|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.
If your heart started misbehaving at work, you’d be glad there was a first aider on hand. So, a mental health first aider (MHFA) could be just the job if the problem is in your head, right? Writing in Hazards magazine, TUC’s Hugh Robertson says support for workers is a good thing, but mental health first aiders are not the only option and for union reps usually are not the best option. The union safety specialist says MHFA training – 200,000 have been trained in the last decade – has its value. “However, MHFA is not a substitute for preventing anxiety and depression caused by work-related stress, or is it a substitute for professional support. Any employer that thinks they can deal with mental health concerns just by introducing a few MHFAiders are very much mistaken. After all traditional first aiders are not a substitute for good prevention, occupational health provision and the NHS. I reckon that MHFAiders can be a really useful resource in the workplace but it is only a small part of what employers should be doing.” Robertson calls for a much broader approach in the workplace, “and that is best done in co-operation with the union.” Good policies include addressing attitudes in the workplace to mental health issues, non-discriminatory recruitment and sickness policies, early access to occupational health services and strong workplace stress, harassment and anti-bullying procedures. “Unions clearly must be involved both in working with their employer around mental health and supporting members with mental health problems, but MHFA is unlikely to be the most suitable training for trade union representatives,” writes Robertson. “That is why Mental Health Awareness training is often more appropriate as there is much more emphasis on prevention.” Unions reps can get this training, which can be tailored to the workplace and have union input, through the TUC.
Ÿ TUC blog. Is Mental Health First Aid the answer? Depends on the question. Hugh Robertson, Hazards magazine, number 141, 2018. Related article in the same issue: Work and suicide: A TUC guide to prevention for trade union activists.
A new health and safety standard must be much more than “pointless paperwork”, the TUC has warned. The ISO 45001 standard, a commercial product produced by the International Organisation for Standardisation and launched on 12 March, allows companies to get certification that confirms their health and safety management systems have passed a set requirements. But the TUC says it “believes that a serious health and safety management system should be about more than gaining certification. Simply meeting the requirements of ISO 45001 should not be used as a sign that an organisation has been successful in reducing and managing risk.” Unions have warned that the private standards approach could lead to a move away from prevention-based risk management developed by working with unions, to a more bureaucratic, process-driven approach aimed at achieving and maintaining accreditation. The TUC says over time ISO 45001 could be contract compliance requirement in some sectors, like construction and infrastructure work. It may also be required in the UK operations of multinational companies who want to standardise their health and safety management systems. The union body says it is vital that employers using the ISO 45001 do so in a way that raises standards and fully involves workers. It has published its own detailed guide for union health and safety representatives to help them work with companies who decide to seek ISO 45001 certification. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The TUC believes that having a health and safety management system is important, but it must be more than pointless paperwork. What makes a workplace safer is removing hazards, controlling risks and ensuring good worker involvement.” She added: “Anyone worried about health and safety in their workplace should join a union, to get the support they need and their interests represented at work.” The ISO standard is a commercial product; just purchasing a copy of the standard costs £100. Companies seeking certification and certification renewal will then have to pay auditors to review their management systems.
Discussing what is likely to happen after Brexit “is just crystal-ball gazing”, the TUC’s Hugh Robertson has asserted. Writing a guest blog for the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), the union body’s head of safety noted: “The truth is that no-one has any idea what the post transition landscape will look like, and that includes those who are negotiating our future.” He argues that rather than wait and see, the better approach “is trying to influence what will happen. Those in the occupational health world need to ensure that they are trying to defend what we have and use any opportunities to improve it regardless of the final agreement.” He added: “If there is a deal that includes some kind of access to the internal market, the EU will push for this to include requirements that the UK maintain the same minimum employment standards as the EU, including on occupational health and safety. If there is no deal, or it is not linked to the single market then the UK will be free to do what it wants limited only by the basic provisions of any ILO conventions it has signed up to and the requirements of any individual trade deals (which could perversely restrict employment rights).” Robertson warned: “The reality is that, unless there is full protection built into the agreement with the EU, it is highly likely that once any post-exit transition period is over, parliament will be free to re-write our health and safety laws and British courts will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice when interpreting those laws and no assurances given by the current government will be able to prevent that… That is why we must ask for respect for EU health and safety standards to be at the heart of any future partnership agreement between the UK and EU to ensure that UK regulation remains, as an absolute minimum, at the level afforded to EU workers both now and in the future.” As an example of how Brexit changes make work, the government this week published its draft Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, demonstrating how the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 may be used to make the technical amendments necessary to ensure retained EU law relating to health and safety protections still works post-Brexit. Green MP Caroline Lucas has warned that a trade deal with the US could force the UK to accept hazardous imports from the US, including products containing asbestos, currently banned in the UK.
Sexual harassment is a form of violence against women, and it’s happening in our workplaces all the time, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has said, adding stopping it is a trade union priority. In a TUC blog article she notes that “before the media attention, before women felt able to say #metoo in their thousands, trade unions were supporting members in their workplaces, fighting for dignity at work, and campaigning to end violence and harassment in all forms.” She adds: In 2018, we want the campaigning work of trade unions to pay off yet again. In June, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will be discussing whether it will bring in a legally binding international treaty on ending violence against women and men in the world of work. Governments would be required to incorporate the treaty into national law, and employers would have to follow it. Governments would also be expected to commit to reviewing and reporting their progress.” O’Grady concludes: “Throughout the campaign, unions have called for the treaty to specifically focus on violence against women, recognising that violence and harassment at work overwhelmingly affect women, due to discrimination, unequal power relations and non-standard working conditions. And the UK government agrees with us. They’ve written to the ILO asking for the same robust protections that the TUC has called for. So in the next few months, trade unionists urgently need to lobby employers to support this process.” The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is leading this global campaign and has produced a campaign toolkit for unions.
Unite is calling for a radical overhaul in the way prison maintenance work is undertaken following revelations that two workers at Liverpool Prison were unfairly dismissed for raising safety issues. The union said John Bromilow and Harry Wildman, who had combined service of 45 years, were employed by private contractor Amey, which took over the running of maintenance and other functions in 60 prisons in June 2015. This was the result of the government’s move to privatise public services that saw prison maintenance contracts shared between Amey and the now defunct company Carillion. Both firms were major players in the Consulting Association, a covert operation that blacklisted safety whistleblowers that was only exposed in 2009. In July 2016, Bromilow and Wildman became concerned that Amey’s changes to working practices, which meant that they were required to work alone in secure areas of the prison, was a danger to safety. Having had a grievance rejected by Amey, they spoke twice to the prison governor, saying they were going to raise concerns with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The governor immediately informed Amey and the workers were suspended and then sacked for “bringing the company into disrepute.” An employment tribunal this month ruled they had been unfairly dismissed. The tribunal found they had acted in good faith, with employment judge Jonathan Holbrook, who headed the three-person panel, adding he thought it was "extraordinary" that Amey had not taken into account the men's 45 years of collective service and their unblemished disciplinary record. Unite national officer for the prison service Jim Kennedy said: “This was a shameful way to treat longstanding workers who voiced immediate safety fears. Amey’s hamfisted response demonstrates they are unfit to operate such a sensitive and complex service.” He added that a fixation with cost-cutting “is having a significant impact on the safety of all workers in the prison system.” Roy Bentham, joint secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, commended the two victimised workers, but added: “Most regrettably, it seems that Amey still haven’t changed from the days of their squalid relationship with the Consulting Association. They are still anti-worker and to that end anti-trade union. Just like Carillion, they are part of the problem regarding how big businesses are run in this country. It’s got to change.”
The threat of violence against prison officers could lead to industrial action unless they ‘are given the tools to keep them safe’, their union POA has said. The union was speaking out after what it described as “another weekend of chaos and assaults in prisons”. It added a member of staff at Bedford prison “was so seriously assaulted on Saturday 3 March 2018, that he required lifesaving surgery to relieve pressure on the brain after being attacked by prisoners and having his head stamped on.” National chair of the POA, Mark Fairhurst, stated: “The safety of staff is non-negotiable and this cowardly attack on a member of staff, who was bravely trying to protect prisoners demonstrates the extreme dangers that prison officers face throughout the country… We need safe regimes that ensure staff can quell violence as it occurs.” He added: “We are now demanding that all staff are given the tools to keep them safe and we now insist that PAVA spray [a spray used to incapacitate assailants] is rolled out nationally without delay. No High Court Injunction will prevent the POA from protecting the health and safety of its staff.” Fairhurst said prison authorities “need to act immediately to prevent the crisis in our prisons from escalating. I do not wish to be announcing the death of an officer because our employer failed in their duty of care towards staff.”
A Northampton prison officer has settled a case for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination against the Secretary of State for Justice after she was made ill when forced to work on a sex offenders unit. Rachel McKail, 48, was made to work on the unit at HM Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes, despite an agreement that she should not be asked to do so, due to pre-existing health concerns. The POA member, who had worked as a prison officer since 2002, was permanently restricted from working at the unit following a recommendation from occupational health in 2013 that was reiterated in 2016. However, the deputy governor of the prison requested she work in the unit multiple times from October to December of 2016 owing to a shortage of staff. It was made clear that formal disciplinary action would be taken should she refuse. The prison officer suffered anxiety attacks, bouts of physical illness and an exacerbation of symptoms of depression that were caused by the requests. After an extended period of sick leave, she declared she wanted to return to work in April 2017, either in her previous role as a prison officer that would not require her to work in the sex offenders unit or in an operational support grade. She was however told there were no other jobs on offer, even though there were similar jobs advertised on the civil service website at the time. She was subsequently dismissed on the grounds of ‘medical inefficiency’. A POA-supported employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination resulted in a ‘significant compensation’ award to the POA member. The union’s general secretary, Steve Gillan, commented: “The POA take no joy out of any success, our members should not be treated in this manner. The secretary of state and the senior management of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service should, if they hadn’t worked it out by now, realise that they have an absolute duty to treat all staff with respect and dignity.” He added: “All too often the POA are called upon to defend our members in the courts using members’ money, whilst the secretary of state uses and abuses funds from the taxpayer. This cannot be right.”
Surveys by a retail trade group and the shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw have both revealed a disturbing increase in violence against retail staff during 2017. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says reports from employers indicate violence against retail staff has doubled. Usdaw’s latest survey of shopworkers shows a 25 per cent increase, suggesting there are around 265 assaulted every day. The union survey also revealed that 1 in 5 shopworkers who have been assaulted don’t report it and 80 per cent of shopworkers think a new law to stiffen penalties for those who assault them is needed. John Hannett, the Usdaw general secretary, commented: “These two surveys have returned truly shocking results and clearly demonstrate there is a growing problem that needs to be tackled. The clear message to government is there is a need to do more. A properly funded and well-resourced police service is essential to halt the dramatic rise in retail crime. We have to question whether the cutting of 20,000 police officers in the name of austerity is behind these survey results.” He added: “Shopworkers are on the frontline of policing the law on the sale of alcohol, knives, glue and acid. Parliament has given them the responsibility to police those laws, so parliament should provide shopworkers with the necessary protection. It is entirely reasonable that shopworkers continue to ask the government for legislation to provide stiffer sentences for the thugs that assault them. It is time to say enough is enough. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”
Workplace disability discrimination protection for cancer victims has been widened as a result of a landmark legal case taken by Unite. The legal victory will ensure that people suffering with ‘pre-cancer’ will be protected under the Equality Act 2010. The case involved Unite member Christine Lofty, who worked at First Café in Norwich for 14 years. In March 2015 a lesion on her face was diagnosed as pre-cancerous ‘lentigo malignia’, a form of melanoma. She required biopsies, surgery and skin grafts and took sick leave from her work to undergo this potentially lifesaving treatment. However, while Mrs Lofty was on sick leave her employer Sadek Hamis saw her in the street and decided that she had taken too much sick leave and dismissed her in December 2015. Unite took a legal case on behalf of Mrs Lofty for unfair dismissal and discrimination, arguing the pre-cancer cells amounted to having cancer, which is considered a disability. The employment tribunal dismissed the claim, accepting an argument that she had never had cancer. But it had failed to take into account a letter from Mrs Lofty’s GP that “Mrs Lofty had cancer” and that “pre-cancer” was a medical term for cancer that is for the moment contained, often described as “cancer in situ”. Unite appealed the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), which found in favour of Mrs Lofty. The EAT agreed with Unite’s argument that pre-cancer is a form of cancer and therefore Mrs Lofty was deemed to be disabled at the point of diagnosis, which is when the Equality Act becomes relevant, rather than at the point of dismissal. All forms of cancer are given legal protection from discrimination under the Equality Act. Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “This is a landmark case which will help ensure that employers cannot dismiss and discriminate against their workers who are suffering from any form of cancer.” He added: “The fact that this case went to an Employment Appeal Tribunal means it is legally binding and can now be used in similar cases. Unite could not let this case drop as we had to ensure we won justice for victims of cancer.”
Equity is demanding a safe working environment for its members. The actors’ union says they must not have to endure or observe sexual harassment, adding that perpetrators must understand there is nowhere to hide. Its report, ‘Agenda for Change’, sets out what the union requires from educators and the industry, including venues, agents, boards and casting directors. The union’s ‘Safe Space’ campaign will encourage members to challenge inappropriate behaviour and to report it, knowing that the union is there to support them. The first part of the campaign will be distributing a Safe Space poster that will promote the union’s harassment helpline. Equity says it expects the poster to be a visible presence in green rooms, casting suites and rehearsal spaces throughout the UK. The union says it is also developing a step-by-step guide that will offer clarity on unacceptable behaviour and good practice, as well as advice on what members should do if they are the victim or observer of sexual harassment or assault. Maureen Beattie, the actor and Equity’s vice president who led the union’s working group on sexual harassment, said: “This report represents an opportunity - an opportunity which may not come our way again for many years - to harness the energy released by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and rethink the way we deal with sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. I’ve suffered sexual harassment in my career, both as a victim and as a bystander, and it is my fervent hope that the work that follows this report will lead to a future where no-one has to suffer harassment of any kind, ever again. If we are to create a workplace truly without fear it is imperative the industry accepts the recommendations in this report.”
Rail union RMT has confirmed there will be a further 48 hours of strike action on Northern Rail over ‘attacks on the role of the safety-critical guard and the extension of driver only operation in the name of increased profits’. The 24-hour stoppages, scheduled for 26 and 29 March, were announced as the union demanded tripartite talks with the company and the Department for Transport (DfT) aimed at reaching a resolution. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Every single effort that RMT has made to reach a negotiated settlement with Northern Rail over safe operation and safe staffing has been kicked back in our faces. No-one should be in any doubt, this dispute is about putting the safety of the travelling public before the profits of the private train companies.” He added: “It is frankly ludicrous that we have been able to negotiate long-term arrangements in Scotland and Wales that protect the guards and passenger safety but we are being denied the same opportunities with rail companies in England. Theresa May and Chris Grayling are happy to stand aside and cheer on overseas rail companies that rip-off the British passenger with eye-watering fare increases to subsidise their domestic transport operations while throwing the guards off our trains. If it’s good enough for Wales and Scotland to put safety first then it’s good enough for the rest of the UK. RMT remains ready for the tripartite talks we have suggested.”
A Devon-based Unite member who was left burnt and traumatised by a silo explosion at work has secured a five-figure settlement. Terry Wyatt, 57, was employed by wood manufacturer Norbord Ltd at their South Molton factory as part of the company’s fire control team. When he was told about a fire in a dust silo, the silo’s door was opened and Terry got a fire hose ready to dowse the flames. But the fire blasted out of the door and hit him. The blast was so hot his helmet melted on his head. He said: “Smoke was already billowing out of the silo when I was asked to put out the fire, so I have no idea how long it had been going on for. I was left in a dangerous situation.” Colleagues rushed him to a nearby shower unit to cool him down and a paramedic assessed him before he went to hospital. He was discharged later that day, but needed daily visits from his ex-wife, who is a nurse, for the first fortnight to help apply burn cream. As the burns began to heal, he was able to do this himself, but was unable to return to work for six months. He has suffered from episodes of depression since the incident, needing psychological treatment. He secured the five-figure payout after making a Unite-backed compensation claim. Stuart Davies, Unite regional legal officer in the South West, said: “I cannot imagine how frightening this incident must have been for Terry and his family. The fire had been allowed to develop to a point that it was a danger to those nearby, and Terry was the unfortunate person caught in the blast. If he wasn’t wearing his fire helmet, who knows how severe the burns could have been.” He added: “We’re pleased that Terry has been able to use his settlement to help move on with his life, but this should be a lesson to other employers regarding the importance of safeguarding your workforce.”
Postal workers’ union CWU has said it members should not be ‘penalised’ for following official advice and heeding the recent red weather warning. The union’s comments came after Royal Mail staff in east central Scotland were told their pay would be docked or they could use annual leave if they failed to get to work during the heavy snow. The Met Office issued a red weather warning for snow - the first of its kind in Scotland - on 28 February. Motorists were warned to keep off the roads, while buses and train services were cancelled. When the red warning was downgraded to amber, people were again warned to travel only if it was absolutely necessary. CWU’s Gary Clark said postal workers were paying for heeding official travel advice. “Our members who could not attend work were asked to take a day's annual leave, pay back time or lose money,” he said. “This is when the government, police, everybody is telling us only travel for extreme emergencies. There was no transport, there was no way for our members to get to work on a large amount of occasions. But our members are now being penalised basically for the first ever red warning in Scotland, where there was no travel advised.” In the wake of the adverse weather, Scotland's transport minister Humza Yousaf raised concerns about employers docking the wages of those unable to get to work. He said it was not acceptable and the Scottish government would consider action against the employers responsible. A survey this month by the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) found workers with a trade union rep to speak to about health and safety concerns were more than twice as likely to be satisfied with their employer’s response to weather-related difficulties (Risks 840). The Scottish government and the STUC have agreed to develop a Fair Work Charter, focusing on the treatment of workers affected by severe weather or other emergencies and setting out principles that employers should adopt in future.
Civil service union Prospect has said bullying and harassment is never acceptable in any workplace. The union was commenting after BBC Newsnight exposed widespread bullying and harassment of clerks and committee staff in the House of Commons, with some senior MPs implicated. Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Newsnight has raised serious concerns about the treatment of staff in parliament. Prospect alongside other unions pressed hard for the introduction of the Respect policy and that all staff should be treated with dignity and respect. It is crucial that staff have confidence in the process and that where they raise concerns that these are treated seriously and appropriate action taken.” He added: “Prospect will be engaging with management and believes in light of the concerns raised that any historic cases of alleged bullying and harassment should also be allowed to be investigated and that the processes in place need to be fit for purpose and have the confidence of staff."
Ÿ Prospect news release. BBC News Online. Bullying, harassment and intimidation in the House of Commons, BBC Newsnight, 8 March 2018.
For the first time in its history, the BBC has made an appeal to the United Nations in Geneva to protect the human rights of BBC journalists and their families. The move comes in response to years of persecution and harassment of London-based journalists by the Iranian authorities, which it says escalated in 2017. Tony Hall, BBC director general, said: “The BBC is taking the unprecedented step of appealing to the United Nations because our own attempts to persuade the Iranian authorities to end their harassment have been completely ignored. In fact, during the past nine years, the collective punishment of BBC Persian Service journalists and their families has worsened. This is not just about the BBC – we are not the only media organisation to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran. In truth, this story is much wider: it is a story about fundamental human rights. We are now asking the community of nations at the UN to support the BBC and uphold the right to freedom of expression.” The BBC World Service filed its urgent appeal to UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye and Asma Jahangir on behalf of BBC Persian staff in October 2017. This week BBC journalists addressed the UN Human Rights Council session to call upon member states to take action to protect BBC staff and to ensure their ability to report freely. Jeremy Dear, deputy general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said: “For many years Iranian journalists have suffered; been forced into hiding, fled into exile, been arrested, jailed and subjected to routine harassment, violence and intimidation. Iranians now increasingly turn to the international media to find out what is happening in their own country. Targeting family members in Iran in an attempt to silence journalists working in London must be stopped; the international community must act now.”
The education secretary has promised to cut teachers’ workload in an attempt to resolve a recruitment crisis in England's schools. In a 10 March speech, Damian Hinds said he will address as a “top priority” concerns about a shortage of teachers. For five successive years, recruitment targets for teaching have been missed and schools have complained of the expense and disruption of relying on temporary staff or having to use teachers who are not specialists in the subjects they are teaching. The education secretary admitted “clearly, one of the biggest threats to retention, and also to recruitment, is workload. Too many of our teachers and our school leaders are working too long hours - and on non-teaching tasks that are not helping children to learn.” Chris Keates, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said the speech by the education secretary “provides yet further vindication of the ongoing, 8-year campaign by NASUWT members on workload.” But she added: “Regrettably, although acknowledging the problem, the secretary of state has failed to come forward with any specific measures to reduce workload and working hours of teachers. The causes of the workload challenge in schools have been documented extensively. Teachers need action on workload, not more talk and hand wringing.” The union leader said: “In the absence of regulatory measures to safeguard teachers from unacceptable and damaging workload pressures, the NASUWT will continue to defend its members against unreasonable workload and unacceptable management practices. The NASUWT looks forward to constructive dialogue with the secretary of state on tackling workload and resolving the union’s continuing trade dispute.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has said he will crackdown on outsourcing and blacklisting. In his first speech to the Scottish Labour conference as the party’s leader in Scotland, he condemned firms that exploited and blacklisted workers. “Our strategy will ensure that we stop once and for all giving millions of pounds of public money in subsidies to exploitative tax-avoiding companies like Amazon down the road in Dunfermline,” he said. “And that we stop awarding billions of pounds of public procurement contracts to companies which don’t pay a living wage, which use zero-hours contracts and which blacklist workers. So, we meet in Dundee and we applaud the redevelopment of the waterfront, but we condemn the use of a blacklisting company to do it.” Construction giants BAM and Sir Robert McAlpine have won major contracts out of the redevelopment, which includes a new branch of the V&A museum. Both were backers of the cover blacklisting organisation the Consulting Association, which was exposed in 2009 for running an illegal blacklist of trade union activists, often targeted for their workplace safety activities.
Ÿ Morning Star.
The European Union’s thinktank on workplace health and safety is targeting prevention of work-related diseases. EU-OSHA says recent estimates indicated work-related diseases account for about 200,000 deaths each year in Europe. It adds that work-related ill-health and injury is costing the European Union €476 billion (£422.5bn) every year which could be saved with the right occupational safety and health strategies (OSH), policies and practices. It says raising awareness of these diseases, including work-related cancers, is a priority for EU-OSHA, adding its research “aims to provide an evidence base for policy and help share good practices on prevention and rehabilitation. Recent EU-OSHA research has focused on alert and sentinel systems in OSH, work-related diseases from biological agents, and the rehabilitation and return to work of workers after a cancer treatment.”
Human rights defenders who challenge big corporations are being killed, assaulted, harassed and suppressed in growing numbers, researchers have claimed. A survey by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre recorded a 34 per cent global rise in attacks against human rights activists last year, including 120 alleged murders and hundreds of other cases involving threats, assaults and intimidation. The number of incidents were found to have risen sharply, with 388 attacks recorded in 2017 compared with 290 the previous year. The research focused on attacks against activists involved in protests against corporate activities. Victims included trade unionists, whistleblowers and indigenous communities. The Business and Human Rights Centre found that companies involved in mining, agriculture, energy and construction – particularly those headquartered in the UK, US, China, Canada and France – were the most likely to use legal means in an attempt to prevent human rights protests. “Our research highlights that companies do play a significant role in attacks on human rights defenders – the first time that this data has been systematically collected,” said Ana Zbona from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. Among recent victims is Quintin Salgado, a Mexican labour activist and leader of the Los Mineros workers’ union, who was attacked and killed on 24 January 2018, by unknown assailants. Salgado had been working with striking miners at the Media Luna mine in Guerrero, Mexico, owned by Canadian mining company Torex Gold. Workers have been striking since November 2017 in an effort to secure better working conditions and the right to freedom of association. Salgado, a former worker at the mine, was the third person involved in the strikes to be killed.
While attention has focused on President Trump’s disputed decision in January to reverse drilling restrictions in nearly all US coastal waters, the administration has also been pursuing a rollback of Obama-era regulations in the Gulf. Those rules include safety measures put in place after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010, a disaster that killed 11 people and resulted in the largest marine oil spill in drilling history. Smaller oil and gas companies, many backed by Wall Street and private equity firms, say they need the relief to survive financially and Scott Angelle, the top safety official at the Interior Department appointed by Mr Trump, has appeared an enthusiastic ally. But an analysis of federal inspection data by The New York Times found that several of the independent companies seeking the rollback, including Energy XXI, had been cited for workplace safety violations in recent years at a rate much higher than the industry average. Their offshore platforms suffer in some cases from years of poor maintenance, as well as equipment failures or metal fatigue on aging devices, records show. In addition, there was a string of serious environmental and safety episodes in the last six months involving independent operators, including the death in February of a worker who was removing firefighting equipment from a platform about 30 miles offshore, and an oil spill in October that is considered the largest since the Deepwater Horizon event, according to Interior Department records. “These regulations were written with human blood,” said Lillian Espinoza-Gala, a former offshore worker who now serves as an industry safety consultant and opposes easing protections. “The only way we can honour those who lost their lives is for us to learn how to do this in the correct way.” But Mr Angelle has close personal and recent ties to the oil and gas industry, particularly the smaller companies seeking his intervention. He has spent his first months on the job, records show, traveling between Washington, Texas and his native Louisiana to meet with executives at most of the top offshore oil companies, including some cited repeatedly for safety violations.
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