|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors. 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.|
The new draft guide on stress being prepared by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is worrying and ‘total nonsense’, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting on ISO’s proposed guidelines on ‘Psychological health and safety in the workplace’. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “The biggest problem is the fact that it seems to think that the whole process of dealing with the risks is something that management can do on their own. All it wants from the workers is a ‘commitment’,” he says. “There is a section on ‘leadership and worker participation’ that never even mentions worker participation – or consultation, worker representatives, or any kind of involvement in the process. The only reference to ‘workers and their representatives’ is in later sections on evaluation and improvement, which is a bit late in the process.” The TUC safety specialist notes the draft’s references to ‘human error’, ‘capabilities’ and the ‘competence’ of workers implies they “have to be able to reduce their own risks, rather than it being the responsibility of management. Total nonsense. The draft guidance is opening the door to initiatives such as resilience training, rather than putting the responsibility on management to have the competency to remove and manage risk.” Robertson adds: “Anyone reading the guidance is not going to have a clue about how to manage stress. It does not even mention ‘risk assessment’ until the section on reviewing the system.” He says the HSE stress management standards are a far superior approach, adding: “Unions know how to manage stress. What we need is risk assessment and management of the risk with clear regulation and enforcement to ensure that employers comply.”
The government’s Good Work Plan “won’t shift the balance of power in the gig economy”, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting after the government announced the plan on 17 December 2018, with business secretary Greg Clark commenting: “Today’s largest upgrade in workers’ rights in over a generation is a key part of building a labour market that continues to reward people for hard work, that celebrates good employers and is boosting productivity and earning potential across the UK.” Measures include an end to the ‘Swedish derogation’ under which agency workers could be employed on worse pay and conditions and a right for zero hour workers to request guaranteed hours. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady responded: “Scrapping the agency worker loophole is a victory for union campaigning. It was an Undercutters’ Charter. But these reforms as a whole won’t shift the balance of power in the gig economy.” She added the plan would not stop employment abuses by platform companies. “Unless unions get the right to organise and bargain for workers in places like Uber and Amazon, too many working people will continue to be treated like disposable labour,” she said. “The right to request guaranteed working hours is no right all. Zero hours contract workers will have no more leverage than Oliver Twist. And the government’s plans to introduce new laws on employment status risk unpicking important legal victories for workers and letting platform companies off the hook.”
Ÿ and the government . . . .
In a major victory for the union GMB, the Court of Appeal has ruled that tens of thousands of drivers working for cab firm Uber are employees entitled to the minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay and other employment rights. The December 2018 decision was Uber’s third court defeat in a case launched by the general union GMB more than two years ago. Speaking after the verdict, GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “Employers are on notice that they can’t just run roughshod over working people to put more on the bottom line for shareholders.” Solicitor Nigel Mackay of law firm Leigh Day, which fought the case for the GMB, said: “We hope that Uber now faces up to its responsibilities instead of spending time and money in the courts attempting to deny its drivers these rights.” He added: “We’re now at a hat trick of judgments against Uber - they keep appealing and keep losing. Uber should just accept the verdict and stop trying to find loopholes that deprive people of their hard-won rights and hard-earned pay.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the ruling should serve as a warning to other gig economy employers. “If you play fast and loose with workers’ rights, unions will expose you and hold you to account,” she added. “This is a fantastic result for GMB.” Uber said it would now take the case to the Supreme Court.
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Transport union Unite has called for urgent changes to how the deaths of workers and members of the public killed and injured in road accidents involving lorries are recorded, after research found a 50 per cent increase in lorry driver deaths. Following a freedom of information request the union, which represents thousands of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, discovered that the number of lorry drivers killed in road accidents increased by 50 per cent in 12 months, from 14 in 2016 to 21 in 2017. The total number of all fatalities involving HGVs in 2017 was 263 compared to 267 in 2016. Unite said that despite the drivers being at work when the fatal crashes occurred, they were not counted as work-related incidents and were only investigated as road traffic accidents. As a consequence, issues such as long hours, working conditions and long-term medical conditions, which could have contributed to an accident and would usually be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following other workplace deaths, are unlikely to be investigated. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Deaths involving lorry drivers are being hidden from official statistics on workplace fatalities. Not only does this massage the figures but it means that these deaths are not properly investigated. Our members regularly report that they are being forced to the point of exhaustion and beyond, due to a combination of long hours and ever-changing shift patterns, meaning they are denied anything like adequate sleep. Yet these issues are being ignored and tragedies are occurring.” He added: “We need urgent reforms so that these tragedies are recorded as workplace deaths and are thoroughly investigated by the HSE.” Current driving rules require drivers to take a minimum of 45 hours rest every week. Unite warns that EU proposals will reduce this, resulting in drivers being even more fatigued which will result in deaths and accidents further increasing.
The union GMB has called for ‘decisive action’ to address chilling new evidence of the devastating toll of serious injuries involving London buses. The union says eight people were killed and 719 very seriously injured in incidents involving the capital’s fleet of buses in the 12 months from July 2017 to June 2018. GMB London regional secretary Warren Kenny, commenting on the region’s new analysis of Transport for London quarterly figures from 2014 to June 2018, said London mayor Sadiq Khan has admitted the figures are ‘chilling’, adding: “So what is needed is decisive action from the top to change the culture at Transport for London to make the safe operation of buses by the outsourced private for-profit operators the top priority. It's not the top priority under the current contracts. Punctuality has the highest priority and profit margins are linked to punctuality records. This has to change.” Kenny, whose union has published a London bus drivers’ bill of rights, added: “The safe operation of buses by the outsourced operators must be made TfL's top priority. We have to see an end to the current position where eight people were killed and 719 very seriously injured by the fleet of buses operated for the Mayor of London in the 12 months to end June 2018. GMB know that safety culture change in organisations has to come from the very top. Sadiq Khan has to get a grip on the problem he inherited from the past managers who designed the outsourced killing machine that TFL presides over. Nothing less than fundamental reform of the bus system's contract performance incentives to include safety is acceptable."
Firefighters are expected to do more with less, putting public safety at risk, the firefighters’ union FBU has said. The union was commenting on Home Office figures that reveal that fire incidents in England increased by 3 per cent last year to just under 170,000 - the highest level since 2013/14. Non-fire incidents, such as flooding, rescues and road traffic collisions, have seen the a steeper increase, with firefighters responding to over 170,000 incidents in England – an 18 per cent increase since 2010/11. Fire fatalities also increased in 2017/18, the worst year for fire deaths since 2010/11, only in part because of the Grenfell tragedy. FBU says that since 2010/11, over 9,000 fire and rescue service jobs in England have been lost – a 20 per cent cut. The number of whole-time firefighters has fallen by just under 6,500 – a 22 per cent drop – and the number of fire control room staff, who play a vital role keeping communities safe, has seen a 433 reduction in posts. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The government is choosing to ignore its own figures, preferring instead to bury their heads in the sand. The need for firefighters in all their roles is increasing, and yet year on year we are seeing appalling cuts to the service. Fire and rescue services in England are expected to do more with less, putting public safety at risk. It is only down to the dedication of fire and rescue staff that the service is performing as efficiently as it is. Firefighters have been ensuring the service delivers, but it is at breaking point.”
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Over 75 per cent of Scotland's teachers frequently feel stressed as a result of their workload, the union EIS has said. It says the ‘shock finding’ comes from an EIS survey of 12,000 teachers. More than threequarters (76.5 per cent) of all respondents stated that their workload left them feeling stressed either frequently (60 per cent) or all of the time (16.5 per cent). The union said the high levels of workload-related stress may explain why 70 per cent of respondents would not recommend teaching as a career. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS carried out this survey as part of our ongoing Value Education, Value Teachers campaign. Our aim was to gather information on the issues affecting teachers, to provide a firm evidence base to support our ongoing campaigning.” He added: “Excessive workload and high levels of stress are clearly also contributing to the high levels of dissatisfaction felt by many teachers. It is this toxic combination of soaring workload and declining pay that has created the current recruitment and retention crisis facing Scottish education. Both of these issues must be addressed to ensure that Scotland’s education system can continue to meet the needs of learners in the future.”
Thompsons Solicitors has announced a new partnership with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) by sponsoring the TUC Risks e-newsletter. The union law firm said the newsletter plays a ‘pivotal’ role in highlighting concerns with modern labour standards, which continue to leave many workers vulnerable to injury or exploitation. Tom Jones of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “We are delighted to announce our partnership with the TUC on its Risks newsletter. Thompsons has always stood up for the rights and health and safety of workers, and always will. Our partnership with the Risks newsletter is another example of our commitment to the important role that union members play in health and safety in the workplace.” Jones, law firm’s head of policy, added: “Our firm was founded nearly 100 years ago with the vision of providing justice for working people. That vision lives on today, in our refusal to act for insurers or employers and only ever for the injured and mistreated, in the day in day out work of our solicitors helping trade union members to secure the compensation and legal protections they need, and through our campaigning. In the past few years alone we have campaigned to highlight that private hospitals are not held to the same standards as the NHS, for injured workers to be able to continue to receive free legal help and encouraged workers to know how to enforce their rights of protection from hazardous substances in the workplace. Our partnership with the Risks newsletter is another example of our commitment to the important role that union members play in health and safety in the workplace.”
The government’s plan to tackle sexual harassment at work falls way short by not creating a legal duty on employers to tackle the problem, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting on the government’s December 2018 response to a Women and Equalities Select Committee report (Risks 859), which includes a new code of practice and a commitment to undertake consultations on legal protections and on additional protections for volunteers and interns. Announcing the measures, minister for women Victoria Atkins said: “We are taking action to make sure employers know what they have to do to protect their staff, and people know their rights at work and what action to take if they feel intimidated or humiliated. Everyone has the right to feel safe at work.” But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “More than half of women in the UK have been sexually harassed at work, yet only one in five reports it. Sexual harassment has a huge impact on women’s careers and lives. So it’s disappointing that the government is not making the major changes needed for the scale of the problem.” She added: “The law should be changed so that employers are responsible for preventing sexual harassment in workplaces. This would shift the burden of tackling sexual harassment away from the victims. And it would help end toxic workplace cultures that silence those who’ve been harassed. Unions have been leading the way in tackling sexual harassment.” The government response included a clarification of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) role on sexual harassment, noting the safety regulator would not apply health and safety laws “where another regulator or agency has specific responsibility or where there is more directly applicable legislation.” The government response said: “More formal liaison arrangements will be set up” between HSE and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), adding: “The HSE already works closely with other regulators to promote co-operation, share intelligence and where appropriate, co-ordinate on joint activities. HSE will work with EHRC to consider whether there are any other potential opportunities in this respect.”
Ÿ Government Equalities Office news release. TUC news release. House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report into sexual harassment in the workplace and government response.
Network Rail has been fined £200,000 following a prosecution by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) after an employee was left with a critical brain injury following a road traffic accident. The ORR prosecuted Network Rail at Maidstone Crown Court for contravening the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. The firm was fined £200,000 plus costs of £86,389.21. The fine came after a serious incident on 24 April 2015, when signaller and Network Rail employee Douglas Caddell was working at a level crossing at East Farleigh in Kent. He was required to manually direct traffic at the rail crossing – without any warning alarm system – when he was struck by a vehicle that failed to stop. The impact of the collision left him with a fractured neck which required surgery, and a brain injury. The grandfather of eight had previously warned that there were incidents of vehicles swerving across the rail tracks as signallers tried to close the gates. Rail union RMT has now brought in Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a civil claim for damages on behalf of Mr Caddell against both Network Rail and the insurer of the driver. The injured worker said: “This has been a very difficult time for me – the accident has left me unable to do everyday tasks like forward planning and I have had to leave my job as a signalman.” Nicola Saunders of Thompsons said: “Network Rail had been warned about near misses at the crossing but failed to appropriately assess and appreciate the risk to staff, exposing Mr Caddell to a serious risk of injury. Mr Caddell suffered significant life changing injuries, which he continues to suffer from while he tries to rebuild his life.”
A warning over 30 years ago that workplace diesel fume exposures were deadly went ignored, a ‘criminal’ move that condemned thousands of workers each year to an early grave, a report in Hazards magazine has revealed. It says if the authorities had listened when the workers’ health magazine first raised the alarm in 1986, “today’s diesel exhaust driven public health catastrophe could have been averted.” The report notes that diesel exhaust fumes cause, in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) estimation, 652 deaths a year from lung and bladder cancer. Exposure is also linked to respiratory disease, heart problems and other chronic and acute health effects. But the Hazards report says “the UK’s prevention strategy – or absence of one – is based on a fatal mixture of a lack of the right intelligence and lack of give-a-damn. All topped up with a dose of industry foul play.” The report identifies industry-financed groups commissioned to produce reports to cast doubt in the minds of regulators discussing tighter controls and warnings about diesel fume health risks, a process it says is ongoing. Citing international studies, the Hazards report notes that the real UK diesel-related occupational lung cancer toll could be over 1,700 deaths per year, more than 1,000 more deaths each year than the official HSE estimate. It concludes: “If you under-estimate the size of the problem, you don’t respond appropriately. Diesel exhaust fume is not treated like a cancer-causing exposure in UK safety law, despite the official recognition it is one of the top occupational cancer killers. There’s not even an official occupational exposure limit.” A forthcoming EU-wide limit is 2.5 times higher than standard recommended two years ago by its own experts, notes Hazards. “The evidence didn’t change in the intervening period. But the industry lobbyists took their chance and governments listened.” An October 2018 TUC guide highlighted successful union initiatives to reduce risks in the workplace from the ‘workplace killer’ diesel exhaust fumes (Risks 873).
Ÿ Fuming feature, Diesel out prevention factsheet and Die diesel die pin-up-at-work poster. Hazards 144, October-December 2018.
A health trust has been fined £300,000 after two nurses were repeatedly stabbed by a patient at a mental health centre in Kent. Mentally ill patient Myha Grant was handed a 19-year prison sentence for the attack at the Bracton Centre near Dartford on 17 July 2016. Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust pleaded guilty to two criminal charges of failing to ensure health and safety. The Old Bailey heard it was "astonishing" nobody had been killed. During the attack, Grant forced his way into a kitchen on a ward and stabbed healthcare assistant Francis Barrett repeatedly in the chest and stomach. Psychiatric nurse Julius Falomo was also stabbed 17 times while another staff member found herself trapped as Grant set light to newspapers, clothes and bedding. He was eventually apprehended by armed police. The trust, which serves three south London boroughs and Kent, was said to be aware that mentally unwell patients held in medium secure conditions could be violent. Sentencing the trust to pay a fine of £300,000 plus £28,000 costs, Mr Justice Edis QC said the injuries suffered by the victims “will be with them for life.” He criticised procedures that were meant to ensure all knives were locked up and out of reach of patients as “ad hoc and inadequate.” An initial fine of £1.5m was reduced as it would “penalise those who depend on the services provided by the trust,” the judge said. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although the Bracton Centre routinely received high-risk patients, at the time of this incident there was no patient specific risk assessment identifying the risks posed by a patient and the measures required to control those risks prior to admission to the ward. The investigation also found that the use of knives on an acute ward was fundamentally unsafe. HSE inspector Joanne Williams commented: “This incident has had a profound impact not only on the two nurses who nearly died because of their injuries, but also their colleagues who witnessed the attacks.” She added: “The risk of violence posed by patients was entirely foreseeable. Had these steps been taken Francis Barrett and Julius Falomo would not have suffered the serious injuries that they did.”
One of Britain’s biggest providers of agency care workers has been fining staff who phone in sick £50, raising concerns that frontline employees are being forced to turn up for shifts when they are not fit for work and risk spreading illnesses to vulnerable patients. An investigation by the Guardian found Newcross Healthcare Solutions has failed to pay its employees if they cancel shifts because of illness without 24 hours’ notice, and has also docked money from their pay. The firm, which employs 7,000 staff across 63 branches providing temporary nurses and care workers for hospitals and residential and nursing homes, made a pre-tax profit of £21m and paid directors an equity dividend of £17m in 2017. UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea commented: “Care staff can’t avoid being exposed to germs and health hazards. This practice seems highly dubious and we’ll be investigating.” Eileen Chubb, the founder of Compassion in Care, a whistleblowing charity that campaigns to improve care, said Newcross care workers concerned about the policy had contacted her. “It is obscene that a company making millions of pounds in profit should be docking £50 from the wages of carers who phone in sick,” she told the Guardian. “It raises the serious risk that carers are turning up for work when they’re not well, putting vulnerable elderly people at risk. It’s an accident waiting to happen. They’re leaving staff in a position where they’ve got to choose between going into work when they’re unwell or have their pay docked. People may well be tempted to go to work when they’re not fit to, because they can’t afford to lose the money. When someone is on very low pay, £50 is a lot of money.” After being contacted by the Guardian, Newcross Healthcare announced it would be scrapping the £50 charge by April 2019.
Farmers are being told they must pay closer attention to how they manage workplace risks or face serious penalties. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said its forthcoming inspection blitz will review health and safety standards on farms across the country. The safety regulator said the inspections will ensure those responsible for protecting themselves and workers are doing the right things to comply with the law and prevent death, injury and ill-health. Throughout the inspection initiative, inspectors will be checking that risks are being controlled in specific areas including machinery use, falls from height, risks posed by livestock and the presence of children on farms. According to the safety watchdog, agriculture has the poorest record of any industry in Britain. Latest figures show that 33 people were killed in agriculture across Britain in 2017/18 - around 18 times higher than the all industry fatal injury rate. HSE’s head of agriculture, Rick Brunt, said: “Everyone involved in farming has a role to play. Those working in the industry need to understand the risks they face and the simple ways they can be managed. Those that work with the industry can be part of the change that is so badly needed. Farmers, managers and workers are reminded that death, injuries and cases of ill-health are not an inevitable part of farming.”
A company director has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for the online sale of products containing prohibited substances. Warwick Crown Court heard a complaint was raised in August 2014 that Abel (UK) Ltd was selling a plant protection product containing sodium chlorate, a prohibited substance. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also found the company was selling paint stripper containing dichloromethane (DCM), which is restricted under the REACH regulations. The company also failed to check at the point of sale the paint stripper containing DCM was either being sold for use in industrial installations or, after October 2016, to appropriately certificated professionals, which is a condition of sale. HSE worked with online platforms to have the advertisements for these products taken down and served enforcement notices to prohibit further supply. However, the enforcement notices were ignored by Abel (UK) ltd. Abel (UK) Ltd director Nicholas Corbett pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Plant Protection Products Regulations 2011 and a single breach of the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008 and was given a 10-month custodial sentence. HSE inspector Sarah Dutton commented: “Chemicals are carefully regulated to protect human health and the environment. Sodium chlorate is not approved for use in weed killers, as a safe level of use was not established for operators. Dichloromethane (DCM) has been restricted in paint strippers due to concerns for human health during its use – it has caused fatalities when not used properly.” She added: “Companies should be aware that HSE will take robust action against those who unnecessarily put the lives of workers and the public at risk, and against those who endanger the environment, through the inappropriate supply and use of chemicals.”
“Kill a worker: go to jail.” That was the cry led by Christy Cain, the Western Australian branch secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, as the opposition Labor Party passed a resolution calling for industrial manslaughter laws on the final day of its national conference. The December 2018 resolution – which represents the view of conference but falls short of changing Labor’s official platform – proposes industrial manslaughter laws should be enacted in all states and territories within the first year of an incoming Labor government. Cain’s fiery speech railed against employers who received fines of as little as $67,000 (337,500) for a workplace death. “Industrial manslaughter, I call it murder. Kill a worker, go to jail,” Cain said. “Strong industrial manslaughter laws and penalties which act as a real deterrent are an essential element of providing safer workplaces.” The resolution he moved stated that: “All workers in Australia deserve to know that there are consequences to negligent and reckless conduct which may lead – or tragically does lead – to a death. Strong industrial manslaughter laws and penalties which act as a real deterrent are an essential element of providing safer workplaces.” Delegates joined Cain in a chant of “Kill a worker, go to jail” as the motion was passed. Australia’s federal government has faced criticism after it rejected a Senate inquiry call last year for a harmonised national law on industrial manslaughter.
A global union has launched a major campaign to address the ‘appalling’ fatality record in the dock industry. The Dockers’ Section Occupational Safety and Health Working Group of the international transport unions’ federation ITF launched its new work programme in December 2018. It said the deaths of more than 50 dock workers in 2018 “highlights the urgent and important role of the working group.” The group will make decisions and recommendations to the ITF Dockers’ Section Committee on a five-year work programme, which will include introducing occupational health and safety expertise into ports around the globe. In addition, the working group will contribute recommendations to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), national governments and with industry stakeholders. Working group chair Steve Biggs from the UK union Unite pointed to a 2016 Cardiff University study that “showed that the application of safe work practices varied around the world, and even within major terminal operators committed to global standards. It exposed again that for many ports safety is subordinate to productivity. Working on docks is extremely dangerous, I know, I am a working docker and I am committed to cleaning up this industry. Global standards must be just that, global,” said Biggs. Michael Cross, vice chair of the working group, and the Maritime Union of Australia’s national safety officer, added: “We must drive, and demand, higher standards. Currently they’re not good enough. Where is the accountability of management? If management are found to be negligent, and in many of these incidents it seems to be the case, there should be very harsh penalties, including jail time. If government and industry will not look out for the safety of our sisters and brothers, we will.”
The International Federation of Journalists’ annual list of media workers killed doing their job shows that 84 journalists, camera operators, fixers and technicians died in targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents. Ten other media staff members who worked as drivers, protection officers and a sales assistant also lost their lives. There were also three work-related accidental deaths. The 2018 IFJ ‘killed list’ shows a reverse in the downward trend of media killings in the past three years. It paints a worrying picture of a crisis in journalist safety across the globe, the union body said, adding Afghanistan, Mexico, Yemen and Syria topped the killing fields for media workers in 2018. Philippe Leruth, IFJ president, said: “These brazen acts of violence in utter disregard to human life have brought to an abrupt end the short-lived decrease in journalists’ killings recorded over the past three years. Once again, the IFJ is asking United Nations' members states to adopt at their general assembly the Convention on the Security and Protection of Journalists which the IFJ presented to diplomatic missions at the UN in New York last October. This convention, supported by the profession, is a concrete response to crimes committed against journalists in full impunity.” Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said its figures “stand as a damning indictment of the authorities for their failure to uphold the journalists’ right to their physical safety and to guarantee an informed public discourse in a democracy.” According to IFJ records for 2018, the Asia Pacific has the highest killing tally with 32, followed by the Americas on 27 killings, the Middle East and the Arab World recording 20. Africa saw eleven killings, and Europe four.
A multiyear investigation by US national radio station NPR and the PBS documentary TV programme Frontline has confirmed a widespread outbreak of the advanced stage of black lung disease, known as complicated black lung or progressive massive fibrosis. The broadcasters revealed that a federal monitoring programme for this occupational disease of coalminers reported just 99 cases of advanced black lung disease nationwide from 2011 to 2016. But NPR identified more than 2,000 coal miners suffering from the disease in the same time frame, and in just five Appalachian states in the country’s coal belt. A worrying proportion of these effected are relatively young workers with recent exposures, some requiring lung transplants (Risks 863). Now, an NPR/Frontline analysis of federal regulatory data — decades of information recorded by dust-collection monitors placed where coal miners work — has revealed “a tragic failure to recognise and respond to clear signs of danger.” Regulators were urged to take specific and direct action to stop it. But they didn't. “We failed,” said Celeste Monforton, a former mine safety regulator in the Clinton administration who reviewed the NPR/Frontline findings. “Had we taken action at that time, I really believe that we would not be seeing the disease we're seeing now,” said Monforton, now a workplace safety advocate who teaches at George Washington and Texas State universities. “Having miners die at such young ages from exposures that happened 20 years ago... I mean this is such a gross and frank example of regulatory failure.” It's an “epidemic” and “clearly one of the worst industrial medicine disasters that's ever been described,” said Scott Laney, an epidemiologist at the US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “We're counting thousands of cases,” he said. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of black lung cases. Thousands of cases of the most severe form of black lung. And we're not done counting yet. They're essentially suffocating while alive.”
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