Issue date
28 Aug 2015
TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 717 - 29 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

UNION NEWS

Enquiry call on ‘disturbing’ back-to-work death figures

The TUC has called for an urgent enquiry after government figures revealed over 1,000 people a year are dying shortly after being told during benefit checks they are fit for work. Department of Work and Pensions figures released this week show that between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,380 people died shortly after losing their claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and being declared 'fit for work'. Another 6,700 ESA claimants died within two years after being put in the 'work-related activity group', meaning they could move towards a job. They were more than twice as likely to die as people in the general population - around 5 deaths per 1,000 people compared to 2.4. Commenting on the figures, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We urgently need an enquiry into the government’s back-to-work regime. These disturbing findings cannot be swept under the carpet. The fact that more than 80 people are dying each month shortly after being declared ‘fit for work’ should concern us all. These deaths relate to just one benefit – Employment Support Allowance.” She added: “We need a welfare system that supports people to find decent jobs, not one that causes stress and ill-health.” The Mirror reported that DWI officials tried to stop the figures being released in full. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, said: “The government should listen to the very real fears of sick and disabled claimants that its policies are making matters worse, not better, and it should not have taken freedom of information requests to uncover these statistics.” He added: “The wholly privatised work capability assessment is clearly unfair and unsuitable and should be scrapped, with jobcentres given the proper resources to provide the support sick and disabled people need and deserve.”

TUC news release. PCS news release. Mortality statistics: Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance, DWP, August 2015. The Mirror. Huffington Post.

Renewed call for offshore helicopter inquiry

The UK government must urgently revisit the recommendation of the previous parliament’s Transport Select Committee for a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety, Unite has said. The union call came ahead of the 23 August second anniversary of the Sumburgh offshore helicopter tragedy, Four offshore workers died when their helicopter ditched in the waters off the Scottish coast, taking the total number of helicopter transfer fatalities since 2002 to 38 (Risks 622). The UK Transport Select Committee subsequently launched its own inquiry into helicopter safety and recommended that there should be a full public inquiry into the impact of commercial pressures on the safety of helicopter transfers across the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).  This was strongly rejected by the UK government and trade body Oil & Gas UK prior to May’s general election, with the Department for Transport (DfT) claiming the safety record of UK commercial helicopter transfers was comparable to the Norwegian offshore industry. In the Norwegian sector, there have been no fatalities since 1997. Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “We need full transparency over the link between commercial pressure and its impact on the safe transfer of offshore workers to and from installations in the UKCS – this can only be achieved through a public inquiry.” He added: “For the UK government to claim that our safety record is comparable with our Norwegian counterparts - who enacted a series of public duties which strengthened health and safety laws in the wake of their last fatalities in 1997 - is shameful. Our offshore sector is going through its biggest challenge in a generation and the industry is imposing major reforms to working practices and employment conditions across the UKCS, so surely the time is now to establish how we can make offshore helicopter transfers safer.”

Unite news release. The National.

North Sea pilots support safety strike action

North Sea helicopter pilots have indicated strong support for strike action if helicopter companies do not make “serious improvements” in the way they deal with job losses. In a survey conducted by their union BALPA, which highlighted safety concerns, pilots accepted the downturn in the industry meant jobs would go, but were frustrated at the way management are going about it. The union said pilots want the helicopter companies to improve voluntary redundancy arrangements to try and prevent as many compulsory job losses as possible. And they believe the companies are not valuing the experience of senior pilots highly enough in deciding who may need to be made redundant. BALPA general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said: “We are not being unreasonable. We know the downturn in the North Sea is going to hit jobs, but the way the companies are going about it is causing massive frustration, borne out by the very high turnout and strong ‘yes’ vote in this ballot conducted over just four days.” BALPA said a “strong and worrying message” from the survey was concern over safety. Pilots reported that the threat hanging over them, their families and their colleagues, was having serious unintended effects on their ability to sleep and concentrate. Jim McAuslan said: “Safety must come first. We are not saying that helicopter companies are indifferent to these issues, but we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the stress and pressure that pilots are feeling. We will be passing these concerns on to the Civil Aviation Authority who regulate aviation in the North Sea.”

BALPA news release.

Sellafield faces new wave of safety action

Workers from nine contractors will be staging a wave of industrial action in the escalating safety dispute at Sellafield in Cumbria. Construction workers involved in the decommissioning and renewal project at the site are angry at the refusal by Sellafield Ltd and the 14-strong group of sub-contractor companies to facilitate a full-time union convenor on the site. Unite regional secretary Mick Whitley said: “The bully boy tactics by the sub-contractors are still continuing as our members raise legitimate concerns about health and safety. The shop stewards have agreed a future programme of industrial action in response to the intransigence of the various employers.” He said union calls for meaningful talks had been rebuffed at every stage. “The continuing attitude of the bosses underlines the draconian attitude of the contractors at Sellafield and means that industrial relations are now teetering on the edge of the abyss.” Unite members working for Balfour Beatty Engineering Construction Services, Cape Industrial Services, Focus Scaffolding, Hertel UK, Interservice Industrial Services, Jacobs Stobbarts, Meldrum Ltd, Mitie Facilities Services (also known as OneFM) and PPS Electrical started an overtime ban and work to rule on 27 August. Unite says workers at all the companies, except Balfour Beatty, will also be striking between 5:30am and 8:00am on 1, 9 and 16 September followed by a 24 hour stoppage on 23 September. Ballots are also being held at four other sub-contractors - Amec Foster Wheeler, Doosan Babcock, Hargreaves, and PC Richardson & Co - for industrial action on the health and safety issues.

Unite news release. Construction Enquirer.

US fines map has pointers for the UK

The UK Health and Safety Executive’s ‘fantastic’ database of official health and safety enforcement action could still learn a trick or two from its shiny new US cousin, the TUC has said. “In this country the HSE enforcement database has always been searchable by geographical area, as well as industry, and is a fantastic resource that I use all the time,” TUC’s head of safety Hugh Robertson said. “The only problem with it is that there are actually four different databases. One covers prosecutions in the past five years and another prosecutions earlier than that. There is also one for enforcement notices in the past five years and another for ones before that. This means to find out information on any one company you have to do four separate searches, which is a real pain.” By contrast, the US safety regulator OSHA has published a one-stop interactive online map so you can see what fines have been issued in a specific area. OSHA notes: “Our new map tool tracks one indicator: the number of workplace health and safety investigations that have led to high fines… Hyperlinks lead to more inspection details.” Pointing to the new US resource, TUC’s Hugh Robertson said in the UK “it would be much better to have one database with the ability to narrow down the search by timeframe if you want.”

TUC health and safety facebook page. OSHA fine map and related blog posting. HSE prosecutions database and enforcement webpages.

Electrician suffered foot injury at station

An electrician from Ormskirk has secured more than £10,000 in compensation after a heavy pump crushed his right foot. Unite member Gary Clark was working at Liverpool Central Station when he was told to move a large draining pump, a machine used to prevent flooding on train tracks. Gary placed the draining pump onto the only trolley made available to him. There was no way of securing it so it was left loose. The lighting in the station was poor and while pushing the unsuitable trolley one of the wheels got caught in a pothole he was unable to see, which caused it to topple over. As he attempted to right the trolley, the pump fell off and landed on his right foot. The Unite member suffered severe bruising and swelling. Gary’s injury was so significant that he could not walk and he was off work for nearly four months. He subsequently took a compensation claim with the support of solicitors brought in by the union. Unite regional secretary Mick Whitley said: “The depot Gary was working in was badly lit, had uneven flooring and potholes everywhere, add to that an unsuitable trolley with no way of securing items in place and this was an accident waiting to happen.” He added: “Fortunately, Gary’s employer admitted liability for the accident but it’s a shame that he was made to feel so uncomfortable that he looked for a new job. Had his employer taken the proper steps to ensure a safe place of work in the first place, it would not have been forced to pay compensation and lose a valuable member of its team.”

Thompsons Solicitors news release.

OTHER NEWS

Working longer hours increases stroke risk

Long working hours greatly increases your risk of suffering a stroke, a major study had found, with the risk increasing the more hours you work. The research, carried out in three continents and led by scientists at University College London, found that those who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33 per cent increased risk of stroke compared with those who work a 35- to 40-hour week. They also have a 13 per cent increased risk of coronary heart disease. The researchers, publishing their findings in The Lancet, note: “Sudden death from overwork is often caused by stroke and is believed to result from a repetitive triggering of the stress response.” TUC working time officer Paul Sellers commented:  “This worrying news adds to the extensive charge sheet facing long hours. We already know that regularly working long hours significantly increases the risk of contracting heart disease, diabetes, stress and depression. How much more evidence does the government need before it has to accept that there must be robust rules to rein in the UK’s long hours culture? It must now be time for the government to abandon their irrational pet hate of the Working Time Directive, which sets soundly-based minimum standards across Europe.” The TUC hours expert added: “It’s also down to employers, trade unions and their members to  prioritise finding acceptable ways of eliminating excessive working time. Our priority must always be to make work safer and more human-friendly, not just to look for ways to make workers more able to withstand the pressures of overwork.” In 2003, workers’ health and safety magazine Hazards warned: “Top occupational diseases of the 21st century will be heart attacks, suicide and strokes” (Risks 118).

Mika Kivimäki and others. Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: A systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603,838 individuals, The Lancet, published online 20 August 2015. Science Daily. The Guardian.

Asbestos death figures show ‘devastating legacy’

New official research revealing the areas of England and Wales with the highest rates of deaths linked to an asbestos-related disease provides a tragic reminder of the material’s “devastating legacy”, a top asbestos lawyer has said. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysed the rate of deaths from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in local authority areas between 2010 and 2014, with Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria found to have the highest rate at 14.3 fatalities per 100,000 people. South Tyneside (11.1), North Tyneside (10.9), Fareham (10.0) and Hartlepool (8.7) completed the top five, with Newcastle upon Tyne, Portsmouth and Southampton closely behind. A total of 11,011 deaths where mesothelioma was found to be an underlying cause were recorded in England and Wales across the four-year period analysed, with the number of fatalities increasing every year. “This research truly highlights the devastating impact that asbestos has had on so many lives, with more than 11,000 people passing away as a result of mesothelioma in the past four years alone,” said asbestos compensation specialist Adrian Budgen, a partner at the law firm Irwin Mitchell. “The suggestion that the number of people killed by this terrible cancer every year is increasing is a massive concern. Sadly many estimates do indicate that this figure has not yet peaked and will only increase in coming years.” He added: “We are now seeing a growing number of people come forward seeking help regarding exposure they believe occurred in public buildings, such as hospitals and schools, where the material may have been present. With this in mind, the current landscape in England and Wales regarding asbestos-related deaths could soon change significantly.” The TUC and unions have called for the introduction of an “asbestos eradication” law to prioritise the safe removal of the vast quantities of asbestos remaining in workplaces, schools and other buildings (Risks 710).

Mesothelioma deaths, England and Wales, deaths registered 2010-14, ONS, August 2015 [excel]. Irwin Mitchell news release.

Call for Scottish blacklisting inquiry

Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Select Committee and Holyrood’s Infrastructure Committee should look into holding a joint inquiry into blacklisting, a member of the Scottish parliament has said. Christina McKelvie, the MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse and a member of Scotland’s ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), has written to both committees following a meeting with workers’ representatives. With responsibility for employment law reserved to Westminster, but procurement devolved, the MSP argued that a joint investigation into blacklisting makes sense. An SNP news release reporting the call noted: “The Scottish government has been working alongside the Blacklist Support Group to help workers who have been blacklisted, usually because of trade union affiliations or political activity.” Christina McKelvie said: “Blacklisting is totally unacceptable and the practice must be eliminated once and for all. With employment law reserved to Westminster and procurement devolved to the Scottish parliament we need a co-ordinated approach and I have written to the chairs of the Westminster Scottish Affairs Select Committee and Holyrood’s Infrastructure Committee urging them to consider a joint inquiry into blacklisting.” She said it “seems unlikely” David Cameron’s government would undertake an enquiry, something that has been a key union demand since the blacklisting scandal blew up in 2009, adding “a joint committee inquiry offers a real opportunity to get the answers that workers deserve.”

 SNP news release.

Further HSE action at explosion deaths mill

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has taken additional enforcement action against Wood Treatment Ltd in Bosley, Cheshire, the scene of an explosion and fire that killed four workers on 17 July (Risks 715). The safety regulator said the latest prohibition notice is in relation to dust issues in a shed on the mill site. It prevents work activities until the issues identified, involving the processing and bagging of large amounts of paper dust in one of the sheds on site, have been resolved. This is the second prohibition notice served on the mill during the investigation into the fatal explosion. HSE said its inspectors are working with the company “to ensure safety” and added further enforcement action has not been ruled out. An improvement notice was served alongside the first prohibition notice two weeks ago, with all notices related to conditions in the sheds. HSE head of operations for the North West, Steve Smith, said: “As the investigation progresses, HSE inspectors are working with the company to identify potential and actual safety issues around the site. HSE specialists continue to assist with the collection of evidence in order to try to establish exactly what happened.” HSE said it is continuing to work closely with Cheshire Police and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Services.

HSE news release.

Transport firm convicted over driver’s slow death

A road transport company has been convicted of criminal safety failings after a driver suffered life-changing injuries which eventually killed him. Keith Brookes fell from an unsecured ladder during an operation to unload items from a lorry at the Hertfordshire Golf and Country Club in Broxbourne on 23 November 2012. Mr Brookes, who was 59 at the time, sustained extensive brain damage as well as a broken cheekbone, collarbone and ribs. He was in a coma for four months and in hospital for a further two months. After his release from hospital he needed palliative care in a nursing home and was unable to move, swallow or communicate. He died in December 2014, aged 61, having never recovered from his injuries. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Mr Brookes’ employer, Norfolk-based David Watson Transport Ltd, after finding the company had failed to properly safeguard workers from falls. During a two week trial, a jury heard that Mr Brookes was attaching a hook and chain to an eyebolt on the top of a generator so it could be lowered from the flatbed by the lorry's crane. He used a portable ladder provided by the company to reach the eyebolt but after he attached the hook, the ladder slid and he fell some two and a half metres to the ground. At the sentencing hearing at St Albans Crown Court, judge Jonathan Carroll observed that “there was no effective plan at all and (it) was an exercise in ensuring the papers were in place rather than the product of a genuine planning process.” He added that that “the total absence of supervision in this case in my view significantly contributed to the existence of a dangerous state of affairs and thus directly in the chain of causation to the incident itself and the death of Mr Brookes.” The firm was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £88,030.69 after being found guilty of three criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

HSE news release and falls from vehicles webpages. OneMK.

Sandwich firm put profits before safety

A food manufacturer with a multi-million pound turnover and one of its directors have been fined after an agency worker was crushed by a forklift truck at its Warwickshire factory. Leamington Crown Court heard that Jamie Barsby was lucky to be alive after the incident at The Sandwich Factory Holdings Ltd in Atherstone on 29 July 2012. He was thrown from the forks of a forklift truck and crushed between the forklift and the back of an articulated lorry as he was being lifted into the back of the lorry to reorganise pallets of sandwiches. The 26-year-old broke a number of vertebrae, fractured his pelvis and suffered blood blisters all over his body. Judge Alan Parker found that director Paul Nicholson had failed to ensure safety management systems were in place at the factory. He told Nicholson: “You were responsible for these failures and were responsible for permitting the system which led to Mr Barsby being seriously injured; but there are others at whom the same criticism could be levelled.” The court heard that if adequate systems had been in place, the unsafe practice would not have occurred and existed for a prolonged period of time. The Sandwich Factory Holdings Ltd pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences. The firm, which in 2013 had a turnover of £50m and a gross profit of £10m, was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £57,790. Director Paul Nicholson, 55, pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches. He was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £50,513. Judge Parker, in sentencing, said: “The system being operated by the Sandwich Factory Limited at the time was a disaster waiting to happen. It all arose as a result for pushed growth and a desire for profitability that was given priority over the safety of employees.”

HSE news release and falls webpages. Nuneaton News. Tamworth Herald.

Firms knew about asbestos, workers did not

A construction management company and the director of a construction firm have been fined for serious safety failings during work with asbestos on a London construction site. Work carried out by three employees of Chelmsford construction firm Cowen Builders Limited exposed them to asbestos over several days, after the main contractor failed to pass on details of an asbestos survey. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard how, in May 2013, Cowen Builders Limited (CBL) had been contracted by Paragon Management UK Limited (Paragon) to carry out work. Prior to this, asbestos had been identified in a survey by Paragon. Paragon failed to provide the details of the survey to CBL before the work started. CBL failed to consider the possibility of asbestos being present and then continued the work without adequate measures in place after it was known the asbestos had been disturbed. Paragon Management UK Limited was fined a £20,000, and ordered to pay £2,373 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal health and safety offence. The firm was also ordered to pay compensation to each of the three workers. Kenneth W Cowen, sole director of Cowen Building Limited, was fined £15,000, and ordered to pay £2,373 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal breaches.

HSE news release and asbestos webpages.

Schoolboy dies from work placement injuries

A schoolboy on work placement has died in Aberdeenshire. Michael McLean, 17, was found unconscious at Denholm Oilfield Services in Inverurie on 14 August. He had suffered a broken neck, two punctured lungs and damage to his back and leg. A week later, on 20 August, his life-support machine was switched off at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Michael, from Kincorth in Aberdeen, was on his last day of a summer placement. The teenager's father, Mark McLean, works at the company. A company spokesperson said everyone at the “close-knit” firm was “absolutely devastated.” The Health and Safety Executive is investigating the incident. Michael was a pupil at Kincorth Academy in Aberdeen, with headteacher Grahame Whyte describing him as a “wonderful friend and student”. Mr Whyte added: “He was a kind soul that touched the lives of everyone around him. He was a hard worker, a caring individual who never let life get him down and always rose to any challenge with his classic enthusiasm. He will be greatly missed.” The school has offered counselling support to pupils.

BBC News Online.

Aston Martin gave engineer skin disease

Luxury car manufacturer Aston Martin has been brought to book after a workshop engineer employed at its site in Banbury contracted occupational dermatitis from working with toxic glue. The engineer’s main duties were repairing car batteries, pneumatic tools and hydraulic car parts. He had been working in the repair workshop for two years when he first began to experience swelling to his eyes and itchy skin on his face and arms after being exposed to toxic glue and epoxy resin while repairing car parts. He was advised by Aston Martin’s occupational health team to visit a doctor, and on seeking medical advice he was prescribed with a steroid cream to treat his symptoms of occupational dermatitis. However, his health problems continued to deteriorate to the point that he needed to take time off work as his eyes became so sore that his sight was affected. As a result, he was given more duties away from the workshop area. John Mullen, of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented the engineer in a compensation claim, said: “It’s appalling that a global brand like Aston Martin did not have adequate protective equipment in place to prevent its staff from harm when working with known hazardous chemicals. The unfortunate reality is that my client must spend the rest of his life living with a skin condition that affects his wellbeing all because his employer failed to comply with workplace health and safety standards.” He added: “He is not the only worker affected by Aston Martin’s negligence, Thompsons Solicitors has worked with a number of employees suffering with exactly the same symptoms. We would encourage any individual affected by their work at the Aston Martin site in Banbury to seek legal advice from an industrial disease specialist.”

Thompsons Solicitors news release.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

China: Twenty-three implicated over deadly port blast

China says 11 Tianjin government and port officials are suspected of negligence in connection to the massive explosions that killed an estimated 145 people. Police have also detained 12 executives from Ruihai International Logistics and another company. The 12 August blasts, caused by hazardous materials in a Ruihai warehouse, sent a huge fireball into the sky and destroyed hundreds of homes. The explosions also sparked concerns about the storage of dangerous chemicals and zoning requirements. At least three residential complexes were found to have been built within a 1km radius of the warehouse, which flouted Chinese law. The 11 officials identified include the head of Tianjin's transportation commission Wu Dai, and Zheng Qingyue, the boss of Tianjin's port operator, a statement released through the official Xinhua news agency said. Prosecutors said they were accused of approving Ruihai’s request to build its hazardous chemical warehouse in that location, despite knowing that it was against safety rules. The officials had also given approval or helped Ruihai pass safety checks despite the fact that it “lacked qualifications” and “did not meet safety standards”, the statement said, and failed to detect and take measures against Ruihai's “illegal activities involving hazardous goods” and “safety risks”. Prosecutors also named all 12 executives who had been detained, mostly from Ruihai. Among them is the company chairman Yu Xuewei and vice-chairman Dong Shexuan, as well as managers from the safety, finance, and operations departments.  Zeng Fanqiang, a safety evaluator from the Tianjin Binhai Haisheng company which does safety checks, was also detained. The statement said the 12 executives are suspected of “being heavily responsible for the incident and of illegally storing hazardous chemicals”. About half of those known to have died in the disaster are believed to have been firefighters.

South China Morning Post. Business Insider. BBC News Online.

India: Illegal mica mines power your electronics

The districts of Koderma and Giridih, in the impoverished Indian state of Jharkhand, are home to the world's largest deposits of sheet mica, a glittery silicate that has become an essential component in thousands of electronic and other products. India produces 60 per cent of the world's mica, most of it from Jharkhand. Depending on its quality, mica's price on the world market can range from $1,000 to $2,000 (£650 to £1,300) per kilogramme. The estimated 20,000 landless and illiterate miners hewing the mineral out of the ground, however, see little of the benefit, at the mercy of an unscrupulous array of agents, middlemen and exporters. According to Wired magazine, some of the illegal mines in Koderma are commercial-scale enterprises with heavy machinery and hundreds of labourers, but most mica extraction is carried out by small-scale, freelance miners. As they work in makeshift underground holes, miners are often exposed to collapses and landslides which can be fatal. These aren’t the only threat to life. Jagdish Patel, an occupational health expert based in Gujarat, told Hazards magazine the debilitating and often fatal occupational lung disease silicosis was first identified in mica miners in India as long ago as 1934. Mica can also contain significant amounts of uranium, presenting cancer and other radiation-related chronic disease risks. According to the Indian Bureau of Mines, India legally produced 1,255 tonnes of mica between 2012 and 2013. Yet the quantity exported was 127,629 tonnes - that's more than 100 times higher than the officially sanctioned figure, a clear indication of the magnitude of illegal mining.

Wired. Hazards magazine.

Thailand: Intimidation of rights activist continues

A Thai court's has decided to indict migrants' rights activist Andy Hall, in what campaigners have described as “a major blow” to human rights in the country. The Bangkok South Criminal Court ruled on 24 August that researcher Andy Hall should face criminal defamation and computer crimes charges filed against him by a pineapple processing company, Natural Fruit Company Ltd. The company filed four cases against Andy Hall following the publication and dissemination of a report, 'Cheap has a high price', in early 2013. The report, to which Andy Hall contributed research, was based on information gathered through interviews with the workers of a Natural Fruit Company Ltd pineapple processing factory and exposed labour rights violations at the plant. “The Bangkok South Criminal Court had an opportunity to put an end to a saga of intimidation already lasting 30 months aimed at nothing but gagging a human rights defender. Regrettably the Court chose instead to press on with a trial of these unfounded charges,” said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch, which published the report. The criminal defamation and computer crimes charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment. The court ordered Andy Hall to appear to plead on 19 October. He will then face detention, official charging and can request bail. Ahead of the hearing, the TUC was one of 44 trade union and human rights organisations that were joint signatories to a letter to Thailand’s prime minister. The letter noted: “Further prosecution of the charges against Mr Hall will damage Thailand’s international image and violate Thailand’s obligations under international law. Thailand is obligated to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises, including cases in which businesses use domestic laws to intimidate human rights advocates and suppress freedom of expression.” Owen Tudor, head of the TUC’s international department, said: “It’s time for the Thai government to step in and end this farrago.”

Finnwatch news release. Stronger Unions blog. Letter to the Thai prime minister.

USA: Warning on fracking chemicals risks

Greater attention should be paid to the potential health risks posed by fracking chemicals, researchers have warned. A team led by Elizabeth Wattenburg of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health set out to identify the constituents of fracking fluids, noting: “There is growing concern about how hydraulic fracturing affects public health because this activity involves handling large volumes of fluids that contain toxic and carcinogenic constituents [Risks 680], which are injected under high pressure through wells into the subsurface to release oil and gas from tight shale formations.” The study investigated potential health risks posed by chemicals used by 2,850 wells in North Dakota in the three years up to November 2013. They noted the top 25 constituents reportedly used in North Dakota largely overlap with those reported for Texas and Pennsylvania, “despite different geologic formations, target resources (oil vs. gas), and disclosure requirements.” The study found some of the most hazardous chemicals encountered were also some of the most commonly used. “Eleven of the constituents listed in the top 30 by total health hazard count were also listed in the top 30 by reports of use. This includes naphthalene, which along with benzyl chloride, has the highest health hazard count,” the paper notes. The authors conclude: “The constituents of hydraulic fracturing fluids (HFFs) present occupational health risks because workers may be directly exposed to them [Risks 663], and general public health risks because of potential air and water contamination.” They add: “This study serves as a point of departure for future investigations into the risks and management of hydraulic fracturing, ranging from life-cycle assessments to risk assessments that incorporate environmental and occupational exposure, and environmental fate and transport modelling.”

Elizabeth V Wattenberg and others. Assessment of the acute and chronic health hazards of hydraulic fracturing fluids, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, volume 12, issue 9, pages 611–624, September 2015. More on occupational risks of fracking.

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