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Dangerous signs that the long-term reduction in workplace fatalities has stalled or could be reversing provide more evidence that a new approach to prevention is needed, the TUC has said. The union body was speaking out of the release this week of provisional Health and Safety Executive (HSE) fatality figures for 2014/15. These revealed 142 workers were fatally injured at work between April 2014 and March 2015, a rate of 0.46 fatalities per 100,000 workers. This compares to last year’s all-time low of 136, at 0.45 fatalities per 100,000 workers. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said “the rate of deaths has been almost unchanged over the past five years,” adding the new figures “once again demonstrate that the steady fall in fatalities that we have seen since 1974 has stopped and may even be beginning to reverse.” The TUC safety specialist was critical of government policies over the last five years, which he said “have done nothing to help prevent workers being injured or killed and need a big change, with more emphasis on inspection and enforcement.” He also warned against too much focus on fatal injuries, as “the TUC always stresses that fatalities are less than 1 per cent of the actual number of deaths caused through work.” He said overall the injury and ill-health trends are better demonstrated by the more broad-based figures released by HSE every October. Last year these showed that the number of people being injured or made ill through work was rising, reversing a long-term downward trend (Risks 679). New cases of work-related illnesses, and the number of self-reported injuries, both rose to well above the level in 2010/11. At the same time enforcement action had fallen.
An official analysis of work-related injury and ill-health reporting statistics is “of little use” because it asks the wrong questions, the TUC has said. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the report by the Health and Safety Executive’s research wing, HSL, should have revealed important information on the impact of a dramatic reduction in reporting requirements forced through by the government as part of its drive to deregulate health and safety. The changes included the shift away from a requirement on firms to report over-three day work-related absences, shifting instead to over-seven day absences. “At the time, unions claimed this move would be a mistake as the HSE would have far less information to help guide their inspection and prevention work. After all an employer with lots of over-3-day injuries is likely to have a big problem with health and safety,” he said. The report is a “big disappointment” because “it simply asks the wrong questions”, concentrating on the use of RIDDOR as an indicator of injury related sickness absence. It doesn’t even do his well, he said, as the methods used “may skew the data away from conditions leading to very long absences, or where the person does not return.” RIDDOR was never intended to be a measure of sickness absence, he added – a job the Labour Force Survey does much better - but should inform HSE’s inspection and prevention priorities. “Unfortunately there is no analysis of the impact of the changes on the HSE’s intelligence gathering on prevention in the report, or of whether there has been an impact on employers, even though that is the most important question that should be asked about the change that the government introduced.” Neither does the report examine under-reporting, despite unearthing deeply worrying reporting trends. According to Robertson, it “shows that construction employers report only a third of the number of injuries compared to manufacturing, and half that of ‘government administration’. Energy, waste and recycling is even worse. In terms of what the unions in these sectors see this is of course nonsense.” Alarmingly, a passing reference in the report does reveal that HSE now investigates only 6 per cent of even those non-fatal injuries that are reported. The TUC safety specialist concluded: “The questions about what effect the reduction in reporting has had needs to be answered. After all the last government forced it through as part of its deregulatory agenda. If they are so convinced that the change was a good thing, why are they not looking for the proof? Perhaps, because they know what the answer will be.”
A new asbestos eradication law requiring the safe, planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place should be introduced, the union Unite has said, backing a demand endorsed by the TUC last month. Making the call on 3 July, the annual Mesothelioma Action Day, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Sixteen years after asbestos was banned in the UK, exposure to asbestos, which causes the incurable disease mesothelioma, remains ‘an ever present danger’.” Unite says already nearly 13,500 members of the union who believe they have been exposed to asbestos have joined its asbestos register. Addressing delegates at a London conference to mark the action day, Gail Cartmail said: “There is no room for complacency by government and companies about the threat from asbestos. Past exposure to asbestos as a result of corporate negligence kills around 5,000 people a year, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The true figure is likely to be much higher, and, we believe, is on the rise.” She concluded: “We need a new asbestos eradication law requiring the safe, planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place across Britain - including a register of all properties which contain asbestos. This must be backed by an inspection and enforcement programme by health and safety bodies such as the HSE [Health and Safety Executive], which must be properly resourced by the government.” She said asbestos still presents a danger to workers in many workplaces – at least 500,000 non-domestic premises and probably around a million domestic premises contain asbestos materials. GMB head of health and safety John McClean said: “The removal of asbestos due to age and degradation urgently needs a full phased and funded plan.” White doves in memory of those that have died from mesothelioma were released outside Farringdon Tube in London to mark the event, one of several nationwide organised by asbestos disease support and safety campaign groups.
UNISON is encouraging employers and its union branches to work together to tackle work-related stress. The UNISON push follows the announcement that the theme for October’s European Health and Safety Week will again be stress and other psychosocial risks. The union says employers and branches should consider conducting a stress audit using the HSE stress management tool. It adds a decent risk assessment should result in effective prevention and control measures and can be backed up by properly negotiated stress management policies and procedures. This year European Health and Safety Week begins on Monday 19 October. “So now is a good time to start having joint discussions,” a UNISON alert notes. “Use the week to conduct an audit or survey, as a target for the review or implementation of a stress risk assessment, or to review or launch the current or a new policy and procedure.”
Fees of up to £1,200 to start an employment tribunal case are still deterring people from challenging illegal employment abuses at work, the TUC has warned. Responding to a report by Acas on the first year of the early conciliation process, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This research confirms that people are having as many problems at work as ever.” She added: “Resolving those issues as soon as possible is important. It is encouraging that the vast majority of employers and staff are participating in early conciliation, and that Acas is settling so many cases so quickly. However the research suggests that fees are a major deterrent for individuals taking their claims to employment tribunals, with around at least one in four claimants whose cases are not settled by early conciliation being put off from further action by the costs.” The TUC leader said: “Many employees – particularly the low paid – cannot afford justice, which could explain this apparent keenness to settle a dispute at early conciliation without going to tribunal. Employment tribunal fees have been a huge victory for Britain’s worst bosses. By charging up-front fees for harassment and abuse claims the government has made it easier for bad employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour. The Ministry of Justice must prioritise its review into the impact of tribunal fees and take swift action to abolish them.” Last month the government the announced a government review into the impact of employment tribunal fees, with the TUC warning it must not be a ‘political stitch-up’ (Risks 707). 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).
Traffic wardens in Hackney, east London, are being balloted for strike action in a bid to get proper sick pay provided by their private sector employer. Unite, which represents the ‘civil enforcement officers’ in the borough, says that while the workers get more than their share of physical and verbal abuse, they don’t get sick pay from their employer, APCOA Parking. The company has the contract from Hackney council, but the terms and conditions of its employees fall short of those provided to council workers. Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “The main issue is that there is no company sick pay policy with APCOA Parking – our members only get statutory sick pay (SSP).” He added: “The point that our members are making is that in their role, sickness absence is not uncommon in light of the frequent incidents of abuse and assaults they suffer. Yet all they get is SSP – it is not good enough. In Hackney, the traffic wardens are on poorer pay and conditions than the staff in the local authorities that hand out the contracts to the private companies – this disreputable two-tier pay policy must cease.”
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is to mount a legal challenge over what it says are unfair pension arrangements for its members. The union says it will challenge in court the “utterly unfair” system imposed by the government that means younger firefighters will only qualify for an inferior pension plan. It adds that under new arrangements introduced on 1 April, firefighters are expected to ride fire engines, run with heavy fire hoses and carry people out of burning buildings until they are 60, up from the previous retirement age of 55. If they are can’t cope with all the physical demands of the job due to the natural decline in fitness with age, they have to take a reduced pension. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said the government “is leaving those who cannot maintain operational fitness with a stark choice – to leave on a severely reduced pension or face the sack. We are not going to go away and we will explore every possible avenue to try to achieve a workable pension scheme for firefighters.” The union has selected 50 test cases to support its legal challenge, and expects to issue tribunal proceedings in the near future.
The government has agreed to waive new court fees for cases involving asbestos-related disease in what has been hailed as a landmark decision for claimants. The Ministry of Justice had imposed a 5 per cent levy on all claims over £10,000 on 9 March. But faced with a High Court challenge, justice secretary Michael Gove has now conceded this should not apply to mesothelioma claims. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK brought the case alongside mesothelioma sufferers Ian Doughty and Carole Sloper. The rules could have meant sufferers of the inevitably fatal cancer would have faced an upfront payment of around £10,000 to start a compensation case. Lawyers for the claimants argued that for mesothelioma sufferers with a limited life expectancy giving up any of their disposable capital in the last months of their lives would dissuade them from pursuing a claim. The case was due before the High Court later this month. But on 2 July 2015, the Lord Chancellor agreed in a letter changes that would exempt mesothelioma sufferers from the charges. Harminder Bains of law firm Leigh Day, who represented the claimants, said “our clients have successfully ensured that mesothelioma sufferers will continue to have access to justice via the courts which the Lord Chancellor, by substantially increasing court fees, seems determined to prevent.” The Asbestos Forum’s Anthony Whitston said: “Yet again, dying mesothelioma sufferers who have very limited financial resources have had to take court action to get justice. In this case they should never have had to launch legal action to stop the government charging £10,000 in court costs to claim compensation for the criminal negligence of employers, often government as employer, who continued to expose them to asbestos decades after it was known to cause cancer.”
The manager of a fruit firm owned by a Tory peer has been jailed for the manslaughter of two workers who died after being sent into a nitrogen-filled tank while holding their breath. Scott Cain and Ashley Clarke suffocated in the apple container, where the oxygen level was 1 per cent (Risks 708). Andrew Stocker, who was boss of the fruit farm at Lord Selborne's Hampshire estate, was jailed for two-and-half years. The peer’s company, Blackmoor Estate Ltd, which pleaded guilty in January to three serious criminal safety offences, was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay costs of £30,000. Stocker, 57, had denied manslaughter, but admitted exposing the men to a risk of death. He was on holiday in the Maldives at the time of the men's deaths, but had left instructions. Mr Cain was 23, engaged and had a young child, and had been working at Blackmoor Estates since 2009 as a pack house assistant. Mr Clarke, 24, who was also engaged, had been working as an assistant checking the quality of fruit for eight months. Speaking after the sentencing hearing, Detective Sergeant Rich Sellwood of Hampshire Constabulary said: “Whilst it is unlikely that anyone will take any pleasure from seeing a man like Andrew Stocker sent to prison, he has been found to be responsible for encouraging and supervising the appallingly dangerous practice that directly led to the deaths of two young men. I hope that the families of Scott and Ashley will take some solace from the fact that someone has been held to account for these totally avoidable deaths.”
Ÿ Daily Mail.
Oil giant Shell has been fined after a diesel leak on the same North Sea platform where two workers died 12 years ago. Sean McCue, 22, and Keith Moncrieff, 45, lost their lives when they were overcome by gas while working on the energy firm’s Brent Bravo rig in 2003. The oil company was previously fined nearly £1 million after admitting criminal safety breaches that led to their deaths. The incident led to union calls for an investigation into the workings of the Health and Safety Executive's offshore division, alleging the safety watchdog failed to take action which could have prevented two deaths on the platform (Risks 267). Concerns had earlier been raised about a maintenance backlog. Last week senior management from the Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary appeared in the public benches at Aberdeen Sheriff Court where the company pleaded guilty to an unlicensed release of fuel. Approximately 13 to 15 tonnes of diesel spilled into the North Sea despite warnings over the transfer system going back over a decade. The leak took place in May 2013 while the Brent Bravo platform, situated 116 miles north east of Lerwick, Shetland, underwent a scheduled shutdown for routine maintenance. Sheriff Kenneth Stewart fined the company £6,650, reduced from the maximum possible of £10,000 due to the early guilty plea.
Industry body Oil and Gas UK has reported a growing backlog of safety-critical maintenance on offshore installations. Its annual health and safety report said the trend had been growing since companies began reporting in January 2009. Oil and Gas UK's Health and Safety 2015 figures were based on incidents reported by companies to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and shared with the trade body. The report said the non-fatal injury rate for offshore workers continued to show a declining trend. However, in 2014, two offshore fatalities were recorded - one on the Taqa Bratani Ltd Harding platform and the other on the BP Unity platform. Robert Paterson, from Oil and Gas UK, said: “Our report did find a growing backlog of safety-critical maintenance offshore and this is an area that needs close attention. However, decisions on deferring maintenance are taken following robust management systems that assess risk and involve the relevant technical and engineering authorities.” He added: “All operators are also being encouraged to participate in providing data to all stakeholders to best reflect how the industry as a whole is managing safety-critical maintenance. Producing hydrocarbons safely, ensuring assets are operated safely, and transporting our workforce to and from installations safely is of paramount importance to the industry. Despite these difficult times they must always remain our priority.” Provisional figures showed a total of 77 petroleum hydrocarbon releases between April 2014 and May this year. This was down on the 89 recorded in 2012/13 and 102 in 2013/14. In addition to the petroleum releases, there were 16 leaks of "non-process" substances such as diesel, methanol and hydraulic fluid.
Euro Dismantling Solutions Limited has been fined for criminal safety failings after a man lost his life when his digger plunged from the fourth floor during demolition work. Bristol Crown Court heard how the work was taking place at the former Cadburys Somerdale factory, near Bristol on 9 November 2011 when 31-year-old James Stacey drove a mini digger out of a fourth floor opening. He was using the opening as part of a ‘drop zone’ to drop large fibreglass tanks that had been cut in half to the ground below. The opening was not properly protected to prevent the machine falling from the building and the tank got stuck on the digger and pulled the vehicle with it. Mr Stacey died from his injuries. Euro Dismantling Solutions Limited, which is now in liquidation, pleaded guilty a criminal safety offence and was fined £80,000. Site supervisor Paul Ben Priestley, 54, denied failing to take reasonable care but was convicted at Bristol Crown Court on 21 May 2015 and given an 18 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. He was fined £7,500.
A West Yorkshire chemical processing company has been fined after people at a neighbouring firm were exposed to nitric acid fumes. On 29 April 2014, employees from Joda Freight were exposed to the chemical fumes during transfer of the substance from a road tanker into a storage vessel at Airedale Chemical Company Ltd. The fumes escaped through a vent situated on the roof of the Keighley-based chemical firm that housed the nitric acid storage tank. Towards the end of the transfer the driver was alerted by an Airedale employee that there were complaints about fumes from a neighbouring site. At this time the driver was venting the road tanker through the system. Bradford and Keighley Magistrates’ Court heard how Keith Mortimer, a Joda Freight employee, was working outside immediately below the nitric acid vent pipe and was hospitalised the day after the incident. The effects of the acid exposure contributed to his decision to cut back on his work as a mechanic and take early retirement. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Caroline Skingle said the transfer was supposed to take about 90 minutes but was completed in 40 minutes, causing a build-up of pressure that “overwhelmed” the system. She said the leak had caused a number of employees working at the Joda Freight site complained of “burning eyes and stinging skin” and took refuge in one of the company's workshops. “Airedale Chemical Company Ltd is a lower tier site under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations by virtue of storage and use of hazardous chemicals including nitric acid. There is a high level of public concern about such sites and they should adequately control the risks that arise from their operations,” she said. “On this occasion the company fell short of the required control standards for the safe transfer of corrosive nitric acid which resulted in people being affected offsite.” Airedale Chemical Company Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £12,000 with costs of £3,318.
A poorly supervised teenage carpenter had his thumb and three fingers severed while working with an industrial saw, a court has been told. Hammersmith Magistrates heard that, on 11 October 2013, Maple Windows Co Ltd employee George Warren Heath, who was 19 at the time, was cutting a small piece of uPVC using a powered saw. He disconnected the compressed air supply to the saw so he could move the saw head manually. However, as he pressed down on the saw head, the blade guard rose trapping his fingers and dragging them into the rotating blades. His thumb and three fingers on his dominant hand were cut off. Although surgeons were able to reattach his thumb and two fingers, the middle finger was fully amputated. Nearly 18 months on, he is unable to move his index finger, has little strength in the others and has great difficulty completing everyday tasks. He has not been able to return to work and fears for his future employment prospects. The court heard that employees sometimes disconnected the air supply when cutting short pieces of uPVC. However, doing so defeated the saw’s safety systems. HSE discovered the company didn’t do enough to stop the poor practice even though they knew the dangers of disconnecting the supply. Maple Windows Company Ltd was fined £15,000 with £913 in costs after admitting criminal safety breaches. The district judge also ordered the company to pay the injured worker £5,000 in compensation. HSE inspector Nick Wright said: “This young worker suffered a serious life-changing injury that has had a very damaging impact on him and his family.”
Truck drivers forced to drive too fast for too long face deadly risks and jail terms while the companies imposing dangerous contracts are “making money out of this terrible tragedy,” a union leader has said. Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon told an Australian Senate inquiry that one truck driver, Stephen Day, is serving a 10-year jail sentence for killing a cyclist after being required to work “extraordinary” hours. “Yet both the employer and the client that was making money out of this terrible tragedy are not in the box, are not being questioned and not being charged,” he said. “It is horrendous to see the truck drivers who do have responsibility on the road, but when you are threatened with being sacked or putting food on your table... then people push the law. Because the boss says you either you do it or we don't get the contract, or you get terminated. That's the situation that is a cocktail for death on our roads. It's why so many people are being killed.” Describing truck driving as Australia's “deadliest profession”, Mr Sheldon said 330 people are killed each year in truck crashes on Australian roads. He said Safe Work Australia has found that truck drivers are 15 times more likely to die than workers in any other industry. He told the Senate inquiry that major retailers who use transport companies, including Coles and Woolworths, need to be held to account for their role in the road carnage. He said the economic demands that filtered down to truck drivers had created a “culture of risk-taking and law breaking in trucking. While wealthy businesses get their bonuses for meeting their targets by cutting transport costs, Stephen [Day] is left to rot in jail. His family and the family of the man he knocked down are left devastated,” he said. “We want to see accountability going right to the top and for the pressure to be taken off people like Stephen.”
The Canadian government has finally admitted there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. The Conservative administration quietly changed Health Canada’s website, which now no longer says that chrysotile, or white asbestos, is less potent than other types. It has also removed the qualification that asbestos is dangerous when inhaled in “significant quantities.” Instead, it says: “Asbestos, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases.” The move, which follows the closure of the country’s asbestos mines and an end to Canadian exports of the carcinogenic fibre, has been welcomed by campaigners and unions. However, the federal government has stopped short of an outright ban on the use of asbestos in Canada. In a call echoed in editorials in national newspapers, public sector union CUPE said the government rethink should lead to a national ban on asbestos. “Though Health Canada’s change in position is welcome, these changes alone are not a solution to protect workers. The real issue lies in both federal and provincial regulations, which are often weak or go unenforced, leaving workers at risk. Without stronger regulations and better enforcement, asbestos will continue to be a problem for workers,” a statement notes. “CUPE continues to call for an outright ban on the import, export, or use of asbestos within Canada, along with just transition programmes for those who continue to live in areas affected by the asbestos mine closures.”
Ÿ Toronto Star.
A robot has killed a contract worker at a Volkswagen car factory in Germany. The 22-year-old died from injuries he sustained when he was trapped by a robotic arm and crushed against a metal plate. The man was part of a team that was setting up the automated machinery at the factory in Kassel, north of Frankfurt, according to Volkswagen. The robot is a mechanical arm that moves car parts into place, said Heiko Hillwig, a spokesperson for the company. It is part of an automated assembly line that is capable of functioning without a human operator, but it is believed it may have been under human control at the time of the tragedy. Dr Götz Wied of the state prosecutor’s office in Kassel commented: “We have begun an investigation to find out exactly what happened and to determine whether anybody was at fault.” The contractor is believed to have died from injuries caused when his chest was crushed by the robot arm. He was rushed to hospital but doctors were unable to save him. Robots have caused at least 26 workplace deaths in the US alone in the past 30 years, according to government data. New generations of technology could present new challenges at work. Developments reported in the Australian and US press this week include the increasing use of brain scanning ‘Smart Caps’ to monitor fatigue at work, and the introduction of “magic exoskeleton” suits, which are being touted for industrial, construction and military uses. The Ekso Works bionic suit is slated to hit the market in 2016, priced in the “tens of thousands of dollars” range. It is reported two suits have already been purchased for use in US Navy shipyards.
Ÿ The Guardian.
Ÿ EHS Today.
Ÿ Ars Technica.
The owner and project manager of a construction company have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the cave-in death of a worker at a Californian home-build site in 2012, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office has said. Authorities contended US Sino Investment Inc owner Richard Liu, 53, and project manager Dan Luo, 36, were criminally negligent when they went forward with the construction of a home in defiance of a stop-work order issued because of an unfortified 12-foot-tall dirt wall piled from material excavated from a hillside. One of these piles collapsed on 28 January 2012 after a downpour and buried Raul Zapata Mercado, 36, of Zacatecas, Mexico, a worker who had been on the project for just over a week. Prosecutors, who described the case as “a rare trial aimed at holding an employer criminally responsible for the death of an employee on the job,” contended during a jury trial that Luo was unqualified to manage the work site. Luo had no background in construction. Three days before Zapata died, a city building inspector issued a stop-work order because of concerns the unfortified dirt wall was liable to collapse. But deputy district attorney Bud Porter said Liu and Luo were driven to stay on schedule by pressure to retain their client, who had committed $700,000 for a dream home, and keep the money flowing. After a subcontractor walked off the job for lack of payment, and the warning from the city, work continued, leading to Zapata's death. “They gambled that they could get it built before it could fall,” Porter said. “They gambled with his life.” The company was fined $168,175 for safety violations. Both men face up to four years in prison when they are sentenced on 17 July.
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