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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
Number 857
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






Lorry driving in crisis due to health, age and skills problems

A severe shortage of skilled lorry drivers is being fuelled by a combination of health problems, an ageing workforce and a failure to recruit younger workers and will damage the economy, the union Unite has warned. It said the average age of large goods vehicle (LGV) drivers has increased from 45.3 years in 2001 to 48 in 2016. The union added that levels of injury and ill-health are ‘incredibly high’ for the transportation and storage sector, which includes lorry drivers. Unite points to research that it says found LGV driving, particularly long-haul - over 250 miles from base - is an ‘occupational detriment’ due to excessive anti-social working hours and unhealthy lifestyles. Related health effects include obesity, high blood pressure, poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of sleep and disturbed sleep and stress. This leads to diabetes, sleep apnoea and cardiovascular disorders, the union said, adding these disorders are also linked to an increased risk of accidents. The health problems associated with driving could be a contributory factor in drivers falling asleep at the wheel, it said. In April this year a confidential survey by Unite of its HGV drivers found that 29 per cent admitted having fallen asleep at the wheel of a lorry. Unite national officer Adrian Jones, said: “In order to both recruit new drivers and retain the existing workforce, the industry needs to have a long hard look at itself and end the race to the bottom attitude that currently exists on pay and conditions. Many drivers are forced to operate on a casualised basis, often operating via employment agencies.” He added: “The way drivers are treated is making workers ill and forcing highly dedicated drivers to leave the industry years before their normal retirement date. Working conditions will only improve across the board by introducing national collective bargaining so that pay, conditions and driver welfare become standardised. Currently even if one company tries to look after the health and welfare of their workforce they face the prospect of being undercut by rivals.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Unite warning on unsafe tyre imports

The safety of thousands of road users is being put at risk by the government’s failure to properly enforce strict laws on tyre labelling and quality standards, Unite has warned. In 2009 the European Union introduced regulations requiring all tyres for passenger, light commercial and heavy commercial vehicles to carry labels which recorded their fuel efficiency, grip in wet conditions and noise levels. The EU rules came into effect on 1 November 2012, but are not being enforced in the UK, according to Unite. The union says cheap ‘inferior’ tyres imported from Asia have swamped the UK market, “but there have been no official inspections of whether the labels on these tyres actually comply with the EU regulations.” A freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by Unite to the government discovered the reason for the lack of enforcement is that the necessary secondary legislation was not passed. The FOI response from the business department BEIS noted: “Between February 2013 to April 2017, there was no UK Statutory Instrument in place and therefore no statutory powers to inspect retail premises or take actions regarding non-compliance.” Unite said it has now launched a ‘Steer Well Clear’ campaign “which will seek to force the government to take action to end inferior Asian tyres being dumped on the UK market.” Unite national officer for rubber Tony Devlin said: “The government’s failure to introduce simple legislation is potentially placing thousands of lives at risk. The failure by the government to ensure that the EU regulations are being complied with is placing drivers in danger, has serious environmental consequences and is endangering the jobs of British workers, employed by companies that are playing by the rules.” He added: “The government needs to immediately act to introduce proper inspections and enforcement of the existing regulations and then adopt workable measures to ensure that inferior Asian tyres are no longer allowed to flood into the UK.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Urgent recruitment drive needed to make Tube safer

Tube union RMT has called for an ‘urgent’ recruitment drive on the system after an internal London Underground Limited (LUL) document revealed what the union described as a crisis in staffing and safety. RMT said the figures lend more weight to the union’s argument that Tube bosses are attempting to run London Underground “on the cheap in unsafe conditions.” The internal LUL report revealed that since January stations across the network have been left completely unstaffed on nearly 300 separate occasions. RMT staff reps suspect the real figures are higher as not all closures will have been reported, the union said. The document makes it make it “crystal clear that LUL simply don’t have nearly enough staff to safely run the Tube network,” it said. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “As expected and predicted by RMT the slash and burn employment model being followed by LUL over the last 10 years has left stations being woefully understaffed with passengers being expected to fend for themselves at stations regularly left unstaffed for hours at a time. Even more worrying is the fact that stations serving night Tube are being left completely unstaffed throughout the operation as a matter of routine.” He added: “RMT is demanding answers and solutions to these shocking revelations and we now call on the Mayor and LUL to start a mass recruitment drive to ensure that this dangerous operating model LUL have bulldozed through is consigned to the bin.” A report this month said injury rates on the Tube had soared since the introduction of the night service (Risks 856).

Ÿ  RMT news release.

Union takes site firms to court over blacklisting of workers

New legal action is being taken against Britain’s biggest construction firms over the illegal blacklisting of workers in Scotand. Unite has lodged a complaint with the Scottish courts on behalf of nine men who they claim were frozen out of their trades for years after being included on a list of ‘troublemakers, union reps and health and safety officers’. Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK, Laing, John Laing, Kier, Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick, Balfour Beatty, Crown House Technologies, Costain Building and Civil Engineering, Costain, Costain Oil Gas and Process and Carillion Construction bankrolled an illegal blacklist of workers operated by the Consulting Association. Dave Smith, a founder of the Blacklisting Support Group that spearheaded a successful court case in England on behalf of hundreds of blacklisted workers, is hoping the Scottish courts demand the big bosses take the witness stand. Smith, a former construction union safety rep who was blacklisted for raising safety concerns on site, told the Metro: “What makes it worse is that the legal system allowed the major contractors to effectively buy their way out of a High Court trial the first time around. Let’s hope the wretches end up in the witness box to be held accountable for their human rights abuse this time around.” The scandal only came to light in 2009 following a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office on the Consulting Association. It uncovered a list of more than 3,000 workers, including details of their trade union links and safety activities on building sites. Unite said it will continue to press for a public inquiry into the blacklist scandal.

Ÿ  The Metro. Evening Times.

CWU tells MPs the problem is dangerous dog owners

It’s not the breed that makes a dog dangerous, it is its irresponsible owner, the communications union CWU has told MPs. Dave Joyce, the union’s national health and safety officer, said there needs to be changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act to better reflect this, combined with better enforcement of the law. The call came in CWU evidence to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee’s inquiry into dangerous dogs legislation. The CWU safety specialist told the committee that the union does not support ‘breed specific legislation (BSL)’, noting that any animal can become vicious if it has a ‘bad’ owner. Joyce said: “The problem is on the other end of the lead,” adding “the CWU is “pro-dog, but anti-bad dog owner.” CWU research found that postal workers “can be attacked by any breed of dog and that the idea of BSL is unhelpful and in fact a detraction from the real issue.” He told the committee that if a dog is under control or in another room when the post is being delivered, no attack will take place. CWU’s ‘Bite-Back’ campaign has been credited with achieving significant changes to the law on dangerous dogs, including the extension of the law to private land, tougher sentences, ancillary orders and control notices and stronger police powers.

Ÿ  CWU news release and CWU evidence on Parliament Live TV. Dangerous Dogs: Breed Specific Legislation inquiry, EFRA committee.

Offshore cost- and corner-cutting risks another Piper Alpha

The government and regulators must do more to protect the safety of oil and gas employees, who have been under pressure since a downturn in the North Sea industry in 2014, offshore unions have said. The message came on the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha oil rig tragedy in which 167 rig workers died. There were only 61 survivors when the oil rig exploded off the coast of Scotland on 6 July 1988. Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish secretary, said: “The tragedy, which Lord Cullen blamed on inadequate maintenance and safety procedures by the operator Occidental, should have led to significant changes in the oil and gas sector that would protect workers in the future and make the industry safer. Instead 30 years on, we have witnessed an industry that is driven increasingly by cost reductions, with corners and jobs being cut to save money.” He added: “The recent introduction of three-weeks on and three-weeks off shift rotas will only add to the pressures on workers. A recent report by Robert Gordon University for the Offshore Contractors Association (OCA) highlights the mental and physical exhaustion felt by those on the newer three-week shifts. It also raised concerns about the impact on workers’ well-being, and blamed the change for making health issues worse. We must never forget the lessons of Piper Alpha, but 30 years on we should have learned something and it doesn’t look like offshore employers have.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Respecting the memory of the Piper Alpha victims should mean adopting the highest possible standards that put safety before profit. This would be consistent with the Cullen Report’s objective of continuous improvement of the offshore safety culture. Regrettably, however, the business model that has developed in the North Sea especially since the 2014 downturn is putting unwelcome pressure on our members.” He added: “Three-weeks on three-weeks off shift pattern, a crisis of confidence in the safety of helicopter transport, ineffective regulations and the prospect of North Sea assets repeatedly changing hands before decommissioning by low-paid foreign staff is the industrial reality for today’s offshore workers. Employers, government, regulators must do more for the safety of offshore workers. The consequences of complacency are unthinkable.”

Ÿ  Unite news release. RMT news release. Eastern Daily Press.

Strike action will shut oil and gas offshore platforms

There will be a series of strike days on North Sea oil and gas platforms operated by Total E&P, over concerns including a gruelling work rota linked to much higher rates of ill-health, Unite has said. The union says that following the ‘overwhelming mandate’ for industrial action, from 23 July there will be a series of 24-hour and 12-hour stoppages on the Alwyn, Dunbar and Elgin platforms, all of which will be forced to cease production. There will also be a continuous ban on overtime. Unite said the dispute concerns the company’s wage review and its plans to force workers to increase their offshore working time. A report by Robert Gordon University identified that workers on three-week, equal-time rotas were nearly twice as likely to experience ill-health as those on two-on-two-off shifts. The three on/three off rota pattern is now worked by 56 per cent of the workforce offshore, compared with just 17 per cent working this pattern in 2007. Unite regional officer Wullie Wallace said: “The overwhelming vote in favour of strike action demonstrates the fury at Total’s proposals to impose changes to the working practices and conditions on its three platforms.” He added: “There remains a closing window of opportunity for Total to behave responsibly and engage with Unite to revise its current offer. However, if Total does not wish to negotiate, then the company will be left in no uncertain terms of the strength of feeling of Unite members which will lead to widespread disruption of the company’s operations.” Unite members employed at Total’s Shetland gas plant have also voted for industrial action in a dispute over changes to their rota system.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

North Sea should remain free from Super Puma helicopters

Offshore union Unite has welcomed the findings of Norway’s Accident Investigation Board (AIBN) investigation into the Airbus Super Puma helicopter that killed 13 people in April 2016. AIBN’s final report into the crash which killed everyone on board, including Iain Stuart, 41, from Laurencekirk, Scotland, concluded the fatal crash off the Norwegian coast was a result of metal ‘fatigue fracture’ in the helicopter’s gearbox. Commenting on the findings, French firm Airbus expressed its “deep regret” for the crash and said it accepted there were “no immediate requirements” for Super Pumas in North Sea crew change operations. Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said: “We welcome this extremely important and thorough report by Norway’s Accident Investigation Board. It confirms what we have always known which is that Airbus is fully responsible for this fatal accident and the report’s findings will reinforce the stand being taken by offshore workers that the North Sea must remain Super Puma free.”

Ÿ  AIBN report. Unite news release. Energy Voice. BBC News Online.


Health warning on new Brexit secretary Raab

The new Brexit secretary poses a ‘direct and immediate threat’ to workers’ rights and safety, GMB has warned. Dominic Raab previously called for Britain to use negotiations with the European Union to scrap workers’ rights. Raab, who was appointed to lead the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU after David Davis resigned last week, authored a paper calling for opt-outs from EU employment regulations, including those that guarantee employees time off and limit the number of hours staff can be made to work. He also opposed rules that give long-term agency workers the same rights as full-time staff, and those that stop people being sacked if their company changes owner. In a 2011 report for the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, Raab argued the UK’s Working Time Regulations, based on an EU directive, should be scrapped. These safety regulations restrict the number of hours an employee can be forced to work to 48 hours a week. They also guarantee at least one day off a week, a minimum of four weeks’ paid annual leave a year. He wrote: “Britain should secure a total opt-out from the working time directive and scrap the UK regulations, ensuring that this costly, anti-jobs legislation cannot cause further damage to the economy.” He added said it should be made easier for companies to sack “underperforming” employees. Raab was also a co-author of the ‘Britannia Unchained' manifesto produced by five Tory right-wingers in 2012. Calling for wholesale removal of employment protections, it added British people “are amongst the worst idlers in the world.” Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “Theresa May has appointed someone who think British workers are lazy and have too many rights and he has already published plans to slash vital rights from the minimum wage to rights for agency workers. The hard won rights of UK workers are already under serious threat in the post-Brexit landscape – basic things like not being forced to work 60 hours a week and being able to get home to see your family.” He warned: “Dominic Raab’s appointment now poses a direct and immediate threat to working people in Britain.”

Ÿ  GMB news release. The Independent. The Guardian. BBC News Online.

Work-related deaths continue to rise

Work-related deaths are continuing to rise, latest official statistics show. Provisional figures released this week by the Health and Executive (HSE) reveal fatalities at work increased to 144 in 2017/18, up from 135 the year before. HSE conceded the long-term decline in work-related fatalities dating back to 1981 has ended, “and the number has remained broadly level in recent years.” According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “One of the most striking figures was that 40 per cent of fatal injuries in 2017/18 were to workers aged 60 or over, even though such workers made up only around 10 per cent of the workforce. Agriculture had a fatality rate 18 times that of the average and the figure for waste and recycling was 16 times the rate of other industries. Construction continued to have the highest number of fatalities.” The figures are incomplete, with HSE admitting its “fatal injury figures do not include fatal accidents on non-rail transport systems or work-related deaths from fatal diseases.” Neither do they include work-related suicides. Evidence suggests work-related transport and suicide deaths each year cause several times more deaths than those included in the HSE’s official fatality total. HSE also published figures on deaths from one occupational cancer. These show the annual toll from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma continues to climb, counter to HSE’s repeated predictions. In 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, there were 2,595 deaths, up 46 on the preceding year when 2,549 mesothelioma deaths were recorded. The HSE has been forced to acknowledge that the figure is not likely to come down during this decade, said TUC Hugh Robertson. “Previous estimates from the HSE on mesothelioma deaths said that they were going to peak in 2010 at 1,500 a year or, when that did not happen they estimated they would peak at “1,950 to 2,450 deaths sometime between 2011 to 2015,” he said. “The new statistics show that men who worked in the building industry are now among those most likely to develop mesothelioma. Given the high levels of exposure still taking place, especially during refurbishment, it is clear that the danger is not going to disappear unless the cause is removed. That is why the TUC has been campaigning for the safe removal of all asbestos in the workplace.”

Ÿ  HSE news release, fatality statistics 2017/18 and mesothelioma death figures for 2016. TUC safety page on facebook.

Call on government to drop ‘deadly’ deregulation obsession

New figures showing an increase in workplace fatalities and asbestos cancer deaths should convince the government to drop its ‘deadly’ obsession with deregulation, the Hazards Campaign has said. Commenting on provisional fatality and mesothelioma statistics released this week by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the national safety activists’ group said: “Work deaths were dropping steadily up to 2010 when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition turbo charged deregulation with the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ and attacks on HSE, but have plateaued since. Now the trend is going in wrong direction.” Calling on the government to back strong regulation and effective enforcement, the campaign added: “Work deaths are going up while the government obsession with deregulation is just as strong and just as deadly. Anecdotal reports from offshore workers show they fear things are going backwards in terms of safety offshore, and fear that, as at Piper Alpha, profits are being put before workers’ lives.” It added that HSE’s headline figures do not include most work-related deaths, as “it excludes all those killed while at work on the roads, at sea and in the air…. It also excludes work-related suicides, which are not reportable under RIDDOR and are not even investigated.” It said add these in and you get reach an annual total of “around 1,500 killed by work-related incidents.” And fatalities are dwarfed by work-related disease deaths, said the campaign, which it estimates claim about 50,000 lives each year.

Ÿ  Hazards Campaign blog.

Director jailed after explosion kills two brothers

Company director Simon Thomerson has been sentenced to eight months in jail after pleading guilty to a criminal health and safety breach that resulted in the death of two brothers in ‘horrific circumstances’. Luton Crown Court heard how Thomerson, the sole owner and director of Clearview Design and Construction Ltd, had been contracted by the owners of an industrial park in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire to refurbish several of the units. Brothers Ardian and Jashar Lamallari had been employed as labourers and were working inside a unit at 4:45pm on 3 October 2015 when an explosive fire occurred. Both brothers suffered near 100 per cent burns and died within 12 hours. A third man who was working with them also suffered severe burns, but survived. A joint investigation by Hertfordshire Constabulary and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Thomerson had supplied the three men with several litres of highly flammable thinners, which they then poured onto the floor of the unit to remove old dried carpet tile adhesive. No serious consideration had been given to the safe use of the thinners, despite the obvious warnings on the containers. The vapour spread over an area up to half the size of a tennis court and was ignited by one of several possible ignition sources in the area. Thomerson pleaded guilty to a criminal health and safety offence and was sentenced to eight months in prison. Detective inspector Justine Jenkins from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, who led the investigation, said: “This was a tragic event that led to the death of two men in absolutely horrific circumstances. We have worked closely with HSE and our other partner agencies to ensure that the failings by those in control of the site were identified and prosecuted and are satisfied that the sentence delivered today reflects the seriousness of those failings.” In a victim impact statement Zana Lamallari, Jashar’s widow, said: “After the death of my husband, my family life has completely been destroyed. My children’s and my future has been completely destroyed. He was everything to me.” In her statement, Ismete Lamallari, Ardian’s widow, said: “The impact in my life is so big. My family has been destroyed; my home, everything. My husband was very loving towards the children and everyone. He was an honest worker.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and information on the safe use of highly flammable liquids. Hertfordshire Mercury. Construction Enquirer.

Textile firm fined after worker dies from conveyor crush injuries

A West Yorkshire textile company has been handed a six figure fine for a criminal safety offence after the death of a worker from crush injuries. Leeds Magistrates Court heard how, on 28 February 2014, WE Rawson Limited employee Paul Whitehead leant into a packaging machine whilst attempting to free a stuck package. However, the 50-year-old became trapped between an upper and lower moving conveyor. He suffered severe crush injuries and later died in hospital. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to take measures to prevent access to the danger zone between the moving conveyors. The investigation also found that no safe system of work had been provided for the removal of trapped packages from the machine. Wakefield-based WE Rawson Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,165.09. HSE inspector John Boyle commented: “This fatality could have been prevented had the risk been identified. Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Firm fined after worker overcome when sawing gas bottles

A Midlands company has been fined after an employee was overcome by vapour whilst disposing of redundant gas bottles. Stoke Combined Court heard how on 7 February 2015, four members of the Air Liquide (UK) Ltd emergency response team were disposing of redundant gas bottles at the company’s site in Tunstall. This involved two workers cutting the bottles open inside a purpose-built box, using a hacksaw operated from the outside. During the incident, one of the workers, wearing a bomb disposal suit and respiratory protective equipment (RPE), was carrying a bottle they had just cut open. However, around 50ml of highly hazardous liquid leaked from the bottle onto the floor. Vapour from the spill drifted downwind affecting two unprotected workers, one so badly he collapsed to the floor. Both were taken to hospital for treatment and tests. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the emergency response team was not adequately informed or instructed to deal with the hazardous contents of the bottles. Neither was the work adequately supervised nor was the ‘very real risk’ of explosion adequately controlled. Prosecutor Craig Morris told the court: “People had no idea what was in the bottles. It is puzzling to the prosecution how they have stepped so far away from the basic industry guide.” He added: “There were 79 bottles that had been dealt with by the time of this incident, 79 lucky dip exercises where people were exposed to risks.” Air Liquide (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay costs of £22,611.60. HSE inspector Matthew Lea said: “Employers have a duty to devise and train their workers in safe systems of work and make sure they are being followed. That starts with understanding the hazardous properties of the chemicals likely to be present in the bottles they [are] required to handle. Their failures put the lives of their workers at significant risk.”

Ÿ  HSE news release. Stoke Sentinel.

Long work hours linked to diabetes in women

Clocking up 45 or more working hours in a week is linked to a heightened risk of diabetes in women, a study has found. Research published online in the journal BMJ Diabetes Research & Care found there was no such heightened risk among women working 30 to 40 hours a week, prompting the researchers to suggest that sticking to this total might help curb the risk of the disease. Previous research has pointed to a link between long working hours and heightened diabetes risk, but most of these studies have focused exclusively on men. To try and provide a more comprehensive picture, the researchers tracked the health of 7,065 Canadian workers between the ages of 35 and 74 over a period of 12 years, from 2003 to 2015, using national health survey data and medical records. Workplace factors, such as shift work, the number of weeks worked in the preceding 12 months, and whether the job was primarily active or sedentary, were also included in the analysis. During the monitoring period, one in 10 participants developed type 2 diabetes, with diagnoses more common among men, older age groups, and those who were obese. The length of the working week wasn’t associated with a heightened risk of the disease among men. However, among women who worked 45 or more hours a week the risk was significantly higher (63 per cent) than it was among those who worked between 35 and 40 hours. The effect was only slightly reduced when potentially influential factors, such as smoking, physical activity levels, alcohol consumption and BMI, were taken into account. “Considering the rapid and substantial increase of diabetes prevalence in Canada and worldwide, identifying modifiable risk factors such as long work hours is of major importance to improve prevention and orient policy making, as it could prevent numerous cases of diabetes and diabetes related chronic diseases,” the study authors conclude.

Ÿ  BMJ news release. Mahée Gilbert-Ouimet and others. Adverse effect of long work hours on incident diabetes in 7065 Ontario workers followed for 12 years, BMJ Diabetes Research & Care, doi 10.1136/bmjdrc-2017-000496. Published online 2 July 2018.


Global: ITUC welcomes World Bank labour protection progress

New guidance from the World Bank will help borrower countries uphold fundamental worker rights, decent employment and safe worksites, the global union confederation ITUC has said. Loans from the World Bank seek to create development and jobs, but for decades the workers executing these projects have been vulnerable to rights violations, the union body said. But two years ago, a new safeguard that requires borrowers to respect basic labour standards on World Bank-funded projects was approved. The labour safeguard will take effect by the end of 2018, alongside updated environmental and social standards. In what ITUC described as a major step toward implementation, the Bank has now issued guidance notes for borrowers with information on applying the safeguards. “The ITUC looks forward to the effective implementation of the labour safeguard, supported by the new guidance materials and continued dialogue with trade unions. The guidance note rightfully places the core labour standards front and centre, alongside practical steps to involve trade unions, ensure fair working conditions and guarantee safety,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. The guidance note instructs borrowers and project contractors to not use disguised employment relationships to deny workers their rights. Detailed steps are provided to prevent the abuse of migrant workers, child labour and forced labour and worksite hazards. “Robust application of the labour safeguard will make an invaluable contribution to sustainable development and improve conditions for thousands of workers,” said ITUC’s Burrow. “Trade unions stand ready to work with the Bank and borrower governments to ensure that the safeguards become a reality on the ground, and that projects are designed to support inclusive growth.” ITUC said dialogue and cooperation with trade unions will ensure the realisation of fair treatment and quality jobs.

Ÿ  ITUC news release and ITUC/Global Unions comments to the World Bank. World Bank Guidance Notes.

Global: Samsung singled out for its bad chemical practices

One of the giants of consumer electronics is a laggard in chemicals management, with workers particularly badly hit, environmental and workers’ rights groups have said. South Korean multinational Samsung has faced prolonged criticism of its failure to protect factory workers from exposure to dangerous substances. Pressure groups also claim Samsung has shown a lack of transparency about which chemicals are being used across its supply chain, and a reluctance to identify hazardous chemicals and seek safer alternatives. According to Samsung’s 2018 sustainability report, which was published in June, the company achieved a “major milestone” last year by publishing a list of substances regulated within its operations, including 11 recognised as "potentially hazardous" for all of its manufacturing sites. Only two of these, though – benzene and n-hexane – are now banned outright. Gary Cook, senior corporate campaigner and IT sector analyst at Greenpeace, points out that electronics manufacturing uses vast numbers of chemicals and Samsung used to produce a longer list, which it has not kept up to date. By comparison, says Ted Smith, chair of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and coordinator of the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT), other tech firms publish much more extensive and detailed information. These include HP, Dell and Apple. He said Samsung’s approach “is complete denial of any problems associated with its processes. And they claim that making those kind of disclosures would violate trade secrets and state security.” But Smith says: “It’s not practically difficult to make these kinds of disclosures; it’s politically difficult.” By contrast with most other big tech firms, Samsung manufactures a higher proportion of its products and the parts in them. “Sometimes you hear from other brands that it’s too complicated to find out what our suppliers are using. But from Samsung there’s no excuse whatsoever; they know because they own it.” Joe DiGangi, senior science adviser at the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), says a compensation fund for sick workers set up by Samsung in 2016 has very strict conditions and excludes certain diseases. More recently, DiGangi adds, the company has managed to stall compensation claims by trying to block the publication of environmental monitoring reports at its South Korean factories. These reports are submitted by industries that use chemicals to the Korean government but Samsung has appealed, saying it should not have to release unredacted copies to the public because they might expose business secrets.

Ÿ  Chemical Watch, Global Business Briefing, July 2018 [subscription only]. Samsung Sustainability Report 2018.

USA: Two amputations a week in US meat plants

Amputations, fractured fingers, second-degree burns and head trauma are just some of the serious injuries suffered by US meat plant workers every week, according to official data. US meat workers are already three times more likely to suffer a serious injury than the average American worker, and pork and beef workers nearly seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries. And some fear that plans to remove speed restrictions on pig processing lines – currently being considered by the government – will only make the work more difficult. Records compiled by the government safety regulator OSHA reveal that, on average, there are at least 17 “severe” incidents a month in US meat plants. These injuries are classified as those involving “hospitalisations, amputations or loss of an eye”. Amputations happen on average twice a week, according to the data. There were 270 incidents in a 31-month period spanning 2015 to 2017, according to the OSHA figures. Most of the incidents involved the amputation of fingers or fingertips, but there were recordings of lost hands, arms or toes. During the period there were a total of 550 serious injuries. The figures come from just 22 of the 50 states, so the true total for the USA overall will be substantially higher. Plans to speed up production lines will lead to more injuries, believe unions and workers. “When it’s production at all costs, people are going to get hurt,” said Mark Lauritsen, head of the meatpacking division for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW) union. “There’s really no need for this, taking the caps off the line speed – there’s plenty of capacity to kill plenty of pigs… but they’re just getting greedy about it.”

Ÿ  Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Guardian. UFCW news release, 3 May 2018.


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