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As soaring temperatures prompted the Met Office to issue a heat health warning this week, the TUC has called on employers to keep indoor workplaces cool and relax dress codes so staff can work as comfortably as possible. The union body says bosses can help their workers through simple measures. It says firms can move staff away from windows, install ventilation or air cooling, or open windows where safe and possible. Relaxing dress codes can also help workers cope. And flexible working could allow workers to dodge the hottest parts of the day or a sweltering commute. Frequent breaks and a ready supply of cold drinks will help staff stay comfortable too. The TUC warns that high temperatures can lead to sickness, a lot of concentration, and slippery, sweaty palms – all of which can increase risks at work. And overheating workers, faced with a choice between heat stress and other hazards, may feel they have to ditch uncomfortable safety gear. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s no fun working in a baking office or factory and employers should do all they can to take the temperature down. The most simple way for staff to keep cool inside when it’s scorching outside is being able to work in more casual clothing. While shorts and vest tops may not be appropriate for all, nobody should be made to wilt in the heat for the sake of keeping up appearances.” The TUC leader added that “bosses who provide a cool and comfortable work environment are going to get more out of their staff. Workers who are unable to dress down in more appropriate summer clothing, or who work in offices without air-conditioning, fans or a plentiful supply of cool drinking water, are going to feel lethargic, and lack inspiration and creativity.” The TUC has also warned that measures must be taken to protect outdoor workers, including scheduling work to avoid the hottest parts of the day, providing shelter and canopies to shade workers from the sun, providing sun screen and suitable clothing and hats to protect the skin, and providing breaks and a ready supply of cold drinks (Risks 856). This week sweltering London Underground staff were given permission to wear shorts and promised better air conditioning in staff rooms, a move pressed for by Tube unions.
A successful BFAWU organising campaign last year at McDonald’s is now targeting safety problems at the burger chain. According to the union: “As part of our organising work with members, we identified a genuine risk to McDonald’s workers of suffering avoidable burns injuries, and wanted to help them to take action. We want workers to know that burns are not, and should never be, ‘part and parcel’ of the job. That’s why we’ve launched the new McBurned campaign with Thompsons Solicitors.” The union is urging McDonald’s workers who have been burned “to speak up – confidentially - and to consider making a personal injury claim.” Ian Hodson, national president of BFAWU said: “Members working in the fast food industry have increasingly been raising concerns about workplace burns and we’re taking the issue seriously with support from Thompsons Solicitors.” He said: “We will not stand by while our members get #McBurned. We’re backing this campaign as a way for workers to come forward for legal advice, to help us as a union identify accident hotspots and to provide support to those who have been quite literally burned by McDonald’s’ disregard for their safety.”
Film and theatre crafts union BECTU is in talks with safety specialists about potential life-threatening health risks from a foam product used by film set construction workers. The union is responding to concerns raised by members about the short and long term effects of inhaling chemicals from the foam “due to incorrect usage and inadequate ventilation in workshops and on sets.” Polyurethane foams contain diisocyanates, a group of chemicals that are a recognised and potent cause of occupational asthma. Once a worker becomes sensitised, minute exposures of even a few parts per billion can lead to an asthma attack. Foams can off-gas dangerous diiosocyanates after they appear to be ‘cured’, with dangerous contamination also remaining on the surface of the product. An alert from BECTU notes: “The union is strongly advising members using the product to follow the manufacturer’s product advice closely and to check that this is incorporated into the necessary risk assessment.” It says where the foams are used, respirators should be worn and must be of the correct type. Diisocyanates are also irritating to the eyes and skin. The foam also contains a fluorocarbon blowing agent. This group of chemicals can cause heart and other problems if workers are exposed. BECTU is asking construction workers “to share, in confidence if preferred, their experience of using the product.” Unions in print and other industries have negotiated safer alternatives to this group of asthma-linked isocyanates.
Ÿ BECTU news release. Related information: Risk of isocyanate exposure in the construction industry, CPWR technical report, 2010.
Warnings from union safety reps went unheeded before asbestos was disturbed at an Aberdeen school, Unite has said. Concerns have been raised that workers may have exposed to the carcinogenic fibre at Bridge of Don Academy during holiday maintenance work. Asbestos materials were disturbed by building service workers during the removal of a corridor panel. However, Unite says “it took a few working days for Aberdeen City Council's own risk control team to be made aware of the suspected asbestos exposure situation. The area involved has now eventually been made safe a week after the incident and the materials removed for further examination.” Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said: “There is great concern that the workers could be contaminated with a potentially dangerous substance and if the full health and safety procedures relating to suspected asbestos exposure were not followed by management then these workers have left the site and run the risk of contaminating other workers and members of the public.” He added: “Unite representatives have repeatedly made our health and safety concerns known about previous potential asbestos exposure incidents. It beggars belief that we have yet another serious potentially dangerous situation where the management has failed to respond properly in line with health and safety regulations, and their own policies and procedures.” The union officer added: “Unite is demanding that a full and transparent investigation should be carried out by the HSE given the number of serious complaints the union has made over the past year to Aberdeen city council.” A council spokesperson said: “The area involved was made safe and sealed off and the material removed for examination. The material has now been confirmed as asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive is being notified and Aberdeen City Council is to carry out a full investigation.”
The UK's three largest railway unions have united to tell Scotland’s new transport minister to dump ‘downright dangerous’ plans to merge the British Transport Police (BTP) with Police Scotland. The RMT, TSSA and ASLEF joined Labour in calling on SNP minister Michael Matheson to re-think the proposal and come back to the negotiation table. Scottish Labour’s Colin Smyth, said: “Labour has consistently opposed this merger as it is unwanted, unnecessary and uncosted.” He added that Labour hopes the new minister “listens to British Transport Police officers, and the rest of the industry, and bins this divisive policy.” RMT general secretary, Mick Cash said: “We repeat our call on the Scottish government to see sense and to re-start the consultation process on a more inclusive footing which seeks to maintain and improve specialist railway policing in Scotland, rather than press ganging BTP officers into Police Scotland for political purposes.” TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “Our members have been campaigning against this wholly unnecessary merger from the off. Academics, the police watchdog, police officers, passengers and our members all agree that bringing together the British Transport Police and Police Scotland is unnecessary, unwise and downright dangerous.” ASLEF Scotland organiser, Kevin Lindsay, said: “ASLEF and the other rail trade unions have been opposed to the BTP and Police Scotland merger since the idea was first floated. We believe that this merger will bring an unnecessary risk to rail passengers and staff alike. We therefore support the calls for this proposed merger to be scrapped.”
Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has given evidence to the parliamentary public bill committee scrutinising the Offensive Weapons Bill. The union is calling for amendments to the Bill that will make it an offence to attempt to purchase corrosive substances and knives underage or to intimidate or assault a worker enforcing the law on age restricted sales. Usdaw said its campaign has the support of retail employers. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) was asked by the committee if it agreed with Usdaw that “there should be an offence for attempting to purchase weapons?” Responding the BRC’s representative said: “We do share the Usdaw view that carrying out an attack on a shop worker in the course of their employment should be a specific offence: Either a generalised offence, or one that relates to age checking, but certainly some sort of specific offence.” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “We welcome the support of the employers’ organisation the BRC for our campaign to protect shopworkers. At the second reading of the Bill the Home Secretary recognised that the protection of shopworkers requires further thought and we are now seeking to meet with him as soon as possible. We would welcome the committee agreeing amendments to deliver the protections shopworkers need.” He added: “Shopworkers will play a vital role on the frontline of policing this new law, as they already do on the sale of alcohol and other age-restricted products. Yet they are offered no additional protection under the law and shopworkers can be treated like criminals if a mistake is made at the point of sale. We want an offence of attempting to illegally buy an offensive weapon to be included in the legislation, so that the customer is equally liable for an illegal purchase. We also want a specific offence for assaulting shopworker who is enforcing the law.”
New figures showing that Scotland’s mental health workers face a rising tide of assaults are “just the tip of the iceberg,” a union has warned. There were 8,519 incidents resulting in injury in the country’s mental health facilities in 2017/18 – equating to almost one an hour. The data revealed incidents including assaults, accidents such as falls, trips and burns and substance abuse. Scott Donohoe, head of health and safety at public sector union UNISON, told the Morning Star: “Every assault on a worker serving the public is an assault too many. Violent attacks on public service staff have more than doubled in the last decade and the numbers keep on rising. We have real concerns that official figures are just the tip of the iceberg. There is evidence that we still face a good deal of under-reporting.” Donohoe told the paper evidence of a real problem with assaults on public servants had emerged over the past decade. “Employers must take strong action to protect workers and we need stronger legislation, regulation and oversight by government,” he added. The new figures were obtained through freedom of information requests by the opposition Scottish Conservatives, whose mental health spokesperson Annie Wells said: “All political parties agree that mental health deserves parity of esteem with physical health. But if that is to be the case, these units have to become safer for workers and patients.”
Joint research by the Musicians’ Union (MU), Equity and the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has revealed one in two music, dance and drama students are at risk from bullying and discrimination, including sexual harassment. Out of the 600 students who responded to the survey, just over half said they had experienced some sort of incident in the course of their study, with over 50 per cent of those affected choosing not to report their concerns. The reason for the high level of non-reporting ranged from students taking the view that they would not be believed, to fearing that the complaint would not be handled appropriately. There was also a belief that the inappropriate behaviour was culturally acceptable. Naomi Pohl, the MU assistant general secretary, said: “The MU is committed to tackling harassment, bullying and discrimination wherever it occurs in the music industry, including within educational establishments. The union has a dedicated email account – safespace@theMU.org – to provide a safe space for all workers in the entertainment industries to share instances of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse in particular.” She added: “Our research demonstrates that a number of students are dealing with inappropriate behaviour from fellow students and staff who hold a position of power over them. In some cases, we're told that complaints from students have been ignored or mishandled. Within the report, we make several recommendations which we hope will be considered.”
Businesses, government and regulators are failing to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, MPs have found. The parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee has published a five-point plan to deal with the problem and has called for new laws to protect workers. Chair of the committee, Conservative MP Maria Miller, said: "Government, regulators and employers have been dodging their responsibilities for far too long. There is considerable focus on other corporate governance issues like protecting people's personal data and preventing money laundering. It's time to put the same emphasis on tackling sexual harassment.” Ms Miller said that enforcement through tribunals was inadequate. “The burden falls unacceptably on the individual to hold harassers and employers to account when they will already hesitate to do so due to fear of victimisation,” she said. The Committee's report calls for: A duty on employers to prevent harassment: a more active role for regulators; easier recourse to tribunals; clarification of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs); and better data on sexual harassment. The report said that NDAs are used unethically by some employers and some members of the legal profession to silence victims of sexual harassment. Responding to the report, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “More than half of women in the UK have been sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment has a huge impact on women’s lives and careers, so it’s good to see the select committee recommending tough action.” She added: “The TUC supports making employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment. And it’s good to see the committee recommend long-overdue reforms to the tribunal system so that it works for victims of sexual harassment, and a new code of practice for employers too. Unions have been leading the way in tackling sexual harassment. Anyone experiencing sexual harassment at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work.”
Ÿ Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee news release and 25 July 2018 report. TUC news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Huffpost. The Independent.
Unions representing journalists, parliamentary staff and civil servants have welcomed a new code of behaviour for parliament prepared by a cross-party working group. The group, which proposes the creation of a new independent complaints and grievance procedure, was set up in November 2017 to create a grievance process. It followed a series of scandals in Westminster and a survey of more than 1,300 parliamentary workers that found almost one-in-five (19 per cent) had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour in the previous year, with twice as many complaints from women as men. Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, said the plan proposed offered an official path of grievance and would be entirely independent. If approved by parliament, two helplines, one for bullying and harassment allegations and a second for sexual harassment or sexual violence, would be set up. The working group's report said training will be available for those who employ or manage others and that cultural changes will be needed to make the new code work. Welcoming the proposals, Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the journalists’ union NUJ, said: “This report is positive step in parliament putting its house in order by having an official grievance procedure and the union urges MPs to vote to accept it. It is evident that the problem has been caused in part by powerful people behaving appallingly without being held to account.” She added: “The union has had to deal with a number of serious cases of members working in parliament. Unions must be allowed to play a positive role in protecting their members and negotiating proper employment practices once the proposals are agreed by parliament.” Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said the policy “is just a starting point”, adding: “We will also continue to press for a solution to the historical cases issue that provides not just closure to staff with an historic allegation, but proper sanctioning of MPs whose unacceptable behaviour in the past has gone unpunished.”
Barclays is under pressure to provide quick compensation to 126 former employees who say they were sexually assaulted by a doctor hired by the bank. The bank lost a legal bid to escape liability for the claims last week in the Court of Appeal. Barclays had appealed a High Court ruling it was "vicariously liable" for any assaults carried out by Dr Gordon Bates while he was doing medicals for the bank. Mrs Justice Nicola Davies ruled last year Barclays was “vicariously liable for any assaults any claimant may prove to have been perpetuated” by Dr Bates in the course of medical examinations carried out at the firm's request. The bank’s challenge to this ruling was dismissed by Sir Brian Leveson, Lord Justice McCombe and Lord Justice Irwin at the Court of Appeal. Barclays is now considering turning to the Supreme Court and it may argue that the action was too late. Claims usually have to be brought within three years, but courts can make exceptions. Scores of women allege they were sexually assaulted by the late Dr Bates who examined prospective employees between 1968 and 1984 at his Newcastle home. He died in 2009. Jessica Handley, a solicitor at Slater and Gordon which represents 24 of the women, said: “The claimants would like to resolve this as soon as possible.” A posthumous police investigation begun in 2012 - three years after Dr Bates' death at the age of 83 - concluded there would have been sufficient evidence to pursue a prosecution if he had not died.
The provision of managerial support and help for employees with depression is linked to lower rates of workplace absenteeism, an international study has found. Findings published this week in the online journal BMJ Open bolster the case for active workplace policies on mental health, say researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE). To find out if the attitude of managers to mental health issues might be associated with workplace absenteeism rates and productivity, the researchers drew on an international audit (Global IDEA) of more than 16,000 employees and their managers in 15 countries with varying levels of income (GDP) and cultural norms. These countries were: Brazil; Canada; China; Denmark; France, Germany; Great Britain; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Spain; South Africa; South Korea; Turkey; and the USA. The managers were asked if they actively offered help and support to employees with depression or whether they avoided talking about the issue with the employee. Living in a country with a higher proportion of managers who deployed avoidance tactics was associated with taking more days off work for depression, as was residence in a country with a higher GDP. Similarly, living in a country with a greater proportion of managers actively offering help and support to employees with depression was associated with more days at work (presenteeism). Study authors Sara Evans-Lacko and Martin Knapp from the London School of Economics (LSE) conclude that their findings “suggest that manager reactions to employees with depression can reflect broad cultural and organisational features that directly relate to employee productivity.” They continue: “This strengthens the economic case for supporting the development and implementation of effective policies and practices for managers to be able to actively support an employee with depression. The business case for intervention through better managerial response is exemplified by the substantial costs associated with mental health problems and evidence from a number of studies that mental health can improve through workplace programmes, with economic benefits to employers.”
Ÿ LSE news release. Sara Evans-Lacko and Martin Knapp. Is manager support related to workplace productivity for people with depression? A secondary analysis of a cross-sectional survey from 15 countries, BMJ Open, 23 July 2018. doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-021795
A contractor, client and director have been sentenced for criminal safety offences after conditions on a building site were found to be dangerous. Southwark Crown Court heard that inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the London construction site on numerous occasions in 2015 where building work was taking place at a property. Inspectors found poor health and safety conditions, including dangerous work at height, unshored excavations and poor welfare facilities. This resulted in numerous ‘stop work’ prohibition notices, improvement notices and notifications of contravention being served on the contractor and client. An HSE investigation found that the contractor, Daniel Bodnariu, failed to plan, manage and monitor the work on site. The client company, WEL Estates Limited, failed to make suitable arrangements for managing a project, and the director of WEL Estates Limited, Yoel Lew, had allowed the poor conditions on site. Bodnariu pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, and was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, 250 hours of community service, and ordered to pay costs of £1,000. WEL Estates Limited was found guilty of a criminal breach of the same regulations and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000. Yoel Lew was found guilty of a criminal breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and sentenced to 200 hours of community service.
A Manchester-based property developer has been jailed for eight months after the roof and part of the rear wall collapsed at one of his buildings during demolition works. Manchester Crown Court heard how Riaz Ahmad appointed a group of workers who had no experience in construction to carry out demolition work at a property in Oldham. On 11 August 2017, after receiving a call from Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council’s building control department, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector visited the site and found almost all the internal walls and supports of the roof had been taken out. A prohibition notice was served preventing any further work and a major road running past the building was closed. A day later, it was agreed that there was no safe way of accessing the building and Oldham council obtained an order to demolish the building. It was soon after this that the roof and wall collapsed. This triggered an emergency response involving Greater Manchester Police and the Fire Service, during which properties were evacuated and the area cordoned off. Oldham Borough Council arranged for an emergency demolition of the remainder of building to take place later that day. Local businesses faced significant disruption as the site was made safe. An HSE investigation found the collapse could have been prevented had a principal contractor been appointed and a suitable risk assessment been carried out. Ahmad did not suitably plan the work as he employed unskilled workers, neglected the risks from working at height and the stability of the building, failed to provide them with basic welfare facilities and did not consider several health hazards. Riaz Ahmad was found guilty of criminal breaches of safety regulations and was sentenced to eight months imprisonment for each offence, to run concurrently, and was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £65,000. Sentencing Ahmad, the Judge remarked that: “It was nothing short of a miracle that only one person was injured. A clear statement has to be made to those who undertake significant projects such as this, namely that health and safety legislation has to be adhered to for good reason, and those who ignore its basic tenets will receive punishment.”
Stonemasons who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening lung disease are coming forward to call for regulation around dangerous workplace practices. At least six masons who have worked on dry-cutting artificial stone benchtops have been diagnosed with silicosis, an irreversible condition created by breathing in tiny particles of silica dust. The workers said ‘dry’ cutting of the stone generated huge plumes of dust. Shine Lawyers dust disease expert Roger Singh, who is representing some of the workers, said: “We can’t afford to see a continuous trend of young tradies falling sick with life-threatening consequences.” He added: “We have to learn from the legacy of asbestos where workers were exposed many years ago and then decades on it’s established that they’ve developed diseases related to work practices from the past.” Singh said he was backing the affected workers call for immediate action from Australian state and territory governments to ban dry stone cutting and protect workers from breathing in the dangerous dust. Silicosis can take 10 to 15 years to develop, prompting Singh to warn that if patients are already being diagnosed, more will soon follow. “It’s incumbent upon state and territory [governments], and even a federal level, to look at this,” he said. “We know what happened to asbestos, all around the country. This is a nationwide issue and that’s why I feel something needs to be done with the utmost urgency.” Compared to the asbestos epidemic, Singh said he was particularly concerned that younger workers were coming forward and already being diagnosed in their early 30s and 40s. “These stonemasons deserve safe workplaces, that’s just a fundamental right,” he said. “They’re hard-working Aussie battlers, they deserve a lot better than this.” In 2016, the TUC warned of the potentially deadly dangers of working with this type of ‘engineered’ stone kitchen worktop (Risks 781).
After years of pressure, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has finally agreed to a binding arbitration framework that calls on the multinational corporation to fully compensate victims of its occupational disease cluster. On 21 July, Samsung said it would act unconditionally on an arbitration proposal expected from a mediation committee in October. Samsung spokesperson Kim Jeong-seok told the TV network SBS. “We have decided to accept the proposal by the mediation committee.” SHARPS, the advocacy group that has spearheaded the campaign for justice for Samsung occupational disease victims and their families, also agreed to the proposal. Samsung effectively walked away from the mediation committee in July 2015, instead launching its own much-criticised compensation programme. This prompted SHARPS to stage a 1,000-day sit-in at its corporate headquarters in south Seoul. On 18 July the mediation committee made a final proposal for a binding arbitration process, declaring it would dissolve itself if either party did not accept the proposal. The deal means Samsung will begin to put in place safety measures proposed by the mediation committee by October 2018, by when the electronics multinational will also make a formal apology for the harm it has caused. Samsung will also compensate SHARPS-profiled victims under a new scheme proposed by the committee by October 2018. The compensation scheme will remain open for further referrals for ten years. SHARPS agreed to end its sit-in within days of the formal signing of the proposal for arbitration. “Samsung has been bent solely upon shirking its responsibility,” noted and editorial in the Hankyoreh newspaper. As of June 2018, SHARPS had profiled 320 Samsung occupational disease victims in Korea, 118 of whom have died. The advocacy group has, via petition or through court filings, successfully assisted 28 victims of Samsung and others in getting workers’ compensation.
A worker stricken with a life-threatening cancer he believes was caused by his use of the pesticide glyphosate is taking its manufacturer, Monsanto, to court. The case of Dewayne Johnson v Monsanto Co is now underway in a San Francisco, California federal court, two-and-a-half years after the lawsuit was filed. Johnson, a former school groundskeeper whose doctors believe may have little time to live, began his job in 2012. The work involved regular applications of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate. In 2014, aged 42, he was diagnosed with the rare blood cancer Mon-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Exceptionally, the presiding judge has ruled that jurors may consider evidence concerning Monsanto's efforts to conceal the potential toxicity of the product in reaching a verdict. In addition to the Johnson case, some 4,000 claims alleging that glyphosate exposure led to Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have now been filed in US courts. Virtually every significant agrichemical company sells a glyphosate formulation. Monsanto is now fully owned by German chemicals giant Bayer. This means the scope of potential liability for glyphosate makers is enormous. Johnson's lawsuit contends that Monsanto “championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies” of the toxic effects of glyphosate and led a “prolonged campaign of misinformation” to convince governments, consumers and farmers that the product was safe. Monsanto has embarked on a major offensive to try to silence its critics. Earlier this year, in connection with another, similar US lawsuit against it, Monsanto lawyers demanded that the online campaign organization Avaaz turn over all internal communications referencing the company or glyphosate “without limitation.”
One in five working US coal miners in central Appalachia who have worked at least 25 years now suffer from the coal miners' disease, black lung. That's the finding from the latest study tracking an epidemic of the incurable and fatal sickness. It's the highest rate in a quarter century and indicates the disease continues to afflict more miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. “We haven't seen this rate of black lung since before the early '90s,” said Cara Halldin, an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and one of the authors of the study. Black lung results from the inhalation of coal and silica dust during coal mining. Lung tissue is scarred by the dust, which diminishes the ability to breathe, with the worst affected workers effectively suffocated to death. The study's researchers reviewed nearly fifty years of coal miner x-rays taken as part of a national NIOSH effort to identify disease among working coal miners. They compared the last five years of x-rays with those taken earlier. In addition to the heightened rates of disease, the study found that the most severe form of disease – progressive massive fibrosis – now occurs in 5 per cent of veteran miners in the region, the highest rate ever recorded. “We can think of no other industry or workplace in the United States in which this would be considered acceptable,” wrote Halldin and her colleagues in the American Journal of Public Health. Celeste Monforton, a former federal mine safety regulator and lecturer in public health at Texas State University, commented: “The rules themselves haven't been adequate. The enforcement of those rules hasn't been adequate. And the sanctions for mine operators who violate those rules are not adequate.”
Ÿ NPR News and black lung special series.
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