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The TUC is investigating gender-related problems associated with workplace dress codes and personal protective equipment (PPE). The TUC probe comes after reports of blatant sexism related to work clothing, including stipulations to wear high heels or lose your pay (Risks 751) and the provision of ill-fitting, unsuitable PPE for women workers. A survey this year by the union Prospect found just 29 per cent of women reported that the PPE they wear at work was designed for women (Risks 757). The TUC initiative comes as a House of Commons Select Committee prepares to publish its report on dress codes at work. The union body wants to hear of examples where employers or manufacturers have failed to address the issue of gender in the design or purchase of PPE and any problems this caused. The TUC is also keen to hear examples of good practice, agreements and policies.
Ÿ Women, dress codes and personal protective equipment – email case studies to the TUC health and safety department by 9 September.
More than half (52 per cent) of women - and nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of women aged 18-24 years old - report experiencing sexual harassment at work, according to a new research. The study published by the TUC in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project was carried out by YouGov and found nearly one in three women (32 per cent) has been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature while at work and more than one in four (28 per cent) has been the subject of comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes at work. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) have experienced unwanted touching – like a hand on the knee or lower back at work – and around one in eight (12 per cent) have experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work. The survey report, ‘Still just a bit of banter?’, also discovered that around four out of five women (79 per cent) who said they experienced sexual harassment at work did not tell their employer about what was happening. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “How many times do we still hear that sexual harassment in the workplace is just a bit of ‘banter’? Let’s be clear – sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health. Victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened. It has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society.” She added: “Employers must be clear they have a zero tolerance attitude to sexual harassment and treat any complaint seriously. It’s a scandal that so few women feel their bosses are dealing with the issue properly. Anyone worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work.”
Ÿ TUC news release, guide to your rights on sexual harassment, union reps’ guide to addressing sexual harassment and report, Still just a bit of banter? Everyday Sexism Project and ‘shouting back’ platform.
Staff working outdoors must be properly protected from the sun and the heat, the TUC has told employers. ‘Cool it’, published this week by the union body, says that staff working outside in high temperatures are at risk of sunstroke, sunburn and even skin cancer. Working in hot weather can also lead to dehydration, tiredness, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in the most severe cases – loss of consciousness. The US safety regulator took action earlier this summer after a series of heat-related deaths in young agricultural workers. In the UK, the TUC suggests firms work with union safety reps and introduce measures to protect outdoor staff when the temperature rises, including allowing staff to take frequent breaks and providing a supply of drinking water. It adds that firms should review working times so that outside work is done in the morning and afternoon, rather than between 11am-3pm when temperatures are highest. Firms should also provide canopies or other shade on outside workplaces like farms or building sites, and shaded areas for breaks. Appropriate clothing and sunscreens should be provided, along with health advice in appropriate languages. The TUC adds that heat-related fatigue could lead to heightened risks in occupations like driving, an additional factor that should be considered by employers. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We treat our farmyard animals better than some of our agricultural workers. At least animals get shelter and a supply of water in the heat.” She added: “Working outdoors in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous and bosses must ensure their staff are protected as much as possible, with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing.”
Skinflint retail giant Sports Direct has nearly twice the injury rate of the sector overall, according to a letter published this week by a shareholders’ group. The letter calls for a shareholders vote in favour of an independent review on how workers are treated. The 15 August letter came the same day the union Unite announced it had secured an estimated £1 million back pay from the firm for non-payment of the minimum wage. Sports Direct’s 2016 annual report reveals staff in the retail, office and distribution section of the company face 2.7 injuries per 100,000 hours worked – nearly twice the rate for the sector overall (1.4 per 100,000 hours). And Sports Direct’s warehouse staff face an even higher risk, with 6.6 injuries per 100,000 hours worked. This is nearly three times the rate of injuries in agriculture, one of the most hazardous sectors. The letter from the Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) group asks fellow shareholders to vote for a resolution tabled at Sports Direct’s 7 September AGM, calling for the board to commission an independent review of the company’s employment practices and to report to shareholders within six months. Sports Direct management opposes the resolution. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Sports Direct has shown a consistent disregard for the wellbeing of its staff. These abysmal figures show that the company is performing far worse than other companies in the same sector. It’s time for Sports Direct to shape up. An independent investigation is a necessary first step to fixing the endemic problems at Sports Direct.” The author of the letter, TUSO chair Janet Williamson said: “Sports Direct’s practices are not only bad for workers, but pose a long-term risk to investors, both in terms of claims against the company and reputational damage. It is the responsibility of shareholders to show the Sports Direct workforce and the public that they understand that the business must change.” Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, speaking after the union secured the back pay settlement, said: “Mike Ashley and the Sports Direct board should be under no illusions. The charge of ‘Victorian’ work practices will continue to weigh heavily on Sports Direct until it moves long standing agency workers onto direct, permanent contracts and weans itself off its reliance upon zero hours contracts.”
Construction union UCATT has warned that Laing O’Rourke’s new safety policy could ‘wreck’ the UK’s construction safety regime. The union says the construction giant’s newly imposed ‘Safety differently’ policy, imported from its Australian operations, focuses entirely on preventing fatalities, while neglecting actions that may cause minor injuries. The union said minor injuries on construction sites are a major problem for employees who can have their whole lives turned upside down by an injury at work. “Often a so-called minor injury can lead to months off work, on barely any sick pay,” it adds, noting: “By focussing solely on fatalities there is concern that even less emphasis will be placed on occupational health issues and areas such as safe manual handling. This could lead to long term physical harm to construction workers, resulting in them being forced out of the industry early due to injury and ill-health.” UCATT Midlands regional secretary, Shaun Lee, said: “This policy of ‘Safety differently’ could potentially wreck health and safety provision in the UK construction industry, which has taken years to develop. Small injuries are not small concerns for workers. By neglecting basic safety, we put workers’ health and futures at risk. Small injuries can mean significant loss of pay and significant psychological stress for the worker and their family. If we don’t have zero tolerance in the workplace, then standards will slip and the number of injuries will increase.” A Laing O’Rourke spokesperson contested the union’s claim, stating: “There is no correlation between the number of times people twist their ankle and whether or not someone’s going to get killed by falling from height, for example.” The company spokesperson added: “Instead of being all paperwork and process, we want health and safety to be at the very core of what we do – and how we do it. In other words, safety is an ethical responsibility not a bureaucratic activity.” However, UCATT said prior consultation and genuine workforce involvement are ethical imperatives the company has bypassed. “Any changes to how health and safety is handled would require consultation with unions and workers in order to have any shred of legitimacy,” the union said.
The death of a Huddersfield man in an attack by a dangerous dog shows that more official resources need to be marshalled to combat the problem, CWU has said. The communication workers’ union, which represents postal and telecom workers whose work regularly takes them to people’s homes, made the call after Huddersfield resident David Ellam, 52, died this week from injuries sustained while trying to protect his own Yorkshire Terrier from an out-of-control larger dog. The tragedy came just a week after a CWU member was savaged and severely injured in a dog attack in the same area while delivering post. Dave Joyce, CWU national health and safety officer, who spearheaded the union’s successful ‘Bite-Back’ campaign to reform the UK’s dangerous dogs laws, said: "This is another tragic loss of life and a big concern to our union.” He added: “Although our campaign succeeded in changing and toughening up the law and sentences, this latest death, the 30th since 2005, highlights again the danger posed by dogs and the need to tackle irresponsible ownership. The problem is 'on the other end of the lead'. How many more lives must be lost before more effective action through adequate resources and controls are put in place. We still get 3,000 to 4,000 attacks on our members every year and this must stop. The breed and type of dog is secondary to the bad ownership problem. These people shouldn't have dogs at all.” The union safety specialist concluded: “More police dog legislation officer and dog warden resources are needed and an injection of resources into public awareness campaigns, training and ownership controls need examining. We cannot allow this situation of dog attack deaths to continue at the present rate – it’s not acceptable in a civilised society.” A 29-year-old man, thought to be the dog's owner, was arrested and bailed in connection with Mr Ellam’s death.
Staff at Luton and Dunstable Hospital Trust rallied outside their workplace last week against proposed changes to their sick leave policy. The union members say that while the trust has one of the best sick leave records in the region, employers want to cut the number of times workers can be off sick before they are brought into a sickness capability meeting. UNISON said staff at the hospital are “coming to work sick or taking painkillers to avoid hitting this trigger and being brought into a formal process that can lead to dismissal.” Regional organiser Shane Hall said the union was “always happy to work with the trust to look at constructive ways that it can support genuinely ill members of staff back to work. But fast-tracking people through a formal process that can lead to dismissal only places undue stress and anxiety upon already ill and vulnerable members of staff.” He added: “Does the public really want to enter a hospital where staff are coming to work ill to avoid triggering a meeting that could lead to their dismissal?”
The grounding of a 17,000-tonne oil drilling rig carrying 280 tonnes of diesel last week highlights the need to reinstate axed Emergency Towing Vessels (ETV), the union Nautilus has said. The union was speaking after the Orkney-based Herakles – Britain’s only remaining ETV, operated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) - was deployed to assist the Transocean Winner rig which ran aground on the Western Isles of Scotland on 10 August after breaking from its tug in heavy seas. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has begun an inquiry into what happened as the semi-submersible platform was being towed from Norway to Malta. It is understood that from Malta, the rig was to be taken to a yard in Turkey to be scrapped. Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “The incident highlights the vital work that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) do in protecting life at sea. If the ETV had not been available then lives would have been at risk and the chances of environmental damage would have been greatly increased” (Risks 761). The union leader added: “The government only agreed to retain the use of Herakles in Orkney last month and this highlights how important that decision was. I hope the government looks closely at this incident and reconsiders the risk for other coastal areas of the UK not served by government-funded ETVs.” The union has run a lengthy campaign against the axing of the crucial safety vessels (Risks 587). The four ETVs were introduced after the Braer and Sea Empress tanker disasters, but three were withdrawn following the 2010 public spending review.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to launch a formal investigation into the possibility of illegal asbestos imports to the UK. The move came after UK unions and asbestos victims’ and campaign groups told the regulator illegal imports into Australia by Yuanda Australia PTY Ltd were only exposed as a result of union vigilance, and queried whether Yuanda UK could have obtained asbestos-containing materials for use in the major UK construction projects with which it is involved (Risks 762). In an 11 August email response, HSE said it had already conducted preliminary inquiries and “sampling and analysis from key Yuanda construction sites” and was considering whether a formal investigation was justified into possible UK imports by the Chinese-owned building materials multinational. A 16 August follow-up email from HSE’s chemicals regulation division confirmed “HSE have decided to undertake a formal investigation in relation to the potential import and use of asbestos by Yuanda (UK) Co Ltd.” Susan Murray, a national health and safety adviser with the union Unite, commenting ahead of the HSE decision, said: “Only when asbestos has been completely eradicated will our workplaces be safe from it. Asbestos is banned in the UK and we expect 100 per cent compliance with the law in all workplaces coupled with rigorous enforcement by the HSE.” The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) reported that in other EU countries, trade unionists are investigating potential workplace hazards at sites operated by Yuanda Europe. In Australia, Yuanda Australia freight containers are now being impounded by custom officials and documentation and shipments are being thoroughly examined. IBAS added that civil society groups in the UK “are asking that the same processes be followed to protect workers and members of the public from illegal and avoidable toxic exposures.”
Practicing mindfulness meditation on a regular basis will not make you any more likely to eat healthily, exercise or quit smoking, new research has indicated. Researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Gothenburg found that despite being seen as one of the ultimate ways to relax and being promoted as a work-stress busting solution, regular mindfulness courses do not help humans unwind any more than sitting in front of the TV. Their study put 139 students on a six-week online 'mindfulness-based stress reduction' (MBSR) course called Be Mindful. Meanwhile, another group were told to watch weekly episodes of the 2011 BBC documentary Ancient History. Both groups were then tested regularly for stress, risk-taking and time preferences, as well as health-related behaviours, and the results were assessed at the end of a six-month period. The study found no significant differences in sleeping, smoking, drinking or binge-eating habits between those who conducted mindfulness – which focuses on concentration and calmness – and those who simply relaxed in front of the television. The findings, published in a Social Science Research Network discussion paper, indicate mindfulness intervention significantly reduces perceived stress. But the paper notes: “We fail to find any evidence - even suggestive - of changes in other health-related behaviours such as sleep, alcohol consumption and smoking.” Last year the union Prospect warned that companies were increasingly looking to fix the worker rather than fix stressful jobs (Risks 704). The union’s health and safety specialist, Sarah Page, noted “rather than adopting the Health and Safety Executive’s excellent, evidence-based and free ‘Management Standards’, they are allowing themselves to be seduced by expensive ‘well-being’ products. Probably because most offer ‘individualised’ solutions, so employers can shift responsibility for stress management to a self-management model: workers must ‘pull themselves together’!”
Ÿ Yonas Alem and others. Mind, behaviour and health: A randomised experiment, Social Science Research Network, IZA Discussion Paper No. 10019, July 2016. HSE stress management standards. Mindfulness at work. Daily Mail.
People are more susceptible to infection at certain times of the day as our body clock affects the ability of viruses to replicate and spread between cells, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge. The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), may help explain why shiftworkers, whose body clocks are routinely disrupted, are more prone to health problems, including infections and chronic diseases like diabetes. The researchers found that virus replication in mice infected at the very start of the day – equivalent to sunrise, when these nocturnal animals start their resting phase – was ten times greater than in mice infected ten hours into the day, when they are transitioning to their active phase. “The time of day of infection can have a major influence on how susceptible we are to the disease, or at least on the viral replication, meaning that infection at the wrong time of day could cause a much more severe acute infection,” said Professor Akhilesh Reddy, the study’s senior author. “This is consistent with recent studies, which have shown that the time of day that the influenza vaccine is administered can influence how effectively it works.” When the body clock was disrupted in either individual cells or mice, researchers found that the timing of infection no longer mattered – viral replication was always high. Dr Rachel Edgar, the lead author, said: “Each cell in the body has a biological clock that allows them to keep track of time and anticipate daily changes in our environment. Our results suggest that the clock in every cell determines how successfully a virus replicates.” She added: “When we disrupted the body clock in either cells or mice, we found that the timing of infection no longer mattered – viral replication was always high. This indicates that shiftworkers, who work some nights and rest some nights and so have a disrupted body clock, will be more susceptible to viral diseases. If so, then they could be prime candidates for receiving the annual flu vaccines.”
Ÿ Cambridge University news release. Rachel S Edgar and others. Cell autonomous regulation of herpes and influenza virus infection by the circadian clock, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, e-pub 15 August 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1601895113. BBC News Online. The Guardian.
The TUC has condemned a pipe manufacturer prosecuted for damaging the health of its workers for linking staff redundancies to the resulting safety penalties and personal injury compensation costs. Newport-based Asset International Ltd was handed a £200,000 fine in May for criminal safety failings after seven reported cases of vibration-related hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) or carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurred at the firm between April 2014 and July 2015 (Risks 752). Now the company has written to employees saying, as a result of the fine, related personal injury claims and a downturn in business, it is axing six jobs – three in its fabrication and welding department and another three in its site welding sector. “As we make this announcement we see ourselves almost 20 per cent under our sales budget and 12 per cent down on the same period (January to June) last year,” the letter noted. “Furthermore, as you are aware, we have received a fine plus costs of £227,000 for the HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) issue and we have received personal injury claims of which we as a company have to pay the first £25,000 per claim, thus giving us a further large potential liability in which the company will have to pay. Unfortunately, these events have deemed it necessary to carry out a restructure and downsizing.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: “This is a cynical and unfortunately familiar ruse. Employers should not add job blackmail to their safety crimes – management created the health and safety risks, and management should carry the can.” ‘Fear at work’, a 1982 US book by Richard Kazis and Richard L Grossman examining the practice, noted companies used “the power of job blackmail” as a tool for “whipping workers into line.” The book includes the example of a worker being angrily accused by a company doctor of “trying to shut down the plant” after developing mercury poisoning.
The owner of a West Midlands waste firm has been found guilty of manslaughter and given a suspended jail term four years after an employee died in an eight-foot fall from a skip. Jagpal Singh suffered head injuries in the incident at Bilston Skips in in Willenhall on 28 June 2012. The 24-year-old, who had been compressing waste in a large skip alongside a poorly maintained JCB excavator, died a short while later in hospital as a result of severe internal injuries. Bilston Skips owner Bikram Singh Mahli was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter at Wolverhampton Crown Court. The 44-year-old also pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law. Mahli was sentenced to two years in prison suspended for two years and banned from being a director of a company for ten years. He was also ordered to pay costs of £10,000. The company, which is now in liquidation, was hit with a £600,000 fine after being convicted of corporate manslaughter and a criminal safety breach. Judge James Burbage QC told Wolverhampton Crown Court: “Bikram Singh Mahli allowed a woeful and inadequate system of work where there were significant failures to segregate workers from plant machinery. As a consequence, this led directly to the death of Jagpal Singh.” Detective Sergeant Andy Houston, from the West Midlands Police Homicide team, said: “This is a sad case where the systematic failings of a company and an individual who paid no regard for the health and safety of his employees has led to the untimely death of Mr Singh.” He added: “This should send a message to employers who pay scant regard to the health and safety of their workers. Together with our partner agencies, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Crown Prosecution Service, we will pursue prosecutions where companies fail to protect their employees adequately.” HSE inspector Kanwal Kanda said: “This is a tragic incident where a young man lost his life through the complete failure of Bilston Skips Ltd and its senior manager, Bikram Singh Mahli, to give any worthwhile attention to the health and safety of workers at the company premises. There were simple and achievable measures that could have been taken to prevent collisions between pedestrians and moving machinery or vehicles – failure to do so, however, put workers at extreme and obvious risk to their safety.”
Two security companies have been handed small fines after a security guard died from carbon monoxide poisoning on a construction site. Javaid Iqbal, a 29-year-old father of three, was employed by London-based KK Security Services Ltd on a site in Leigh, Wigan. KK Security were subcontracted by Veritas Security (Southern) Ltd, a Southampton-based company, despite it being written into the contract from the client that no subcontracting would take place. Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard that during the early hours of 6 December 2014, the site’s generator failed in sub-zero temperatures and in an attempt to keep warm Iqbal lit some barbecue coals in a wheelbarrow which he placed in a 20-foot steel container used as the site office. He was found dead by police a few hours later having died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The court heard that Iqbal had made a number of attempts to re-start the site generator and had sought assistance from both his employers but neither had provided any meaningful assistance to him. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that KK Securities Limited failed to provide a management system to protect the welfare and safety of their employees, particularly lone workers. No real provision had been made by the company for emergency support, the only option open to Iqbal being to ring his employer who was hundreds of miles away and could offer no practical assistance. HSE principal inspector Neil Jamieson said: “Mr Iqbal should have been required to ring and speak to his company every hour or have some form of panic button. His calls were not being monitored. Instead of this he was simply required to text in every hour stating that all was well. This tragic death could have been so easily avoided had either KK Securities Limited or Veritas Security (Southern) Limited made adequate arrangement to regularly check on Mr Iqbal’s welfare during the quiet hours. Instead, it appears he was left to fend for himself.” KK Security Services Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches and was fined £8,000 with £ 4,854 costs. Veritas Security (Southern) Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £8,000 with £6,220 costs.
A herbal medicine company has been fined £45,000 after a cleaner died from inhaling toxic fumes while working at a Rutland factory. Karl Brader was employed by Herbs in a Bottle Limited in Essendine, which sells creams, dietary supplements and other herbal products. The 50-year-old, who had not been properly trained in the use of chemicals, fell ill on 2 September 2014 while cleaning a changing room at the factory. He was pronounced dead at the scene. It is believed the gas that killed him was chlorine. It is well-known that common cleaning chemicals can when mixed with bleach lead to the release of the highly toxic chemical. The company admitted three criminal safety breaches and was ordered to pay a fine of £45,000 as well as the full prosecution costs of £4,842. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution at Leicester Crown Court heard evidence that Mr Brader had not been trained in the safe use of the chemicals he was using on the day of his death. The company had not carried out a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) assessment, which companies have been required to do for nearly 15 years. HSE inspector Stephen Farthing said: “This was a tragic industrial incident that was entirely preventable had suitable precautions been taken. Karl Brader had not received any training in the safe use of hazardous chemicals and as a result died from the exposure to a toxic gas.” He added: “Companies should ensure that they assess all the risks associated with the use of dangerous chemicals and that exposure to their employees is either eliminated or minimised.”
Doing great preventive work on health and safety at work? Well, make sure your efforts get the recognition they deserve. The UK-wing of the European Campaign on Healthy Workplaces for all Ages is seeking entries for its Good Practice Awards (GPA) on this year’s ‘ageing workforce’ theme. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which coordinates the UK end of the awards process, says the competition aims to recognise organisations making outstanding and innovative contributions to safety and health at work in the context of an ageing workforce. It forms part of an award system coordinated EU-wide by the Bilbao-based EU-OSHA, which says overall it is looking for examples that demonstrate a holistic approach to occupational health and safety management. The awards jury will also be looking for both ‘sustainability’ and ‘transferability’ of interventions. The TUC says negotiating safer, healthier conditions for all workers is bread and butter business for union health and safety reps – and is encouraging them to ensure this ‘union effect’ is recognised. It is urging safety reps, union branches and campaigns to get their submissions in ahead of the 7 October 2016 deadline.
Ÿ HSE 2016 campaign website, including links on to how to get involved in the campaign or how to enter the Good Practice Awards. EU-OSHA Good Practice Awards webpages provide more information on what the judges will be looking for.
At least 21 workers have died and a number have been critically injured after a broken steam pipe caused a huge explosion at a power plant in central China's Hubei province. The blast on 11 August occurred at Madian Gangue Power Generation Co Ltd in Dangyang City as workers were testing thermo-power facilities. A high-pressure steam pipe burst and caused the blast, a preliminary investigation indicated. The plant only started operation this year and its facilities are still undergoing testing, local authorities said. The fatal blast left a scene of destruction, with distorted pipes, wires and window panes, shattered computer screens in the control room, and a few helmets of workers and their clothes strewn on the ground. The State Administration of Work Safety has sent a work group to investigate the tragedy. The blast came a day before the first anniversary of the warehouse explosion that killed at least 165 people in the northern port of Tianjin (Risks 717). The massive chemical blasts sparked widespread anger over safety negligence by factory management and lack of openness by officials about the cause of the disaster and its possible impact on environment.
Garment workers toiling behind the electrified fences of Sri Lanka’s free trade zones are paying a high price for making the cheap clothes sold on the UK high street. UK-based charity War on Want investigated conditions in the factories, including interviewing an injured garment worker, Disna, at her union’s headquarters close to one of Sri Lanka’s many free trade zones. Her fingers were bandaged after being crushing in an industrial button machine that was known to be dangerous. War on Want says the case is typical, with both the factory and the brand it was supplying refusing to provide compensation or cover medical expenses. Sri Lanka is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions which require all workers to have the right to organise unions in their workplaces. But the charity says that “despite the rhetoric from local and foreign clothing brands on their commitment to workers’ rights, the stark reality for women like Disna remains long hours, poverty pay and scant regard for safety.” Most of Sri Lanka’s garment factories are located within the country’s free trade zones, tightly policed and with unions kept at bay. “Disna would be alone, with ongoing medical expenses and no support, if it were not for the union fighting her corner and taking her case to court,” the charity notes. “The ongoing work of War on Want partner Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ&GSEU) has been vital in raising awareness of workers’ rights. Thanks to training, garment workers are now refusing to accept unsafe working conditions or abuse by their bosses: together they are fighting back.”
The US coal industry’s ‘wild exaggerations’ about the anticipated costs of a proposed tighter coal dust exposure standard have been exposed, five years after the law took effect. George Washington University academic Celeste Monforton described the industry estimates as ‘a doozy’ in a world of industry costs hiking replete with doozies. The coal industry had insisted that many of the nation’s 1,500 coal mines would not be able to comply with a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) rule that would cut in half the allowable concentrations of respirable coal dust in the miners’ work environment. The MSHA wanted lower dust exposures to reduce the incidence of black lung disease. Alliance Coal’s vice presidents, Mark Watson and Heath Lovell, claimed the new rule meant the 200 citations issued annually for excessive concentrations of respirable coal dust could soar to 230,000 violations annually. The oft-repeated claim that citations could increase to over 1,000 times the 2011 level was also picked up by the US Chamber of Commerce which said that so many violations would “ultimately jeopardise [some mines] ability to remain in operation.” Murray Energy joined in, noting “we are gravely concerned that it will be extraordinarily difficult to avoid having our mines fall into the pattern of violations enforcement mechanism - and that our mines may never emerge from the ‘patterns’ sanction.” But according to Celeste Monforton, a mine safety expert: “Last month, just before the lower exposure limit was set to take effect, an announcement by MSHA chief Joe Main confirmed the absurdity of the industry’s 230,000 violation estimate. Based on 87,000 air monitoring samples, 98 per cent were already in compliance with the new 1.5 mg/m3 exposure limit.” She added: “Despite the coal industry’s wild exaggeration, it shouldn’t be a surprise that coal mine operators can meet the lower exposure limit. As I wrote when the final rule was issued, a lot of mine operators had already figured out how to reduce coal dust levels well below the current standard.” The company ruse was not about violations, but about campaigning successfully for a standard more lax than the 1mg/m3 limit originally proposed by MSHA. And the cost of opting for the weaker standard? According to Monforton: “By MSHA’s own calculations: an estimated 50 cases of progressive massive fibrosis per 1,000 coal miners and as many as 99 cases of emphysema per 1,000 coal miners.”
Ÿ Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/