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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 697 - 11 April 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 gets a ‘fail’ grade on safety

A government claim that its breakneck programme of health and safety deregulation has not reduced the protection afforded to workers is ‘clearly nonsense’, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting on the 25 March publication of a government ‘report book’ on its reform of health and safety legislation over the past five years. The report notes that the government has reduced the number of regulations by 50 per cent. It adds: “Business response to these reforms has been strongly positive and they have been achieved without reducing health and safety protection for workers.” But TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson challenged the government claim. “Not once of course does it say what they have done to actually reduce the number of injuries and illnesses - both of which are increasing,” he said. He added the laws targeted have included crucial protections, like the coverage of the self-employed, recording of injuries and illnesses, and the legally-binding code of practice to the management regulations, all of which have been downgraded or axed. The TUC safety specialist is particularly annoyed by the government claim that the changes have not damaged health and safety protection for workers. “The government report gives no evidence to back it up, and it is clearly nonsense,” Robertson notes. “At no time has the government asked anyone to assess the effect of the changes on workers. Instead they crow about the benefit to business. Well health and safety laws are not there to protect business, they are there to protect workers. While businesses that embrace good health and safety can see big benefits, that is not the purpose of regulation. We have a government that is all too obsessed with the idea that regulation to protect people is somehow inherently bad… What we need instead is a regulatory agenda based on evidence of whether it is going to reduce the number of people killed, injured or made ill as a result of their work.” In a related article in the journal Occupational Medicine, Robertson dissects the government’s strategy and concludes “we still have a significant problem where work is making a considerable proportion of the population ill, and this deserves to be tackled through evidence-based interventions rather than short-termism or simplistic analysis.”

Ÿ  TUC Stronger Unions blog and TUC review of the government’s safety performance.

Ÿ  DWP news release and A final report on implementation of health and safety reforms, DWP, 25 March 2015. HSE statement.

Ÿ  Hugh Robertson. The Health and Safety at Work Act turned 40, Occupational Medicine, volume 65, issue 3, pages 176-179, March 2015.

Relaxing mine safe rules 'could cost lives'

Changes to Britain’s mine safety rules will “save mine owners money but cost someone a life,” unions have warned. Measures that came into force this month include exempting mines from the previously compulsory Mine Rescue Service in the event of workers being trapped underground. Under the new Mines Regulations 2014, mine operators will now only require “adequate rescue cover”. Unions and legal experts warn that if mine owners rely on local rescue arrangements it will only become apparent whether this cover is “adequate” after a potentially deadly incident. There are also worries about important changes to mine safety inspections. Under the new rules, reports alerting the mine safety regulators to potentially deadly situations will now only be passed on if “at least two of the investigating team decide there is imminent danger”. Inspectors fear they could be forced go through “whistleblowing” procedures, with career-ending consequences. Other concerns include the removal of a requirement that mine managers have relevant qualifications. In future, operators need only be “satisfied with their competency”. There are also fears that the role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for policing workplace safety, is being minimised or removed entirely. Union safety experts warn that a combination of less vigilant safety practices, a lighter regulatory touch and reduced trade union involvement in safety will result in more fatalities and serious injuries. Chris Kitchen, general secretary the NUM, said the union’s concerns had been ignored. He claimed the consultation process had not been “meaningful” but driven by ministerial demands to cut red tape. He warned the changes at taking the industry “back to Victorian times,” adding the new regulations meant mines would have to pay for the Mines Rescue Service and “no company wants to do that.”

Ÿ  The Independent.

Ÿ  Wales Online.

Job cuts accelerate North Sea ‘race to the bottom’

The announcement of further offshore job cuts marks a dangerous and quickening ‘race to the bottom’ in the industry, the union Unite has said. Its warning came after the 26 March announcement by oil giants Shell and Taqa that they would be axing a further 350 North Sea jobs. The union said this latest blow came less than a week after George Osborne announced an ‘eye-watering’ £1.3 billion tax break for the UK offshore industry. The union said in 2014 Royal Dutch Shell generated net profits of $15 billion while its chief executive officer Ben van Beurden became the second highest paid boss in the FTSE 100 with a pay deal worth €24.2 million. Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “There is no doubt we are witnessing a concerted effort by the offshore industry to impose a race to the bottom on jobs, terms, conditions and ultimately safety across the North Sea.” He added “the cut and gut of ordinary offshore workers livelihoods and terms and conditions goes unchallenged while executive pay across oil company majors goes through the roof. The only barriers to the industry’s ongoing attacks are the offshore trades unions but we need our politicians to wake-up to the reality of what’s happening in the North Sea – it’s a growing scandal which could turn into a catastrophe.” ‘Ten pathways to death and disaster’, a new analysis of the causes of workplace tragedies, warns that cost-cutting and production pressures often underpinned failures in engineering and maintenance linked to offshore disasters. Australian academic Michael Quinlan notes changes to work organisation including downsizing and restructuring can rapidly corrode even initially robust safety regimes.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  Ten Pathways to death and disaster, Michael Quinlan, The Federation Press, ISBN 9781862879775.

Ÿ  Hazards magazine.

Amazon ‘cover up’ on long term health risks

‘Impossible’ targets are imposing unbearable stresses and strains on Amazon workers who are then being invited to leave, the union GMB has claimed. Amazon has denied it is pushing through redundancies, instead saying it wants “an engaged, positive workforce” so is providing “employees who are ready for a new career with an opportunity to smooth their transition.” GMB says it believes the company wants to get to rid of experienced workers who are feeling the cumulative effects of their excessive and damaging workload. Elly Baker, GMB lead officer for Amazon, said: “Amazon’s scheme to shed jobs is in fact more sinister than the badly executed redundancy programme we at first assumed. It is now clear that the aim… is to rid themselves of staff who are being damaged under their dangerous work regimes before the full extent of the injuries is clear. The damage caused by badly designed ergonomic regimes leads to longer serving staff slowing down and it is these that are being incentivised out the door under ‘the offer’.” She added: “Our members report that the ‘offer’ is targeted at those with longer years of service, and our information shows that the cumulative impact of working at Amazon is devastating on health.” She said the union is urging Amazon “to abandon their destructive practices and work with the union and workers to establish a sustainable model, as the union has done elsewhere in the distribution sector. Amazon’s business model is based on chewing up workers and spitting them out – it is not something this union will stand for.” GMB national safety officer Daniel Shears said: “Amazon does not allow GMB or our members any involvement in the management of health and safety. There is no rigorous risk assessment and hazard control in place, especially regarding musculoskeletal injury from repetitive manual handling, and stress from the high workload. There has been no information provided on whether the cumulative impact of the work has been assessed as safe for long-term health, and appears to be no recognition of the physical or mental stress caused by the demanding pick rates that Amazon has set.” He added: “Amazon’s model of high casualisation of the workforce enables them to cover up the realities of the impact on health of the work. Amazon accident rates do not include agency workers injured by the target regimes (stress) and overexertion (back and joint pain) who are not fit enough to come to work. These are never counted in Amazon’s official statistics.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Clarkson axe is the ‘right decision’

Media and entertainment union BECTU has said the BBC’s decision to axe Jeremy Clarkson from its Top Gear programme is the ‘right decision’. The millionaire television presenter was dropped after an investigation found he landed a producer in hospital following an “unprovoked physical and verbal attack.” Commenting on the BBC’s decision not to renew Clarkson’s contract, BECTU assistant general secretary Luke Crawley said “there is absolutely no doubt that the BBC’s decision to end its contractual arrangement with Jeremy Clarkson is the right one. Physical assault in the workplace is not acceptable, no matter how big the talent or how valuable the show.” He added: “Bullying and harassment in the creative sector is acknowledged to be a big issue.” He said a policy negotiated between the broadcaster and unions “underlines that dignity at work is something everyone is entitled to. The policy also makes clear that complaints of misconduct will be taken very seriously. Anything other than an end to Clarkson’s employment in these circumstances would have turned back the clock on this issue telling BBC staff, and the world which watches BBC operations, that talent can be treated above, and differently from, other BBC workers. That said, the truth is that if any BBC member of staff had assaulted a colleague in the way Clarkson’s debacle has been reported then the punishment would have been summary [immediate] dismissal.”

Ÿ  BECTU news release and Creating without conflict guides.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Resolving mental health issues at work

Workers have been experiencing a significant increase in stress, which in some cases has led to mental health problems, as a result of the impact of austerity on their work and home lives, a new TUC report has concluded. ‘Good practice in workplace mental health’ says although there is greater public awareness of mental health, the number of workers affected by mental health issues is ‘enormous’. The union body adds that many employers do not deal with mental health issues and this may lead to people losing their job, and even worse, failing to find new work as a result of the associate stigma. The TUC report identifies measures that can be taken to make a workplace ‘mentally healthy’, including training for union representatives and middle managers, early referral to occupational health and stress risk assessments. It includes a series of examples of projects involving unions that have successfully addressed mental health issues at work. TUC disability policy officer Peter Purton said: “People with mental ill health continue to have amongst the lowest employment rates for disabled people according to the Labour Force Survey. The evidence suggests that mental ill health can be linked to workplace stress, which makes it particularly concerning that recent surveys have reported a rise in the incidence of stress at work.” But he added “the good news is that trade unions are finding ways to prevent mental health problems arising, or to work with employers to enable a person with a mental health condition to continue in work.”

Ÿ  TUC news release and report, Good practice in workplace mental health.

Ÿ  USI live.

Union warning on school asbestos toll

Asbestos is claiming the lives of up to 300 former pupils and 15 teachers a year, according to a report from the teaching union NUT. The union is calling for a national audit of all schools to assess the asbestos risk. It says said that while research suggests around 86 per cent of school buildings contain the substance - which can cause cancer - 44 per cent of teachers questioned did not know whether their school was one of them. Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: “There has to be a proper audit to determine the scale of the problem. The dangers of asbestos in schools are obvious. What is needed to truly address the problem is a concerted effort on a national scale.” She added: “Political parties must actively engage with a problem which is very far from being addressed and has taken many lives. Children, parents and staff deserve better.” The newly published findings of an NUT survey conducted in March revealed that just 15 per cent of teachers who were aware that their school contained asbestos had seen a copy of a management plan to deal with the problem. One in three teachers reported there had been an incident that may have led to exposure to asbestos. The union added there could be extra risk for children at free schools, which are often opened in “unsuitable buildings.” According to the World Health Organisation, Britain has the highest mesothelioma rate in the world, at 17.8 deaths per million of population.

Ÿ  NUT news release.

Ÿ  The Mirror.

Ÿ  ITV News.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

High tech stress and abuse faces teachers

Computers are being used to load out-of-hours work on teachers and to abuse them, surveys by the union NASUWT have found. Nearly 60 per cent of teachers responding to an NASUWT annual survey reported having had adverse comments posted about them on social media sites by pupils and parents, compared to 21 per cent in 2014. The union said particularly concerning is that the much of the increase appears to be as a result of more parents abusing teachers online; 40 per cent of teachers had experienced this in the last year, compared to 27 per cent in 2014. Abusive, sexist, racist, homophobic and highly offensive language is common, accompanied by remarks about teachers’ appearance and competence. Teachers also had false allegations and malicious slurs targeted at them. The union’s second annual survey into email intrusion found teachers are also being expected to deal with even greater numbers of work-related emails outside of school hours and even when they are on sick leave, contributing to escalating levels of stress and workload. Almost threequarters of survey respondents (73 per cent) said they received work-related emails outside school hours, compared to 69 per cent in 2014.

Ÿ  NASUWT news releases on social media abuse and home invasion.

Appeal against tribunal fees gets the go ahead

UNISON has been granted permission by the Court of Appeal to proceed with appeals against the decisions of the High Court refusing its two Judicial Review applications challenging the lawfulness of employment tribunal fees. These appeals will be heard together in June. Under the fees system, workers can be required to pay up to £1,200 for taking a tribunal complaint about issues including victimisation for workplace safety activities (Risks 676). UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said the decision to allow the appeals “is significant because every worker who has been forced to pay these punitive fees may get their money back if UNISON's case is successful.” He added: “We hope the court will recognise that the government's fees regime is having a significant impact on the ability of workers to access justice, particularly low paid women.” Latest figures reveal that the numbers of employment tribunal cases are continuing to fall. Between October and December 2014 claims dropped by a further 12 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2013, when the fee regime, introduced in July 2013, was already in place.  The union Unite has welcomed a Labour pledge to scrap employment tribunal fees. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Bad bosses celebrated the day this law was passed. Today, working people get some hope back.”

Ÿ  UNISON news release.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  Morning Star.


Unions welcomes MPs’ blacklisting inquiry call

A ‘damning’ report  by a House of Commons select committee calling for a public inquiry into construction industry ‘blacklisting’ has been welcomed by unions. Unite said it strongly endorsed the recommendation in a March ‘Blacklisting in Employment’ final report from the Scottish Affairs Committee. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The report by the Scottish Affairs Committee is a damning indictment of the underhand and cruel tactics that the construction industry employed against decent workers prepared to stand up and be counted on such issues as health and safety.” She added: “Whoever is in government after May’s general election must respond to the repeated call for a full public inquiry into the long-running issue of ‘blacklisting’.” Justin Bowden, GMB national officer said: “Strip away the weasel words and crocodile tears from the blacklisting companies and their highly paid entourage of spin doctors and lawyers and the simple truth is that MPs of all political parties involved in the inquiry into Blacklisting in Employment do not trust the companies to eradicate blacklisting and do not believe they have, or will self-cleanse.” The select committee report was also highly critical of a blacklisting compensation scheme introduced unilaterally by major construction firms. Committee chair Ian Davidson said it “was an act of bad faith by those involved, likely to be motivated by a desire to minimise financial and reputational damage rather than being a genuine attempt to address the crimes of the past.” Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, backed the committee’s comments. “The Scottish Affairs Select Committee has condemned the counterfeit compensation scheme in the strongest possible terms,” he said, adding affected workers knew the scheme was “simply a cheap way to gag them and deny them justice.” Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith said: “These wretches have misled parliament and ruined the lives of thousands of honest working men and women just for the crime of being a trade union member or raising concerns about safety on building sites.”

Ÿ  Blacklisting in Employment: Final Report, Scottish Affairs Committee, 27 March 2015.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  UCATT news release.

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Work compensation scheme is ‘an unholy mess’

Most UK workers suffering occupational cancer and other potentially lethal work-related diseases can forget about any government compensation, according to a new report by University of Stirling health researchers. The report, published in the new edition of Hazards magazine, found the current compensation scheme is an ‘unholy mess’ that excludes seven of the top ten entries on the official UK occupational cancer priorities ranking. Diesel exhaust or painting-related lung or bladder cancer are not on the prescribed disease list, nor is welding-related lung cancer. Skin cancer caused by solar radiation exposure, a known problem in outdoor workers and pilots, is also missing. Women almost entirely miss out, with breast cancer caused by shiftwork – estimated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to affect around 2,000 women each year – omitted from the list of ‘prescribed’ industrial diseases for which Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) is payable. Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the Stirling University’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, said: “The UK government’s workplace compensation scheme requires urgent reform. It is an unholy mess with only a tiny proportion of those made sick by their work in with a sniff of any compensation. The Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) scheme excludes many conditions and those that are covered tend to be subject to claim-barring disability thresholds, minimum exposure times and job restrictions.” Watterson said he intends to challenge the role played by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), the body charged with recommending conditions for inclusion on the ‘prescribed industrial disease’ list, and so qualifying for government payouts. He said IIAC’s ‘arbitrary’ imposition of a ‘relative risk’ requirement that requires a doubling of the risk of a disease compared to the general population excludes most ‘slamdunk’ occupational diseases. The report points to two officially recognised occupational cancers, ovarian and laryngeal cancer caused by asbestos exposure, that were rejected by IIAC this year because of its use of the double risk rule (Risks 692).

Ÿ  Stirling University news release. Mean test, Hazards magazine, number 130, 2015.

Ÿ  STV News.

Ÿ  The Herald.

UK asbestos, Irish victim, US court case

A New York appellate court has ruled that a former mechanic in Ireland can sue Ford Motor Co in the US courts because the company’s “substantial role” in the design of car parts distributed by its UK subsidiary. The appellate panel dismissed Ford's UK subsidiary, the Ford Motor Co Ltd, from the case for lack of jurisdiction. But it ruled that there were “issues of fact” about whether Ford USA can be held liable in the case brought by Raymond Finerty, a US resident who claimed his work in Ireland from the 1960s to the 1980s with automotive parts, including car brakes, caused him to develop the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. The ruling affirms a lower court's decision in October denying Ford USA's summary judgment motion, and reverses that court's decision denying its UK subsidiary's motion to dismiss the suit. “The record demonstrates that Ford USA acted as the global guardian of the Ford brand, having a substantial role in the design, development, and use of the auto parts distributed by Ford UK, with the apparent goal of the complete standardisation of all products worldwide that carried the signature Ford logo,” the panel said in its ruling. “Thus, issues of fact exist whether Ford USA may be held directly liable as a result of its role in facilitating the distribution of the asbestos-containing auto parts on the ground that it was 'in the best position to exert pressure for the improved safety of products' or to warn the end users of these auto parts of the hazards they presented,” the court said. “We're very pleased with the court's decision, and it could have wide-ranging effects because the court found that Ford can be responsible for exposing people to its products around the world,” said Mr Finerty’s lawyer, Amber R Long.


More questions over drug test accuracy

Construction workers are questioning the accuracy of site drug tests, following a landmark case that saw a Bristol bus driver win his tribunal case. Alan Bailes was awarded unfair dismissal compensation from First Bus after proving he didn't take drugs. The Unite member was wrongly dismissed from First Bristol Limited for “gross misconduct” after testing positive for cocaine in a drug test at work, but then commissioned a more sensitive test that proved he has not taken the drug (Risks 696). Now trade publication Construction Enquirer says it has been contacted by several agencies whose workers have failed pre-start drug tests on major sites. The operatives are adamant they have never taken illegal drugs. In one case, further checks by the agency confirmed they were telling the truth. One agency boss told the Enquirer: “We supply operatives to a lot of major sites and have been having problems with this recently. One of our lads failed the initial test which was a nightmare for him and us because he was one of the first workers we’d placed on the site. The contractor had only carried out a swab test and our lad said he’d taken nothing stronger than cough syrup. We paid for a proper follow-up blood test which came back negative. But by that time the job had gone and everyone had been tarnished with this.”

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Campaigners want action to protect employees

Workplace safety campaigners are challenging Britain’s politicians to take action to protect people at work. Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said: “Business as usual for the next five years is not an option for workers’ lives and health. Work shouldn’t hurt and it certainly shouldn’t kill, but in 2015 it still does.” The group has come up with a 13-point plan for the new government to follow, setting out 10 steps for the politicians and three for workers and union safety reps. It says this blueprint for action could go some way towards saving lives if implemented on day one by the new administration. Among the demands is a call on the new government to bury the myth that life-saving regulation is a burden on business. The campaign argues that it is mismanagement and negligence that is harmful — to both the workforce and the economy. The new government “must put a stop to the erosion of health and safety laws and instigate a programme of inspections to protect workers from unscrupulous employers and keep workers healthy,” the Hazards Campaign said. It also calls on the HSE to address its failure “to act on almost all of the ill-health issues caused by modern work.” Hilda Palmer said: “Over the last five years some have seen work become hell. For most, it has become more unhealthy and for many it is deadly. This is due to the great deregulation lie causing a retreat from the law, enforcement, prevention and protection.” The Hazards Campaign plan notes: “With an election looming, it’s the time to press for commitments to improve conditions and rights at work. You won’t get them from Cameron, but you might achieve something by exposing his government’s wilful ignorance and deadly neglect.”

Ÿ  Hazards Campaign 13-point plan.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Kayak firm fined for corporate manslaughter

A kayak maker convicted of corporate manslaughter after a dad was cooked to death in an industrial oven has been given a six figure fine. Supervisor Alan Catterall, 54, died when he was locked in the oven at Pyranha Mouldings' factory in Runcorn, Cheshire, in December 2010. His body was found at the door, where he had desperately tried to prise his way out with a crowbar. Pyranha Mouldings Ltd was found guilty of corporate manslaughter and criminal health and safety breaches in January (Risks 686). On 25 March the firm was handed a £200,000 fine. The firm's technical director, Peter Mackereth, was fined £25,000 and given a nine month jail term suspended for two years for criminal health and safety offences. The firm and the director were also ordered at The Royal Courts of Justice in London to share the £90,000 costs bill. Sentencing, Mr Justice MacDuff said he could not look the company in the eye, but he could Mackereth, who oversaw the design and commissioning of the oven. The judge said: “You don't need me to tell you how far short of your duty you fell. It was repeatedly brought home to you in the trial. You will have to live with the consequences of your actions for the rest of your life.” The judge said there was no mechanism to prevent someone being locked in and no thought had been given to that risk. Martin Heywood, the investigating inspector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said: “Alan Caterall tragically lost his life because the way in which maintenance work was carried out on the moulding ovens at the factory was fundamentally unsafe. The doors were set to automatically close whenever the electrical supply was switched back on, which meant there was a high risk of someone being trapped inside. There had been no risk assessments and staff had not received suitable training on how to use the new ovens and there were no written instructions on cleaning and maintenance.” He added: “If Pyranha Mouldings and the individual prosecuted over Alan′s death had properly considered the risks to employees when they designed, installed and operated the ovens then he would still be here today.”

Ÿ  CPS news release.

Ÿ  Runcorn and Widnes News.


Workers’ Memorial Day? That’s

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Hazards have launched their new, dedicated International Workers’ Memorial Day website, The new resource includes a global event map and listing, videos, a #iwmd15 twitter feed and links to lots of useful information. Throughout this month, more resources will be added, including a toolbox of materials on a ‘Toxic work – stop deadly exposures today!’ theme. It also includes links to new 28 April resources produced around the world.

Ÿ  ITUC/Hazards International Workers’ Memorial Day website.

Ÿ  TUC Workers’ Memorial Day webpages and events listings.


Global: Unions condemn UN asbestos junket

The appearance of asbestos industry lobbyists at a meeting organised by UN agencies and funded by the European Commission (EC) has been condemned as ‘farcical’ and a ‘junket’ by unions. Global building unions federation BWI said the event in Geneva on 30-31 March, ahead of a Rotterdam Convention conference in May, was hosted by the convention’s secretariat, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) and funded by the EC. Its purpose was to exchange information on chrysotile or ‘white’ asbestos. The addition of this form of asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention’s list of exported substances for which ‘prior informed consent’ must be obtained has been repeatedly blocked by governments supporting the asbestos lobby. Attendees at the pre-meeting in Geneva included representatives of asbestos groups from countries including India, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. According to BWI: “This move by the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat is politically naïve, to say the least. Presumably they seek to convince these representatives not to block listing of chrysotile ahead of the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention in Geneva this May.” The union body added: “Once again, the voice of the genuine, representative, trade union movement and of the victims of asbestos will be missing from the conversation. The plight of those who have paid with their lives for the profits of this deadly industry seems to be of little interest to the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention.” BWI has prepared a model letter it wants unions worldwide to send to their national governments. The letter says national government representatives attending the May Conference of the Parties should call for chrysotile asbestos to be included under the Rotterdam Convention’s prior informed consent disclosure requirements.

Ÿ  BWI news report and model letter to labour and environment ministers.

Korea: Samsung’s payouts plan excludes most

A compensation scheme for people harmed by toxic exposures while working for Samsung places so many restrictions on eligibility that barely three in every 10 affected workers will receive anything. An analysis by Hankyoreh21 magazine found only 14 of 163 cases (8.5 per cent) examined definitely fell within the scope of the scheme. The South Korean weekly said eligibility criteria announced by Samsung in January mean 107 people (66 per cent) are excluded automatically from receiving any payout because they developed diseases not on Samsung’s approved list. The firm announced that it would only provide compensation for seven groups of diseases: Five types of haematopoietic cancers (leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, aplastic anaemia, multiple myeloma, and myelodysplasia) and two types of cancer that have been approved as work-related, brain and breast cancer. Even then, rules on when and how and for how long a person was exposed and when they developed a potentially related condition further limit those eligible. And the scheme is only open to former employees. The widespread use of subcontract labour means many others harmed making Samsung products would be entirely off the firm’s radar.

Ÿ  SHARPS report.

Global: Don’t privatise safety responsibility

An occupational health and safety management standard currently in preparation (Risks 679) could undermine existing safety provisions, a global union has warned. PSI, the international union federation for public sector unions, said the standard being developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) “grievously undermines the participation of workers at all levels of occupational health and safety management.” The union body adds that ISO is ‘riding roughshod’ over the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which it argues is the legitimate body responsible for developing workplace safety standards. “Should the draft proceed to a standard, it may have content that compromises the ILO,” PSI notes. “In any case, the standard is non-binding and does not have the force of public international law. No oversight equivalent to that of the ILO standards can be actioned. Essentially, compliance will only be voluntary. Workers will have no recourse to a robust standard, and their representatives and unions will have no standard to depend on to defend the health and safety of workers.” PSI concludes: “Beyond soft law, any such standard cannot withstand the heavy global demands of purging sources of risk in production, eradicating hazardous work and eliminating dangerous workplaces… Should the ILO delegate the definition of occupational health and safety standards to ISO, PSI would consider this as an abdication from legally protecting workers’ health thereby weakening the role and image of the ILO.” Global union federation ITUC (Risks 677) and TUC (Risks 695) have warned about the dangers of ‘privatising’ safety standards.

Ÿ  PSI news report.

USA: Union mines are safer and more productive

Unionised coal mines are safer and more productive than non-union mines, a study has confirmed. Research by SNL Energy found that in 2013 unionised mines in the US coal belt produced about 94,091 tons of coal per injury versus 71,110 in non-union mines, despite research suggesting that unionised miners are more likely to report workplace injuries. Phil Smith, a spokesperson for the mine workers’ union (UMWA), said: “The union was formed 125 years ago by miners seeking to improve their pay and working conditions, including making the mines safer places to work. Those needs still exist today.” He added the new study “demonstrates that union mines are safer mines; others have found similar results.” A 2011 Stanford University study found union mines were substantially safer (Risks 508). Both Smith and Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky attorney who specialises in mining laws and coal mine safety, point to the protections in a union contract, including the right to refuse unsafe work without retaliation and a worker-elected and empowered mine safety committee, as key factors in the better safety records at union mines. Oppegard said: “You work in a non-union mine, you pretty much do what you're told to do, including risking life and limb, or else you're going to lose your job.” He added: “At a non-union mine, they don't have that same cushion to try to resolve issues at the job site.”

Ÿ  SNL Data Dispatch.

Ÿ  AFL-CIO Now blog.


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