by the industry, found a clear connection between the kidney destroying disease and the work these men are doing. Over the past two decades, more than 20,000 people in western Nicaragua and El Salvador - mostly men and many of them in their 20s and 30s - have died of a mysterious form of kidney failure. “The decline in kidney function during the harvest and the differences by job category and employment duration provide evidence that one or more risk factors of CKD (chronic kidney disease) are occupational,” the study report concluded. The study followed 500 sugar cane workers at one plantation, El Ingenio San Antonio in Nicaragua. The researchers found that the kidney function of field workers declined over the course of the six-month harvest. Sugar cane cutters and planters saw the sharpest drop. “Finding that one or more risk factors are occupational is important,” said Rebecca Laws of Boston University School of Public Health, lead author of the paper. “Before this, it was still sort of unknown whether the major risk factors were occupational or non-occupational.”  The researchers found that dehydration among workers with the most physically demanding job - cutting cane - could contribute to the illness. The sugar plantation tests workers’ kidney function at the beginning of each year's harvest. Anyone who's starting to show kidney failure isn't hired back. The research, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH), was part-funded by the Nicaraguan sugar industry, El Comite Nacional de Productores de Azucar, as part of the settlement of a complaint filed by ASOCHIVIDA, a group of some 2,000 former sugar cane workers suffering from kidney failure and their widows.

Ÿ  Boston University news release.

Ÿ  NPR blog.

Ÿ  IJOEH abstract.

New Zealand: Safer farms campaign gets it wrong

Workers in New Zealand are worried a flagship official safety programme on farm safety will not work because it overlooks the employment practices that are making the industry more dangerous. Helen Kelly, head of the national union federation CTU said she was “surprised” the government minister announcing the new programme run by the safety regulator Worksafe “does not see a strong role for health and safety inspectors in keeping farm workers safe.” Alluding to the inquiry into the Pike River coal mine disaster that killed 29 in 2010, she said the “inquiry clearly showed, the state as regulator must play an active role in inspection and enforcement as part of the New Zealand safety regime.” The union leader added that high staff turnover, longer hours, low wage rates and a lack of training were also neglected safety concerns. “The Safer Farms programme does not address these issues,” she said. “Government seems to think it can decouple safety from working conditions despite its own Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety clearly saying there is a link.” She added that the government’s own studies had shown two-thirds of farms inspected were not meeting basic employment standards. According to Kelly: “While elements of the Safer Farms programme are useful and targeted the CTU does not believe without addressing these other issues, New Zealand farms will become safer for those that work on them.”

Ÿ  NZCTU news release.

Ÿ  Safer Farms.

UAE: Migrants silenced on safety fears

Migrant workers building a multibillion-pound cultural hub in the United Arab Emirates, which includes a New York University campus and new Guggenheim and Louvre museums, are facing destitution, summary arrest and deportation if they complain about their squalid and unsafe conditions, an investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found. Its new report on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi found attempts to raise concerns about the mistreatment led to workers’ wages being withheld, arbitrary police intimidation and their forcible removal from the country. HRW interviews with more than 100 workers in 2013 and 2014 revealed endemic abuse of workers’ rights consistent with those found in its 2012 and 2009 reports. Improved labour laws were having little impact as they were going unenforced, HRW concluded. “The progress in respecting workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island risks being tossed out the window if workers know they can’t protest when things go wrong, and are still getting stuck with recruitment fees and suffering other abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “NYU, the Louvre, and the Guggenheim need to make clear that new laws and codes of conduct are only as good as their enforcement.” The report comes as the UN investigates the abuse of migrant workers in the UAE. The investigation by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was prompted by a complaint brought by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which highlighted poor conditions on Saadiyat. HRW suggests that UAE’s authorities are complicit in the exploitation of workers on Saadiyat. Two HRW researchers were blacklisted last year and told they could never return to the country while another was barred from re-entering.

Ÿ  HRW news release and video report.

Ÿ  Migrant Workers’ Rights on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, 2015 Progress Report, HRW, 10 February 2015. The Guardian.

USA: Oil safety strike grows

A strike by United Steelworkers (USW) members protesting at unsafe and unfair labour practices at US refineries has spread to BP facilities in Indiana and Ohio. The strike began on 1 February after major oil companies failed to address serious concerns regarding the health and safety of workers and their communities, according to the USW. Workers cite outsourcing, short staffing, and forced overtime that produces dangerous fatigue in a job where mistakes can be fatal. In national bargaining, the union is trying to secure stronger safety protocols and to stop management from subcontracting maintenance work. The 1,100 BP workers joined some 3,800 USW members on strike at nine refineries operated by Shell, Marathon, Tesoro and LyondellBasell in California, Kentucky, Texas and Washington. USW president Leo W Gerard said industry efforts to address issues that directly impact workers’ health and safety were long overdue. “We are absolutely committed to negotiating a fair contract that improves safety conditions throughout the industry,” he said. “Management cannot continue to resist allowing workers a stronger voice on issues that could very well make the difference between life and death for too many of them.”

Ÿ  USW news release, audio report and petition.

Ÿ  Labor Notes.

Ÿ   AFL-CIO Now blog.

Ÿ  Daily Kos.



Ÿ  TUC courses


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