Issue date
31 Jul 2015
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 713 - 1 August 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 [email protected]
 
Contents

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

UNION NEWS

Don’t stall action on shift work risks

As evidence mounts linking shift work to breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and a range of other health problems, the TUC is warning that preventive advice isn’t keeping pace with the evidence of harm. Spelling out the recent of evidence on the health effects of shift work, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson goes on to ask: “What should unions and employers be doing to protect workers from these health dangers? Some researchers have gone as far as recommending that women with a known predisposition to breast cancer (such as having genetic mutations linked to breast cancer) should avoid shift work. But not all workers have the luxury of picking and choosing what hours we work, nor do most women know their genetic makeup.” The union safety specialists says that HSE advice is nearly a decade old so pre-dates a lot of the evidence on chronic risks. “That means that unions and employers have absolutely no idea what kind of shift work patterns we should be agreeing. Are rotating shifts better than permanent nights? If so, what are the best type? What steps can employers take to reduce the effects of shift work?” Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he says HSE has declined to act until the findings of new research is available, possibly later this year. But he says the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of the breast cancer link eight years ago. “In that time an estimated 14,000 women will have developed breast cancer as a result of night shift working and 4,400 will have died.” The union safety specialist concludes: “We live in society that is increasingly 24 hours and having revised guidance from the HSE would not of course have stopped all, or even most of these cancers, as shift working will still continue. However we do have the right to make informed choices about what is best for us, and unions have to be able to negotiate agreements that protect their members as best they can. That means clear strong advice. And we need it sooner rather than later. There will always be new research coming out but that is no reason to keep on waiting. After all guidance can be revised.”

Ÿ  TUC Stronger Unions blog.

Ÿ  Are you on the receiving end of good or bad agreements on shift work? Tell the TUC safety department.

Attack on safety reps could be even more damaging

The damage to safety from the government’s Trade Union Bill could be even worse than originally anticipate, the TUC has said. The union body last week warned that the Bill includes measures that could dramatically curtail the time available to public sector union safety reps to perform their functions and get trained (Risks 712). It noted capping paid time off for safety activities is “a likely breach of the European Framework Directive.” But inquiries by TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson has established that the Bill, which calls for recording and reporting of time off as well as hours limits, could affect more than just public sector workers. Robertson says the Bill indicates the measures would be extended to “a body or other person that is not a public authority but has the functions of a public nature and is funded wholly or partly from public funds.” According to the TUC safety specialist, that would include “almost any employer that gets any public money, charities, housing associations, colleges, research bodies, most organisations that get any lottery money, anyone with a public sector contract.” Writing on the TUC’s health and safety facebook page, he adds: “It will probably include anyone that gets money from the EU as well, so a lot of private companies, if they can be seen to have a ‘function of a public nature’ (whatever that means), will fall within the definition. Ironically the TUC would come under the scope of the Bill as much of our training is state funding, and is definitely of a public nature, as will many of our Hazards centres.” Robertson concludes: “Of course, that does not mean that the government will include us, or all these bodies in any new regulations, but they will be giving ministers power to do so, and that is worrying.”

Ÿ  TUC health and safety facebook page.

Hovis fired workers for raising safety concerns

Baking giant Hovis Ltd fired two employees after they notified management of health and safety concerns. Peter Barszczak and Mohammed Farooq, both members of the bakers’ union BFAWU, were dismissed by Hovis after they reported an injury at a Hovis warehouse. Peter Barszczak, a union shop steward, suffered bruising when a faulty door shut on his leg. His colleague Mohammed Farooq witnessed the incident and reported it to managers. Hovis accused the men of colluding to fabricate the story, and fired them. Both men took Hovis to an employment tribunal in 2013 which found Hovis had unfairly and wrongfully dismissed them and subjected them to a detriment for reporting an accident at work. An employment tribunal ordered Hovis to pay both compensation for loss of earnings and to re-engage them, but Hovis failed to give them their jobs back or provide compensation. Now a second tribunal has ordered the firm to pay additional compensation. Peter Barszczak said: “The total cost to Hovis of wrongfully dismissing me has now reached in excess of £100,000. They have treated us appallingly but we are determined to stand up to them as we have done for the past four years. Hovis lied to us, and about us. We did not fabricate an accident; I was injured, I reported it and Mohammed witnessed the accident. I think that Hovis’ appalling attitude towards me had more to do with my being a shop steward for a trade union than anything else.” Mohammed Farooq said: “My family and I have felt great stress and anxiety because Hovis chose to fight us tooth and nail, when all we did was follow procedure and report an accident.” BFAWU president Ian Hodson commented: “Hovis not only failed to keep its employees safe, they covered up their error by accusing Mr Barszczak and Mr Farooq of making up their story and deprived them of work and earnings. Hovis has caused untold damage to these innocent men who must now try to get on with their lives after a tortuous four year legal battle”.

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Derailment raises questions about rail cuts

The derailment of a train last week raises “serious questions” about the impact of budget cuts on rail safety, a union has warned. Network Rail and Southeastern trains confirmed the rail operator had been warned that stray cows were near the tracks 90 minutes before a train collided with a herd in Kent and partly derailed. The train going from Charing Cross to Ramsgate was travelling at 60-70mph when it struck and killed up to five cows on the line between the villages of Wye and Chilham, in Kent, at about 9.45pm on Sunday 26 July. Seventy-two passengers – including two pregnant women – were evacuated by emergency services, but there were no injuries. It has since emerged that the quick-thinking train driver may have prevented a more serious collision when he jumped out of his cabin and halted an oncoming train. The driver, whose radio had stopped working, was then able to contact the signaller through the radio of the second train to switch off power to the lines. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said he was concerned that both Network Rail and the train operator were aware of the problem in advance of the derailment. He added: “I applaud the composure and level headedness of the train driver and ASLEF member whose quick thinking actions were able to minimise the impact of this collision. It is a reminder of the professionalism of train drivers and the safety critical job they do each and every day.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This derailment in Kent due to cows on the track raises some serious questions about the maintenance of trackside fencing, and the impact of cuts on budgets, and the union will be following the investigation that is now underway very closely.” He added: “The incident also once again reinforces the importance of having a safety critical guard on our trains to ensure that passenger and crew safety is properly protected, and safe procedures followed, in the event of just this kind of serious event. RMT will be reinforcing that message in our continuing campaign to keep guards on our trains.”

Ÿ  ASLEF news release. RMT news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Call to tackle construction card fraud

There must be renewed efforts to end the widespread use of fake construction skills cards on construction sites, UCATT has said. The union was commenting on the finding of a survey by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) and the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), who are urging construction firms to adopt new technology which will make it quicker and easier to identify fraudsters (Risks 696). The CITB/CSCS survey found one in five of those responsible for checking cards on construction sites had seen fake certification cards for construction workers in the past year. There were 1,180 responses to the UK-wide survey which also showed that while 86 per cent of cardholders had their cards checked, under half (43 per cent) were checked to see if they were actually qualified to do the job. Commenting on the survey findings, UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said: "It is everyone's aim to ensure that workers have the right card for the right job. Having certainty that workers are fully competent and have the right card for the work they are undertaking is a major factor in improving construction safety.”

Ÿ  UCATT news release. CSCS survey report.

Blacklisters told to hand over evidence

Senior construction figures implicated in the blacklisting scandal have been ordered to explain their role in full. The order came after a July High Court hearing, where lawyers acting for hundreds of blacklisted workers applied for disclosure of documents held by companies involved in blacklisting. The companies had argued that the disclosure exercise sought by the claimants would cost millions of pounds, and was impractical. The companies also sought to limit the number of people covered by the disclosure order and the extent of searches. The High Court rejected these arguments, saying it was “unimpressed” by the evidence the companies put forward. The court decided severak key points in the claimants’ favour, ruling searches should include desktop and laptop computers, and not just emails. Information held on mobile phones should also be included. The court added that documents should be reviewed individually, rather than searched for key words. The searches should also include records held by personal assistants and assistants to the construction bosses directly involved in the running of the covert blacklisting agency The Consulting Association, the ruling said. Maria Ludkin, legal officer with the union GMB, which has 126 members named in the litigation, said: “At last the court has given a definitive ruling that key individuals, who up to now have hidden inside the construction companies, will have to explain in detail how the blacklist was serviced and operated by them. They will have to provide detailed search evidence showing how blacklisting information was used inside the companies either when it was submitted to or obtained from The Consulting Association.” She said a requirement on the firms to hand over communications from 2009, when a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) led to the closure of the illegal blacklisting agency, “will at last shine a light on the level of conspiracy between the defendant companies as they tried to cover up their unlawful activities.”

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Undercover policing inquiry must cover blacklisting

Blacklisting in the construction industry must be investigated by the public inquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales, Unite has said. The union said there is “proven evidence” that undercover police from the special demonstration squad (SDS) infiltrated trade unions. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said the union would be prepared to give evidence to the public inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford (Risks 712), on what it knows of ‘blacklisting’ in the construction industry. She said: “We need the inquiry to probe what the undercover police involvement was in relation to links with the blacklisting scandal in the construction industry. So far, I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg – and Judge Pitchford will have to dig deep.” She added: “We need to know who authorised the infiltration of trade unions – how high up does the buck stop when it comes to accountability? And who authorised the payments to these undercover officers to pay their union dues?”

Ÿ  Unite news release

Cobalt caused grinder’s job-ending allergies

A factory worker lost his job after contracting a debilitating sensitisation to cobalt at work. The Unite member has now received £40,000 in compensation after he developed occupational asthma and dermatitis following workplace dust exposures. The unnamed worker was employed for car parts producer Federal Mogul as a grinding machine operative. He initially developed skin irritation on his hands and arms, which then spread to his cheeks, forehead, neck and ears. After several months of working on the grinding machine he also developed a painful cough and suffered bouts of breathlessness. However, his symptoms would ease when he was away from the factory. His health deteriorated and he suffered from asthma attacks, which would last for up to two hours. The attacks prompted to him to seek medical advice. The Unite member was diagnosed with occupational asthma and dermatitis, which doctors attributed to his exposure to cobalt, used to harden the tools used in grinding machines. Federal Mogul did not provide its employees with any personal protective equipment (PPE). The man was moved from operating the grinding machine to work on the company’s presses, but the presses were in the same area of the factory as the grinder. He was given two PPE suits and masks to trial while working on the presses but because they restricted both movement and breathing he could not wear them for any length of time. Ultimately his employment at the factory was terminated as he could not carry out his work. Lawyers brought in by Unite to act in the compensation case found that Federal Mogul had failed to carry out a full risk assessment to ensure that the factory had adequate ventilation and extraction fans, and had failed to provide staff with suitable PPE. Unite’s Peter Coulson said: “Cobalt is a known hazardous substance and if a proper workplace assessment had been carried out, our member’s health complaints could have been avoided.” He added: “Supplying protective equipment really is one of the most basic requirements for any employer exposing its staff to potential harm at work. Unfortunately, Federal Mogul tried to address these health problems too late, which led to the premature end to a career and long lasting health problems.”

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release

OTHER NEWS

Cash-strapped councils abandon safety inspections

Funding cuts have driven local authorities to almost entirely abandon their statutory role as a workplace health and safety regulator, an analysis by the Financial Times has found. The investigation found councils have faced £18bn in cuts in real terms since 2010 — with at least another £9.5bn expected by the end of the decade. The paper found that as well as decimating council services, the role of councils as a public health and workplace safety regulator has been largely abandoned as a consequence of funding cuts. According to the Financial Times: “The part played by councils in protecting public safety, through local environmental regulation, food inspections and workplace health and safety checks, has also been scaled back by sharp cuts, as government directions to reduce ‘red tape’ have been given further impetus by the need to save money and reduce staff.” It adds: “In 2009-10, council inspectors in England made 56,175 visits to local factories and other workplaces to ensure health and safety rules were being followed and employee health safeguarded. By 2013-14, the number had been slashed by 91 per cent, to just 4,901 inspections, while 53 councils opted to abandon proactive inspections altogether.” The Department for Communities and Local Government told the paper that councils had “worked hard over the past five years to deliver a better deal for local taxpayers, keeping council tax down while public satisfaction with services has been maintained”.

Ÿ  Financial Times.

Rail staffing cuts blames for ‘shocking’ attacks surge

The number of passengers attacked on Britain’s trains is at the highest level for a decade. The dramatic increase in assaults comes after repeated union warnings about the dangers of swingeing cuts in the numbers of platform and on-train rail staff. More than 2,880 people were assaulted or abused on the nation’s railways last year. Figures in the latest annual safety report by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) reveal around half – 1,442, the highest number in 10 years – took place on trains. The remaining 1,446 assaults occurred on platforms and in station buildings. Common assaults, which account for around half the crimes, have soared by 39 per cent in the past five years, from 1,053 in 2010-11 to 1,459 in 2014-15. And one in five offences is racially aggravated harassment, with cases rising by a third in five years. “Taking into account the growth in passenger journeys, there was a 6 per cent increase in the number of passenger and public assaults,” concluded the report. “This is the first increase in the rate since 2008-09. Assaults in station and train locations both increased.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said: “These are truly shocking figures that are a wake-up call for the politicians and train companies pressing ahead with cash-led plans to axe staff from trains and stations.” He added: “RMT has warned repeatedly that sacking guards and destaffing the platforms would turn our railways into a criminals’ paradise and here is the concrete evidence that shows the consequences of crashing on regardless. RMT will use this latest evidence as we continue to campaign and fight to retain safety critical staff on our transport services.” Up to a third of the savings the government wants rail companies to make by 2019 are expected to come through reduced staffing costs, according to the trade unions. This would mean the loss of some 14,000 train guards and station staff, according to TUC estimates. “This alarming rise in assaults highlights the folly of allowing train companies to slash staffing on trains and at stations,” said Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary. “Ministers and rail firms should be making the railways more accessible, not making cuts that threaten passengers’ health and safety.”

Ÿ  RSSB Annual Safety Performance Report. RMT news release. Thompsons Solicitors news release. The Independent

Asbestos campaigners say ‘stop playing with cancer’

Asbestos groups, trade unions and campaigners are calling for regulators to ensure people are protected from “possible asbestos contamination of UK imports.” The coalition was speaking out after July reports in the US identified asbestos fibres in crayons and toy fingerprinting kits imported from China. Earlier reports had identified China-sourced baby powder and thermos flasks exported to Europe also contained asbestos. The call from the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) notes that China is now the UK’s second largest import partner, accounting for 7 per cent of all UK imports in 2014. In a news release, they ask: “How many of these imports contain asbestos?” They add that the toxic brands can be purchased online in the UK. John Flanagan of the Asbestos Forum noted: “The government needs to assure people that the products are not being sold here and confirm the measures being taken to monitor imports from China and other countries to ensure that no products containing asbestos reaching this country.” JUAC chair Julie Winn said the organisation was concerned about the inadvertent introduction of asbestos-containing products into schools. “Global internet sales mean that such products can still find their way insidiously into our schools and homes.” She added: “It is now time for a national campaign to raise public awareness about the real dangers from asbestos in our schools and homes – it simply is not good enough for a few to know the truth and for the rest to be kept in the dark.” Laurie Kazan-Allen of IBAS said: “In 2015, there can be no excuse for the sale of asbestos-contaminated products in the UK. These people guilty of importing or selling these goods should face prison sentences for illegally flouting the asbestos prohibitions and endangering the lives of British citizens.”

Ÿ  IBAS/JUAC/Asbestos Forum news release

Factory blast relatives search for company’s owner

Relatives of four victims of a deadly blast at a Cheshire factory want its owner to respond to criticisms of its safety standards. Jason Shingler, 38, Dorothy Bailey and Derek Moore, both 62, and 51-year-old William Barks were killed in the 17 July explosion and fire that destroyed the Wood Treatment Ltd wood flour mill in Bosley (Risks 712). The factory is part of the Boden Group of Companies, headed by Charles Boden. He is a director of Wood Treatment Ltd, which operated the mill. The Independent newspaper reports that journalists were anxious to put to him comments from William Barks’ brother, Kelvin, who said William had previously described the factory as a “disaster waiting to happen”. The mill owners failed to buy parts for a faulty machine despite his brother’s “relentless” requests, Kelvin Barks said. “He’d always have discussions [with me] saying it’s a disaster waiting to happen… and unfortunately it’s taken his life before he had the chance to get out,” he told ITV News. One of the mill machines was “running hot” and required a certain type of lubricant. “Relentlessly, he tried to get stuff ordered and a lot of the time he was refused; unless it stopped that mill, they wouldn’t buy parts for it,” he said. A joint investigation is being carried out by police, fire and Health and Safety Executive officials, and it is unclear whether the machinery mentioned was linked to the explosion. Mr Boden has yet to comment on the disaster at this factory, but the company said it was “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

Ÿ  The Independent. Macclesfield Express

Construction firms sentenced after worker’s death

Construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine and a glazing contractor have been sentenced after a worker fell to his death from a store front in Exeter. Philip Evans was working for specialist construction company London Fenestration Trades Ltd. The firm was contracted by principal contractor Sir Robert McAlpine to undertake remedial work to a glass façade above an entrance to a Debenhams department store in Exeter on 9 November 2011. While a colleague worked on a higher part of the curtain wall from a mobile working platform, Mr Evans worked from the glass canopy to attach the lower fixings. He walked along the canopy and fell through an opening above the entrance of the store. He fell approximately 4.5 metres on to the granite setts below. He suffered serious injuries and died later in hospital. Exeter Crown Court heard the opening had been created during previous maintenance work when a pane of glass was removed from the canopy, but had not been replaced. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the mobile platform provided was inadequate for the work being carried out. The glass canopy on which Mr Evans was working was not a safe working platform as there was no edge protection and had the large opening through which he subsequently fell. Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £200,000 with £17,790 costs. London Fenestration Trades Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches. HSE said as the firm is in liquidation the court could only “notionally” fine it £200,000 with £17,790 costs.

Ÿ  HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.

Director sentenced after worker dies on second day of job

A construction boss blamed for the horrific death of a young dad-to-be buried alive in a trench has been given two years to pay a £75,000 fine - or go to prison. Callum Osborne, 24, died when a trench he was digging in Whitstable collapsed in on him. At the time of his death on the 7 April 2011, he had been working for Cooper Services Ltd and its director Wayne Cooper for just two days. Mr Osborne’s partner Colette Scott was eight months pregnant at the time of his death. His daughter, Star, is now four years old. Canterbury Crown Court heard Coopers Services Ltd had been employed by a domestic client to connect new build bungalows to mains drainage, water and gas supplies. On 7 April, Mr Osborne was acting as a banksman and taking measurements of trench depth while a colleague was digging the main trench down the centre of the driveway for the drainage pipes. Removed soil was banked either side of the trench. The court heard that Wayne Cooper arrived on site late morning and took over operation of the digger. At around 12.30pm there was a delivery of shingle, then shouting was heard and it became apparent Mr Osborne had been buried in the trench in front of the digger. Emergency services attempted to save Mr Osborne but he was pronounced dead at the scene. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the trench had no means of support to prevent collapse and no barriers or edge protection to prevent falls into the trench. Wayne Peter Cooper, 40, director of the now dissolved firm Coopers Services Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. He was also fined £75,000. If the fine is not paid with two years, Mr Cooper faces 18 months imprisonment. Prosecution costs of £25,000 were awarded against him. Mr Cooper dissolved his old firm but now runs a new firm, Groundwork Solutions, doing the same kind of work. This notes on its website: “Health, Safety and Environmental best practice is at the heart of our organisation, with company policies adhering to all approved codes of practice and current legislation and guidelines.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Kent Online.

Catapulted worker dies of his injuries

A construction boss blamed for the horrific death of a young dad-to-be buried alive in a trench has been given two years to pay a £75,000 fine - or go to prison. Callum Osborne, 24, died when a trench he was digging in Whitstable collapsed in on him. At the time of his death on the 7 April 2011, he had been working for Cooper Services Ltd and its director Wayne Cooper for just two days. Mr Osborne’s partner Colette Scott was eight months pregnant at the time of his death. His daughter, Star, is now four years old. Canterbury Crown Court heard Coopers Services Ltd had been employed by a domestic client to connect new build bungalows to mains drainage, water and gas supplies. On 7 April, Mr Osborne was acting as a banksman and taking measurements of trench depth while a colleague was digging the main trench down the centre of the driveway for the drainage pipes. Removed soil was banked either side of the trench. The court heard that Wayne Cooper arrived on site late morning and took over operation of the digger. At around 12.30pm there was a delivery of shingle, then shouting was heard and it became apparent Mr Osborne had been buried in the trench in front of the digger. Emergency services attempted to save Mr Osborne but he was pronounced dead at the scene. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the trench had no means of support to prevent collapse and no barriers or edge protection to prevent falls into the trench. Wayne Peter Cooper, 40, director of the now dissolved firm Coopers Services Limited pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. He was also fined £75,000. If the fine is not paid with two years, Mr Cooper faces 18 months imprisonment. Prosecution costs of £25,000 were awarded against him. Mr Cooper dissolved his old firm but now runs a new firm, Groundwork Solutions, doing the same kind of work. This notes on its website: “Health, Safety and Environmental best practice is at the heart of our organisation, with company policies adhering to all approved codes of practice and current legislation and guidelines.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Kent Online.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Asia: Two gas explosions lead to multiple deaths

Deadly conditions in Asian factories have been highlighted again after over 40 workers died in similar incidents in Egypt and Indonesia. At least 25 people died in a 28 July fire at a furniture factory north of the Egyptian capital Cairo. A further 22 people suffered injuries from burns and smoke inhalation from the blaze in the three storey building and its warehouse in the city of Obour, media reports said. The fire is thought to have started after a gas canister exploded while it was being transported in a lift. The furniture factory did not have safety clearances, according to a source quoted by the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA). More than 20 fire trucks eventually brought the blaze under control. In Indonesia, 17 people died as a result of injuries sustained in a 10 July explosion at a cosmetics factory on the outskirts of Jakarta. Dozens of others were hospitalised after the disaster in Bekasi, West Java. The factory, which reportedly manufactured hair spray, is owned by Mandom Indonesia. It is believed a gas canister exploded in the factory, causing an inferno.

Ÿ  Daily News. BBC News Online. Jakarta Globe.

Italy: Fireworks factory blast kills nine

An explosion at a fireworks factory in southern Italy has killed nine workers. Seven people were killed instantly and several others were injured in the explosion on 24 July. Two later died from injuries sustained in the blast in the factory in the port city of Bari. La Repubblica newspaper reported that a van exploded first, triggering a series of blasts within the factory that lasted around an hour. The Bari prosecutor’s office has opened an involuntary homicide inquiry into the explosion. Italian president Sergio Mattarella said everything would be done to ensure that the cause of the tragedy would be discovered “as soon as possible”. Two Canadair water-bomber planes were deployed to prevent the fire triggered by the blasts from reaching a nearby forest. The factory was destroyed.

Ÿ  Japan Times. The Telegraph.

Vietnam: Work accidents claims 600 lives each year

Around 600 people are killed in work-related incidents every year in Vietnam, but authorities say they cannot do much to prevent these tragedies due to their limited resources. Ha Tat Thang, chief of the Department of Labour Safety, was quoted as telling a government conference that with just about 100 inspectors, his agency could check workplace safety standards at only 0.22 per cent of all businesses. When accidents happened, Thang said, his agency was in charge of fining violators and if applicable, requesting the police to step in. But only about 2 per cent of workplace incidents, or 12 cases, were put under criminal investigations a year, according to Thang. Le Quang, deputy chief of the State Authority for Construction Quality Inspection, said a failure to pay attention to workers’ safety, poor quality scaffolding structures and outdated equipment were the cause of many fatalities in the sector. Vietnam recorded 6,709 work-related injuries last year and 630 workplace deaths.

Ÿ  Thanh Nien News.

New Zealand: Anger as proposed safety law is diluted

The families of workers killed in the New Zealand’s Pike River disaster conducted a vigil outside the country’s parliament on 29 July, ahead of the second reading of the government's Health and Safety Reform Bill. The vigil featured 291 crosses and candles  to mark the workplace deaths since the Pike River explosion killed 29 miners in 2010, and the prime minister’s promise to fix health and safety laws. Sonya Rockhouse, whose 21-year-old son died in the disaster, said: “One of the few good things that was supposed to come out of Pike was better health and safety laws. Slowly over time this has been dropped and that’s been dropped, and what we’re left with is barely worth the paper it’s written on.” Anna Osborne, who lost her husband Milton in the explosion, said: “Promises have been made and they haven’t been kept. We need this for everybody, keep it simple and get everyone under the same law regardless of how small or how dangerous that industry is. Instead what we get is that it’s all too hard and too many broken promises.” Unions and campaigners are angry that government changes to the Bill will reduce the requirements for worker involvement and exempt small businesses from a requirement to have health and safety reps. Helen Kelly, president of the national union federation CTU, said: “We are especially concerned that the government has stripped away so much of workers’ rights to take an effective role in their own health and safety. The health and safety issues and risks in small firms are at least as great as in any other business – disenfranchising their workers is simply the result of the government listening to those small businesses that don't want to prioritise safety for their workers rather than the evidence that this is where most accidents occur.” She added: “In larger businesses the government has allowed employers to choose which workers have representation. That encourages employers with poor practices to resist change. This is a major neglect of duty to present the law with these changes and a further betrayal of those that died at Pike River.” Ged O’Connell, assistant national secretary of the union EPMU, said: “The government has had two independent reports spelling out very clearly what good health and safety law looks like. Workers get it, unions get it, employer associations get it. We’re calling on the government to do the right thing and strengthen this legislation to match international best practice and keep workers safe.”

Ÿ  NZCTU news release. EPMU news release. MUNZ news release. Radio New Zealand. New Zealand Herald..

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