|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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plans for a certifiable international standard on health and safety are well underway. But the International Organisation for Standardisation’s (ISO) proposed ISO 45001 standard, currently being rushed to completion, is a potentially unhealthy alternative to binding and enforceable laws, the European trade union research body ETUI has concluded. Its new briefing notes the current draft, which would be a big money spinner for ISO and certifying organisations and an attractive alternative to firms wary of official scrutiny, could “lead to reduced levels of protection and greater bureaucracy and burdens as contractors, employers and regulators focus on certification of a standard rather than on the real indicators of a strong safety system; effective risk management, good outcomes; and full consultation and involvement with unions, underpinned by strong regulation and enforcement activity.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, notes that as well as making union involvement difficult, certification under the standard could create a false impression that firms were also compliant with national laws. “Trade unions want strong regulations and strong enforcement, not voluntary standards that are developed for commercial reasons by people who want to be able to make money from auditing or certifying the standard,” he stated. He criticised secrecy in the ISO process, noting: “Unfortunately you cannot read the actual draft standard as it is being kept secret so they can sell it once it is adopted.”
Ÿ TUC Stronger Unions blog. A new ISO standard for occupational health and safety management systems: is this the right approach?, ETUI briefing, 2016. Background on the ISO process. Standard deviation, Hazards magazine, 2015.
The alleged architect of the construction blacklisting scandal, Cullum McAlpine, has declined to give evidence when the case comes before the High Court next month. Unite condemned the decision by the top director of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd as ‘a further gross insult’ to the thousands of construction workers who have lost their jobs because of the covert activities of two industry backed organisations, the Consulting Association and its predecessor, the Services Group of the Economic League. McAlpine’s refusal to attend court was revealed when his company's evidence was filed for the High Court trial, due to start on 9 May and expected to last 11 weeks. The trial will determine the level of compensation blacklisted workers should receive. Unite is supporting the claims of about 290 construction workers. The claims are against Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services and more than 30 other firms. Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: “Despite last October’s unprecedented admission of guilt by construction firms involved in blacklisting, those that masterminded this campaign of blacklisting are still twisting and turning to avoid appearing in court where the media and public will be present.” He added: “It is Unite’s belief that Cullum McAlpine, as founder chairman, was the key architect in the operation of the Consulting Association until it was raided by the Information Commissioner in 2009… You judge the character of a person if they are prepared to stand up and defend their actions in open court – you don’t skulk in the legal twilight protected by a platoon of expensive City lawyers.” The union legal director concluded: “Unite says loud and clear to Cullum McAlpine: Turn up and give evidence or expect your dispute with us to go on long after this litigation has concluded. We will object at every turn to your company benefiting from public procurement contracts.”
Shipping union RMT has warned that the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s plans for the phased closure of Marine Offices at Tyne and Plymouth, Beverley, Harwich and Orpington and Norwich are a ‘dangerous’ move that could put seafarers at risk. The union said the offices provide “essential administrative and technical support” which could be jeopardised by these and other planned changes, including outsourcing database, survey and inspection work. RMT says the proposals in the one-month consultation amount to “an attack on seafarer support and a major deregulation in survey standards.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The MCA’s Marine Office closure plans are on a par with the Coalition’s dangerous cuts to coastguards and local tax offices. These plans would jeopardise the UK’s ability to operate a safe and secure ports network, as well as the future provision of seafarer services.” He added: “RMT will fight to keep the Marine Office in Tyne and elsewhere open, to safeguard the future of seafarer services and to promote fast and effective certification of ships working from UK ports.” Steve Todd, RMT national secretary, said: “The MCA have only allowed one month for this consultation which contains very serious proposals for the future shape and accessibility of the services Marine Offices provide for seafarers and MCA surveyors and inspectors. RMT has requested that the MCA extend this consultation but the fact remains that the regulator is seeking to reduce access to seafarer services and to outsource vessel survey and inspection work to the private sector.”
Unite has expressed ‘increasing concern’ over the time it is taking to locate and recover the bodies of three missing men following the collapse of Didcot power station on 23 February (Risks 741). The union said members across the industry were questioning whether the recovery team has had enough resources to complete the recovery in a safe and timely manner. Unite’s national construction committee is calling on the authorities “to ensure that construction workers’ families were never again put through the pain and heartbreak of weeks of uncertainty over the fate of their loved ones.” Commenting on 5 April, Unite national officer John Allott said: “The thoughts and sympathies of Unite members are with the families of the three men who are still missing and who after six weeks are still seeking closure. Our construction and demolition members are well aware that it could be their families suffering a similar experience, which is why they are growing increasingly concerned over the time it’s taking to recover the missing men. They recognise that the recovery needs to be done in a safe manner, but would question the time it is taking and whether the recovery team has enough resources.” He added: “Money should be no object, which is why Unite’s national construction committee is urging the relevant authorities to deploy all the necessary resources to ensure that the missing men are returned to their families as quickly as possible. The authorities must also learn the lessons to ensure these tragic events are not allowed to happen again.”
A construction boss has been jailed for six years after being convicted of gross negligence manslaughter. Two of his employees fell through a roof they were repairing in separate incidents on the same day, with the man who died having also survived a near miss the previous day. Allan Thomson, 49, was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter and both he and his company Building and Dismantling Contractors Ltd were found guilty of criminal safety offences at Manchester Crown Court on 3 February 2016. Michael Smith, 52, and his company C Smith and Sons (Rochdale) Ltd, were also convicted of criminal safety breaches. On 8 April 2016, Allan Thompson was jailed was six years, fined £400,000 and was ordered to pay £55,000 court costs. Michael Smith was jailed for eight months, fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £45,000 court costs.
The court heard how C Smith and Sons had won a contract to demolish the Harvey’s and Carpetright buildings in Stockport in 2014. It was originally planned to remotely bring down the structure using machinery, a method that would have entailed minimum risk to those workers tasked with the demolition. However, between winning the contract and the work actually being carried out, the decision was taken by Smith that the building should instead be dismantled piece by piece, meaning workmen would be required to work at height to remove the roof sheets prior to the structure being unbolted. C Smith and Sons then subcontracted the job of dismantling the roof to Allan Thompson’s company, Building and Dismantling Contractors Ltd. On 20 January 2014, Scott Harrower – one of four employees undertaking this work, accidentally stepped through a skylight and narrowly evaded falling the 30 feet to the concrete floor below. At just after 9am on 21 January 2014, one of the group - a 47-year-old man – fell through a skylight to the concrete floor below, fracturing his spine, pelvis, right leg, heel and wrist. Ambulance and police attended. Once they had advised the company of its obligation to inform the Health and Safety Executive about the incident, officers left the scene. Despite their colleague suffering horrific injuries, the men were ordered to return to the roof just hours later. At 4pm that day, 42-year-old Scott Harrower fell through a skylight to the concrete below. He suffered catastrophic head injuries and died as a result. Detective Chief Inspector Richard Eales said: “It is clear from the evidence that both Smith and Thomson saw an opportunity to make a quick profit without any thought for the workers they sent on to the roof, and as a direct result of that greed Scott died and another man suffered life-changing injuries.” He added: “Smith and Thomson’s remorse did not then stretch to admitting their guilt, as both tried to hide behind their companies and refused to plead guilty to the charges levelled against them personally.”
A self-employed contractor has been jailed after an employee was killed when the trench he was working in collapsed. William Ryan Evans was contracted to construct a drainage field comprised of infiltration pipes laid at the bottom of deep trenches. He employed two workers and a subcontractor excavator to undertake the work at Longstone Farm, in Pembrokeshire. Hywel Glyndwr Richards, 54, entered the trench to remove a clump of soil that had fallen in. However the trench collapsed, burying him. He died at the scene. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 26 June 2012 found the work was not planned appropriately and the risk assessment was poor. The workers were not appropriately trained and suitable equipment to a prevent collapse was not provided. William Ryan was found guilty at Swansea Crown Court of a criminal safety breach and given a six month custodial sentence. HSE inspector Phil Nicolle said: “This tragic incident could have been prevented by undertaking a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks, providing the correct equipment or safe working methods to the workers and managing and monitoring the work to ensure it was done safely.” In a statement, Hywel Richards’ family said: “Dad was an integral part of our family, the glue that kept us all together. Our family was devastated by his sudden death.” It added: ““Family gatherings and celebrations, once joyous occasions, are now ruined because dad is not there. Today, and for the rest of our lives, we are mourning the loss of dad, our best friend, our confidant and protector. Quite simply, he has left a space that will never be filled. We hope that lessons will be learned from dad’s death.”
In the six years since BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and poured millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, there has been a clamour for justice. But the 4 April historic $20 billion (£14bn) settlement against the oil giant has not turned out to be the harsh punishment many hoped for. The settlement's terms are so generous to the UK-based multinational that it amounts to a tax break worth billions. A massive $15 billion of the $20 billion settlement can be written off by BP as a “normal operating expense,” meaning the multinational corporation will pay only a fraction of the total settlement amount and US taxpayers will be left with the majority of the astronomical costs of the company's negligence. Robert W Wood, a legal journalist at Forbes, commented: “The oil giant already wrote off the cost of its cleanup effort after the spill. Yet remediation is supposed to be tax deductible and penalties are not. Even for this penalty money, though, companies often find a way to deduct payments unless the settlement or consent documents expressly prohibit it.” The massive tax break “is a major coup for BP,” said Wood, “which is doing all it can to make sure BP doesn’t stand for 'big penalty.'” BP chief executive Bob Dudley faced criticism this month over his proposed $20m pay package, coming after the company recorded its largest ever annual loss and axed 7,000 jobs worldwide.
A dangerous demolition contractor the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had to track down using a private detective has been given a suspended jail term. The safety enforcer received a complaint in March 2014 from a member of the public living close to the former Chesham Community Hospital site in Buckinghamshire. When HSE inspectors arrived they found asbestos containing materials among building debris, demolition arrangements not recorded in writing, and witness accounts of dangerous practices including unsafe work at height and unsafe use of construction machinery, poor site security and a lack of welfare facilities. HSE said there was a serious risk of injury from collapse of partially demolished buildings. Prohibition and improvement notices were served on both the contractor and client to ensure on-going risks were controlled. The client Chesham Care Ltd) was prosecuted for criminal safety failings and fined £30,000 in October 2015. Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court heard attempts were made by HSE to contact the contractor without avail. However, in June 2015 an HSE inspector was alerted to unsafe working practices at a site in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, which turned out to be run by the contractor. No risk assessment had been done regarding exposure to asbestos containing materials. The client told HSE the contractor, which was recovering recyclable materials, was working without their knowledge on the site and had alerted the police. As well as immediate enforcement action being taken on site to control risks, a private investigator was subsequently used to track down the contractor who had failed to respond to HSE. Scot Ian Richardson trading as Aztec Demolition was found guilty a series of criminal health and safety offences and was given a four month suspended jail term and 200 hours community service. He was also ordered to pay costs of £1,200. HSE inspector Rauf Ahmed said: “Sole traders who control workers to demolish and dismantle structures must understand their legal obligations. This is a high risk industry in which poor planning has no place. Family members expect their loved ones to come home in one piece.”
An electropolishing company based in Hampshire has been fined after a worker suffered chemical burns. Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court heard how Keith Brown, a 51-year-old worker at Poligrat (UK) Limited, was told by his manager to dispose of waste cleaning chemicals at their Aldershot site. The method agreed was to pour caustic pearl granules into the top of an intermediate bulk container (IBC) containing acids to help neutralise the chemicals inside. It was during this process that an exothermic (heat generating) reaction occurred, the container became unstable and erupted over the worker, throwing him to the ground. His glasses were blown off and he suffered alkaline burns to his eyelids and ulcers to both corneas, as well as grazing and burns to his legs. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the 13 February 2015 incident. HSE inspector Andrew Johnson said: “The use of an IBC as a reaction vessel was wholly inappropriate. IBC’s are designed for the storage of a range of substances. They are not designed for use as a chemical reactor. Other safer reasonably practicable options were available, such as using a waste management company to remove and safely dispose of the chemicals.” Poligrat (UK) Limited pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety offences and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,072.
New research has identified a wide range of occupations associated with a risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a group of related cancers affecting the body’s immune system. The large-scale study, conducted by more than 30 researchers from 13 countries, included an analysis of 10 international non-Hodgkin lymphoma studies consisting of about 10,000 cases and 12,000 controls. The paper concluded: “This pooled analysis supports a role for textile-, hairdressing-, and farming-related exposures in the development of NHL. Additional occupations associated with NHL or NHL subtypes include cleaners, painters, printers, and wood workers. The results by sex indicate that occupational exposures may play a role in NHL for both women and men, but the specific occupations involved differ between the sexes.” It continued: “The large numbers of participants and the application of standard NHL and occupational classification systems allowed us to make estimates of relative risk by NHL subtype, forming an important step towards improving our understanding of NHL etiology. The findings of the present study can be further refined at the next stage, after specific exposures are identified in detailed exposure studies.” Two kinds of NHL were especially associated with employment as women’s hairdressers and two types of NHL were especially associated with work in the textile industry. The authors speculate that exposure to solvents in many of the jobs identified may play a role in the development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Ÿ Occupation and risk of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Its subtypes: A pooled analysis from the InterLymph Consortium, Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2016. ETUI alert.
A campaign by environmental group Greenpeace “for a toxic-free future where hazardous chemicals are no longer produced, used and dumped into our environment” was behind its decision to create a large and growing ‘chemical detox’ database. The two year project has resulted in a database already including entries on over 17,000 substances. Initially intended as an internal resource, Greenpeace has now made the database freely available online. “After completing it, we shared it with others who are trying to detox the planet, with companies, government and citizens who are dealing with toxic pollution in one way or another,” Greenpeace notes. “This research doesn’t claim to hold the whole truth and offer all solutions. It is simply a contribution on the road towards a toxic-free future. It is open.”
International Workers’ Memorial Day is less than two weeks away, and is once again set to be the biggest event ever on the health and safety calendar. The union initiated 28 April event, which this year is aiming to build on the 70 plus countries that mark the event each year, will see protests, commemorations, work stoppages, workplace safety initiatives and a host of other activities. There’s still time to plan an event near you, if there is not one already, or to publicise and mark the day in your workplace. Many unions have produced their own 28 April toolboxes and posters. Other resources, including new posters in English, French and Spanish versions, can be downloaded from the ITUC/Hazards 28april.org website. The 2016 theme for the day is ‘Strong Laws - Strong enforcement - Strong Unions’.
Ÿ TUC 2016 Workers’ Memorial Day activities listing. Add your 28 April event to the TUC . For UK Workers’ Memorial Day resources including ribbons and car stickers, contact the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre by email or phone 0161 636 7557. ITUC/Hazards global events listing and resources, including new posters in English, French and Spanish. For tweeters, use the #iwmd16
The Australian Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has condemned an announcement by the country’s premier, Malcolm Turnbull, that he intends to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal brought in to ensure truckers receive “safe rates” for their work in the notoriously deadly industry. “Malcolm Turnbull is defunding and abolishing independent judicial investigations into holding banks, oil companies, retailers, manufacturers and ports and wharves to account for unsafe, economic pressure on their transport supply chains. These are the same people who bankroll the Coalition’s Liberal National Party,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon. TWU said the move will devastate truck drivers in transport sectors around Australia, desperate for the minimum safe rates which will tackle the root causes of the high death toll in truck crashes on the roads and bankruptcies and suicides among drivers. “The prime minister’s own reports show that road transport has the ‘highest fatality rates of any industry in Australia’ with 12 times the average for all industries. His own reports show that this Tribunal will reduce truck crashes by 28 per cent. Yet he is attacking the Tribunal – the one body which can provide a solution. It is clear he is doing this because this Tribunal will hold the major companies which are his party’s donors to account for the low cost contracts they give out to transport operators,” said Sheldon. In addition to the damning government evidence, a 2008 report by occupational health and safety experts Professor Michael Quinlan and former New South Wales industrial relations commission president Lance Wright, concluded the “overwhelming weight of evidence indicates that commercial/industrial practices affecting road transport play a direct and significant role in causing hazardous practices. There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use. This evidence has been accepted and indeed confirmed by government inquiries, coronial inquests, courts and industrial tribunal hearings in Australia over a number of years.”
Concerns have been raised about asbestos being imported into Australia in cheap building materials, with more than 50 sites thought to be affected. While the importation of any materials containing asbestos has been banned in Australia for the past decade, investigations carried out by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) have led to the monitoring of buildings across several states, amid concerns that cheap imported materials from China have contained the carcinogenic substance. Supply Management, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, reported that in addition to the 50 sites being monitored, the government body has confirmed it knows of 64 sites where asbestos has been present in imports of fibre-reinforced concrete. “It’s an emerging problem and it seems to be growing exponentially, as more and more products are brought into Australia, because of the wind-down of manufacturing in this country,” said Peter Tighe, CEO of the ASEA, in a statement. “What we've really got now is really an indication which could be the tip of the iceberg.” ASEA has warned the situation poses a threat to the individuals working in the building, their clients and also the public at large. It said that because of the time that has elapsed since the ban, there are fears that young workers on sites are unaware and unprepared to deal with the risks.
France's health and safety agency has decided to ban weedkillers that combine the chemicals glyphosate and tallowamine because of concerns over possible health risks. The ANSES agency has sent a letter to manufacturers informing them that it intends to withdraw the authorisation for such products, said Francoise Weber, the watchdog’s deputy director-general. "It is not possible to guarantee that compositions containing glyphosate and tallowamine do not entail negative effects on human health,” Weber said. Glyphosate, a common ingredient in weedkillers such as Monsanto's Roundup, has been the subject of fierce debate in the past year since a World Health Organisation body classified it as probably carcinogenic to humans, and European Union countries are discussing whether or not to extend its EU-wide licence. France's environment minister has been pushing for an EU-wide ban on glyphosate-based products. Earlier this month, global food and farming union IUF and pesticides safety campaign PAN International called for a deluge of messages to be sent to the European Commission and its relevant bodies “urging them to ban glyphosate in the EU and to provide comprehensive support for a safer, saner food system which does not put agricultural workers in the front lines of exposure and inject massive quantities of toxic chemicals into the environment” (Risks 745).
Ÿ AgWeek. Sign the IUF/PAN letter to Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety; Donald Tusk, President of the European Council; and Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament.
On 6 April, a US Federal District Court judge, Irene C Berger, sentenced Donald L Blankenship, a former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company once known as the “King of Coal,” to one year in jail, with imprisonment to begin regardless of a pending appeal, and payment of a $250,000 fine. Rena Steinzor, a professor in the school of law at the University of Maryland, said the judge’s decision “sets a remarkable precedent: The first CEO ever to be convicted of conspiring to violate industrial safety standards will soon take his place in prison.” In a New York Times opinion, the law professor wrote: “The sentence is noteworthy, however, not because of the law, but in spite of it. The Mine Safety and Health Act, the statute under which Mr Blankenship was convicted, treats the worst criminal violations as mere misdemeanours. The leniency of the available sentence is a failure of the law, not the facts of the case.” The prosecution arose from the worst coal-mining disaster in the United States in nearly 40 years, when 29 miners died in a 2010 explosion deep inside Blankenship’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia (Risks 732). “Mr Blankenship viewed the hundreds of citations that regulators issued at Upper Big Branch as an acceptable cost of doing business, appealing many of them, which resulted in delayed compliance,” she noted. She said fatalities in other sectors were treated with even greater leniency. “The Occupational Safety and Health Act caps the prison term for even a grossly negligent manager at a mere six months, with a maximum fine of $10,000 — for a violation causing the death of an employee.” These workplace safety laws remained lax because “business interests have largely prevailed in their resistance to efforts to modernise these workplace safety and health laws, which date from the 1970s and, over the intervening decades, have grown stale in the face of emerging hazardous technologies.” Steinzor concluded: “Without more frequent and stringent criminal enforcement, the precedent of Mr Blankenship’s prison term will have little effect on other rogue managers who gamble with their employees’ lives.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/
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