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TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Number 649 - 5 April 2014

Asbestos - the hidden killer Hazards magazine Hazards at Work

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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at


Union News



Union News

A massive step backwards for health and safety

The government has chosen the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act to make one of the most dangerous changes since the legislation came into effect in 1974, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has warned. Writing in the Morning Star she says ministers have “decided that Britain’s 4.3 million self-employed people should no longer be subject to the provisions of the Act unless they also employ people or are on a prescribed list of occupations. This is a huge step backwards, and one that could lead to a big increase in deaths, injuries and ill-health.” Noting that the self-employed have a fatality rate twice that of employed workers, she adds that “their actions can also kill or injure other people through carelessness or negligence. When they do they should be treated just like anyone else.” She says a provision in the government’s Deregulation Bill, which would mean only those self-employed in jobs on the prescribed list could be prosecuted if they kill or injury someone as a result of their negligence, “is virtually a licence to kill. It will be a green light to cowboys and incompetents to cut corners and take risks - not only with their own lives but also with ours.” The union leader concludes: “All the government’s proposals will do is create confusion. People who are genuinely self-employed will have no idea about their responsibilities, while employers will be even more likely to employ workers on bogus self-employed contracts in order to try to get round their legal responsibilities.”

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Keeping work safe for workers of all ages

There is a higher proportion of older people in Britain’s workforce now than at any time in recent history. The number of people aged 65 and over reached the 1 million mark for the first time in 2013. And according to the TUC, this means we need workplace approaches that take account of the real needs of older workers, while discounting unfounded assumptions about what an older worker may and may not be able to do. TUC’s new guide to the health and safety of older workers notes: “It should not be assumed that age will directly relate to a person’s ability to do a job. Many older workers have a greater physical and mental ability than similar people half their age. Despite this many employers believe that older workers will be less productive or more prone to injury or sickness absence. They are not. Research indicates that job performance is broadly similar across all age groups, as are sickness absence rates.” The TUC guide advises: “There is a lot that employers can do to ensure that the workplace, and the way work is done, meets the needs of the individual employee and benefits all workers, not just those who are older. Key to ensuring that the workplace is adapted to be a safe, suitable and welcoming environment for older workers is risk assessment.” The guide includes action checklists for both employers and union health and safety reps.

Ÿ  TUC briefing and full report, The health and safety of older workers, April 2014.

Isn’t blacklisting workers ‘intimidatory’?

The use by unions of ‘leverage’ techniques to challenge employment and safety abuses has prompted a government inquiry into ‘intimidatory tactics’ which is a one-side “stunt”, the TUC has said. Terms of reference for the Carr Review, to be led by QC Bruce Carr and to run for six months, were announced last week. The government ordered the review in November last year after the effective use of new strategies by unions, including targeting a firm’s supply chain, to challenge blacklisting and other employment abuses (Risks 621). An inquiry by MPs last month confirmed “there is a clear link between blacklisting and poor health and safety standards” (Risks 648). TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This Review may have been announced with great fanfare by the prime minister, but the delay in setting it up, the limited terms of reference and the exclusion of the promised consideration of employer behaviour, such as blacklisting, confirms that it was never anything more than a headline grabbing party-political stunt.” A Unite spokesperson said: “The inquiry is to be headed by a lawyer with anti-union form going back years - Carr has publicly argued in favour of draconian laws against unions. No-one can place any trust in his objectivity. His only role is to rubber-stamp George Osborne's campaign messages.” Bruce Carr QC will report to Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, and business secretary Vince Cable.

Ÿ  TUC news release.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  Daily Mail.

Trio of union reps ‘saved hundreds of lives

Three local union reps have ‘undoubtedly’ helped save hundreds of lives, a newspaper profile of the men has concluded. The Western Morning News notes that in the five years from 2008 to 2012, a total of 396 asbestos-related deaths were recorded in Devon and Cornwall. “That figure would most likely be far higher but for the work of former dockyard union leaders Bill Goffin, John Williams and Dick Powell,” the profile notes. As convenors at Devonport dockyard with what is now the union Unite, “they would be the thorn in the side of managers, insisting that new safety regimes were introduced – and adhered to – despite the consequences.” Bill Goffin, who worked in the dockyard for 30 years before retiring in 1986, said he was first alerted to the risks of asbestos by the TUC over 40 years ago. He set about adopting a “zero tolerance” to the material in 1973, 10 years before legislation was strengthened. “I got all the shop stewards together, showed them the information and said ‘this has got to stop’,” he said.  “We later realised that lads who were taking a stand were being crucified, being taken off overtime, and were being threatened with being moved. Eventually we decided to embark on a policy of ‘scratch one and we all bleed’. To a man it was well supported, no-one argued. We adopted a zero policy regarding asbestos and other dusty materials. We wanted a regime of cleanliness and inspection. It wasn’t easy – people were losing money, but eventually the management were forced to negotiate with us.” What resulted was an inspection process which had to be signed off by both management and union reps before work started. “It is one thing that I will never regret,” he told the paper. “The lads I represented, who lost pay and in some cases were vilified, stood their ground. I believe they have saved many, many lives because of the protection we insisted on.”

Ÿ  Western Morning News.

TUC calls for tougher action on zero hours contracts

The case for tougher controls on zero hours contracts has been confirmed by new research, the TUC has said. Commenting on ‘Zeroing in’, a report by the independent Resolution Foundation, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The report highlights how the government is failing to address many of the abuses experienced by workers on zero hours contracts. That’s why we need urgent legislative action to stamp out the growing abuse of workers on these contracts and in other forms of insecure work. The report includes some welcome recommendations including recognising the need for improved enforcement of workplace rights, encouraging government to use procurement arrangements to reduce the use of zero hours contracts, especially in social care, and rights for all workers to receive a written statement of terms and conditions at the start of their employment.” She added: “We agree with the Resolution Foundation that individuals working regular hours should be offered a contract containing fixed hours, but they should not have to wait 12 months for increased job and income security. The TUC would like the government to go further and ensure that staff on zero hours contracts are properly rewarded for the flexibility they offer employers and that they get the same basic workplace rights as employees.” Vidhya Alakeson, joint author of the report and deputy chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said “it’s clear there’s substantial abuse of these contracts which affects a significant minority of the workforce. In particular, there is no justification for keeping a regular worker on a zero hours contract for more than a year.”

Ÿ  Resolution Foundation news release and report, Zeroing In, March 2014.

Ÿ  TUC news release.

Ÿ  The Independent.

Grounding fine ‘hardly a deterrent’ says union

A fine on the German operator of a cargoship that ran aground on rocks off the north-east coast of England, stranding its crew for two weeks, is not a sufficient deterrent to stop ships employing too few crew and working them too long and too hard, the seafarers’ union Nautilus has said. Commenting on the £60,000 fine on Cux Ship Management, the union’s senior national secretary Allan Graveson said: “The fine is hardly a deterrent to others. Furthermore, it appears the root causes of the incident - namely tiredness and inadequate manning - have not been addressed.’” The 80 metre MV Danio ran aground in the early hours of 16 March 2013 off the Northumberland coast while sailing from Perth to Antwerp. Accident investigators found the watchkeeper, who was alone on the bridge, had fallen asleep about 90 minutes before the ship grounded. The bridge watch alarm system had been switched off. The ship was stranded on rocks for two weeks, with the crew stuck on board as bad weather frustrated rescue attempts. Passing sentence, Judge Brian Forster commented: “There could have been a major maritime incident. The potential for disaster is obvious. In my judgment there was a lack of effective management, which allowed the situation to come about.” He fined the operator, Cux Ship Management, £60,000 and ordered the company to pay £12,796 prosecution costs.

Ÿ  Nautilus news release.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Ÿ  Newcastle Evening Chronicle.

New drug-driving limits could protect workers

New recommended drug-driving limits for 16 different drugs could help workers subjected to drugs tests at work who are found to be positive but below the new impairment thresholds, the TUC has said. The new limits, which cover eight illicit and eight prescription drugs, will come in to force in autumn 2014. The new rules will mean it will be an offence to be over the generally prescribed limits for each drug and to drive a vehicle. Drugs covered include cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines, LSD and certain tranquillisers and other prescription drugs. Road safety minister Robert Goodwill said: “This new offence will make our roads safer for everyone by making it easier for the police to tackle those who drive after taking illegal drugs. It will also clarify the limits for those who take medication.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said the introduction of a drug-driving limit similar to the drink-driving limit could be “an important step forward” as employees should not be penalised if they are not impaired, even if trace levels of medical or illicit drugs are found. He said: “The same rules should apply to the workplace. Now we know what the likely harmful levels are likely to be, then they can be applied to workers. There is now no way employers can justify sacking workers for what they may have done at the weekend or days before.” The TUC has warned that random drugs tests can rarely be justified at work and are of ‘dubious legality’ (Risks 459).

Ÿ  Department for Transport news release.

Ÿ  Drug driving written ministerial statement, 27 March 2014.

Ÿ  TUC drugs at work webpages and guide to drug testing at work.

Shopworkers selling alcohol need protection

The government has blocked a proposal aimed at protecting from assault workers selling alcohol. John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said he was disappointed by the government action. An amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, promoted by Labour MP Dan Jarvis, would have introduced a specific offence of assaulting a worker selling alcohol, making such an assault an offence in its own right. The amendment was considered at the Bill’s House of Commons committee stage last week and was defeated by 10 votes to 5. The Usdaw leader said: “We were very disappointed to see Tory and Liberal MPs combining to block Labour’s amendment to provide stiffer sentences for those who assault workers selling alcohol. There is a real need to address the scourge of violence against workers and I am concerned that the attackers are getting away with relatively lenient sentences. Parliament expects workers to enforce and police the laws they pass, but they have failed to provide the additional protection needed to help keep those workers safe.” He said requiring workers to police licensing laws, including under-age purchases, “can often lead to violence, threats and abuse against the worker.” He added: “Our members play an important role in helping to keep communities safe by enforcing licensing laws, so they deserve proper protection. We will continue to campaign for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out and to give a clear message, that assaulting workers is totally unacceptable.”

Ÿ  Usdaw news release.

Atos failure shows work tests should be in-house

As private firm Atos nears the end of its highly controversial stint assessing benefits claimants on their fitness for work (Risks 648), civil service union PCS says the work should be brought in-house. The union says the work capability assessment (WCA) is fundamentally flawed and designed not to support people into employment, but to cut their benefit entitlement. It adds this is a view shared by the British Medical Association, disabled people's organisations and more than 120 MPs. PCS points to a report last month from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland that linked a woman’s suicide to a benefit cut following a test by Atos. Her GP and psychiatrist, who unlike Atos did not believe she was fit for work, were not consulted. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These privatised work assessments are fundamentally flawed and designed to harass vulnerable people and take their benefits away, rather than provide support and guidance. Doctors, MPs and disabled people all believe the tests should be scrapped so, instead of replacing the failed Atos with another profit-hungry provider, the government should bring the work in-house and invest in it properly.”

Ÿ  PCS news release.

Ÿ  Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland news release.

Qatar mission finds ‘shocking exploitation’

Construction union UCATT says it witnessed ‘shocking exploitation’ and workers subsisting in appalling living conditions, during a fact finding mission to Qatar (Risks 648). The union says it now plans to put further pressure on the Qatar government and British-based companies working in the country. The plight of the migrant workers will become increasingly high profile, as construction is now beginning for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “The treatment of migrant construction workers in Qatar is appalling. If animals were being treated in this way in Britain there would be a national outcry. The fact that this is happening overseas means that many companies are prepared to look the other way in the pursuit of profits.” He added: “The way that migrant workers are treated in Qatar demonstrates that those in power consider their lives to be cheap and expendable.” The fact finding mission to Qatar was jointly organised with the Building Workers International (BWI), the international federation of construction unions. The delegation also included Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Stephen Hepburn.

Ÿ  UCATT news release.


Migrant domestic workers face serious abuse

Migrant domestic workers accompanying their employers to the United Kingdom are being subjected to serious abuses including forced labour, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. The report concludes the UK government is doing far too little to protect vulnerable workers, with recent changes to UK immigration rules making it harder for workers to flee abuse. “It’s scandalous that in modern Britain migrant domestic workers are subject to such appalling abuses,” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at HRW. “But instead of protecting these workers, the system makes it harder for them escape.” The 58-page report, ‘Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK,’ documents the confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days, and very low wages or non-payment of wages. The report also shows the UK government has failed to live up to its obligations under international law to protect migrant domestic workers and enable them to access justice if they are mistreated. The introduction of ‘tied visas’ in April 2012 means migrant domestic workers can no longer change employer once they are in the UK, so those subject to abuse can become trapped. “Workers who are mistreated now face a horrendous choice: either endure the terrible abuse, or escape and become undocumented migrants, where of course they are much more vulnerable to further abuse and exploitation,” said Leghtas. “It’s abhorrent that anyone should be tied into abuse in this way.” She added: “If it’s serious about ending what it calls modern day slavery, the government should recognise just how vulnerable these workers are and give them the protection they deserve.”

Ÿ  HRW news release, video and report, Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK.

Ÿ  The Independent.

New call for gangmaster protection in construction

Construction union UCATT has welcomed a call for the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) to be extended to the industry. A new report, ‘Preventing trafficking for labour exploitation’, published by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), echoes union calls for the GLA’s regulatory protection to be extended to high risk labour sectors such as construction, care, cleaning and hospitality (Risks 641). Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “This is an important report. Workers in construction are being abused, exploited and trafficked. The best way of reducing this human misery is by extending the GLA to cover construction and other sectors where casualised, vulnerable workers are regularly employed.” The report warns the recent erosion by the government of GLA’s scope and powers must be reversed (Risks 620). It also argues that cases of labour exploitation should be prosecuted and punished in a manner commensurate with the severity of the exploitation. The report calls on a change in the law so that migrant workers are entitled to employment rights regardless of their immigration status. UCATT’s Steve Murphy said: “These proposals correctly target employers who are prepared to exploit vulnerable migrant workers.” He said these employers “should be targeted and face criminal sanctions rather than the workers who suffer exploitation.”

Ÿ  Preventing Trafficking for Labour Exploitation, Caroline Robinson, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), March 2014.

Ÿ  UCATT news release. Huffington Post.

Radiation testing worker gets massive x-ray dose

A Hartlepool firm that tests machine components using x-ray and gamma radiation has been fined after one of its workers suffered ionising radiation burns while carrying out tests on safety equipment. The Redcar man, who has asked not to be named, suffered severe tissue damage to the middle, ring and little fingers of his right hand in the incident at Mistras ETS Ltd on 19 September 2012. He received more than the maximum yearly radiation dose in a few seconds. He had to undergo surgery and his fingers remain numb, with occasional tingling, although he has now been able to return to work. Teesside Crown Court heard he had been working with x-ray equipment in a radiation bay – a designated danger area – when a separate team was asked to test safety equipment and warning beacons, which also required the use of the x-ray. The other employees devised an ad hoc test method that involved turning off safety access controls and warning alarms for the radiography bays. During one test, the injured worker remained in a radiation bay, while the x-ray was energised. He received radiation exposure to his fingertips, which exceeded the maximum dose allowed by law per year. Mistras ETS Ltd was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £4,930 in costs after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Paul Wilson said: “The level of x-ray radiation to which this worker was exposed was capable of causing serious ill-health, including the potential for death if the x-rays had hit vital organs of his body.” Exposure to ionising radiation is a known cause of occupational cancer.

Ÿ  HSE news release and radiation webpages.

Ÿ  The Northern Echo.

Ÿ  ITV News.

Ÿ  The Gazette.

Recycling firm fined over young worker’s injuries

A young worker almost lost his arm when it became trapped in machinery at a recycling plant in Lancashire, a court has heard. The 20-year-old employee, from Bolton-by-Bowland in Lancashire, broke his right arm in several places in the incident at Environmental Waste Recycling Ltd in Kelbrook on 7 August 2013. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found essential guards were missing from the machine and the firm had failed to assess the risks facing workers. Preston Crown Court heard the employee had been working on a line which included a heavy-duty conveyor belt used to sort builders’ waste and recyclable materials from skips delivered to the Eden Works plant. After returning from his lunch break, he switched the power to the machine back on. As he walked through an 80cm-wide gap by the side of the machine, his arm was caught by the roller under the conveyor belt and dragged in. He called for help and one of his colleagues turned off the electrical supply but it took the emergency services 90 minutes to free him. The injured worker was flown by air ambulance to Preston Royal Hospital where surgeons carried out extensive surgery to save his arm, which was badly broken and had lost a considerable amount of muscle tissue. He remained in hospital for almost a month. He has so far been unable to return to work and relies on his parents and family for support. The court was told Environmental Waste Recycling had hired a health and safety consultant to carry out inspections of the site in November 2008 and June 2010. On both occasions, he produced reports highlighting the missing guards but the company failed to take any action. The firm was fined £46,000 and ordered to pay £3,671.30 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Ÿ  HSE news release and waste and recycling industry webpages.

Companies fined for cable strike failings

Two north-east companies have been fined after workers were exposed to danger of electrocution when a digger struck an underground cable. Egger (UK) Ltd and Northern Construction Solutions Ltd were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Newcastle Magistrates’ Court was told the cable strike occurred on 19 March 2013 during work being undertaken for Egger’s subsidiary company, Campact Ltd, on Egger’s Hexham site. The groundworks and civil engineering works were sub-contracted to Northern Construction Solutions Ltd. On the day of the incident two workers, engaged on behalf of Northern Construction Solutions, were asked to excavate the area in front of a newly-built electric substation for the installation of drainage. During the work the bucket of an excavator came into contact with a 20kV underground electric cable. Both workers avoided injury. Inspectors found that Egger was responsible for the provision of a services diagram that included the location of underground electric cables, but had failed to update this diagram following the earlier construction of the substation and re-routing of the electric cables. Eggar should have provided this information. Northern Construction Solutions should have provided workers under their control with the information they needed to work safely. Instead, the firm accepted the out-of-date services diagram, even though they knew there had been changes made in the area to be excavated. After pleading guilty to criminal safety offences Egger (UK) Ltd was fined £8,000 plus £578.90 costs and Northern Construction Solutions Ltd £4,000 plus £761.60 costs.

Ÿ  HSE news release and electricity webpages.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Building firm fails the welfare test

A Lancashire building firm has been fined for failing to provide basic facilities for its workers for nearly three weeks. Two Brooks Valley Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an inspection of a construction site for a new mini-supermarket in Warton found workers had no shelter, no way of drying their clothes and no way of heating food and drinks. Blackpool Magistrates’ Court heard an HSE inspector had visited the site on 11 October 2013 and found the only facilities available for the four workers were a chemical toilet and an outside cold water tap. Two Brooks Valley Ltd was fined £650 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,050 after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Allen Shute said: “The four builders were expected to work in cold and wet conditions for nearly three weeks without basic welfare facilities being provided by Two Brooks Valley. The working conditions fell well below the minimum legal standards and are no longer tolerated in the 21st century.” He added: “The company should have made sure suitable facilities, such as a cabin and access to hot water, were on the site before it allowed the building work to start. Instead, workers had to face needlessly unpleasant conditions over several weeks and this would have continued if we hadn’t carried out a routine inspection of the site.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and construction webpages.

Firm fined for workers’ injuries tackling fire

Two workers suffered burns, one seriously, when hot material from an industrial dryer hit them as they tried to tackle a fire at a factory in South Wales. The employees of Maxibrite, in Llantrisant, were trying to fight the fire at the coal briquette plant on 16 December 2012 when they were hurt, one suffering severe burns to his back, legs and hands. Pontypridd Magistrates’ Court heard works manager Simon Gilbody and works engineer Andrew Price were alerted by staff who saw smoke coming from the top of a tower used to produce solid fuel. After several attempts to control the fire by hosing the tower failed, Mr Gilbody decided an inspection hatch at the bottom of the tower should be opened to let out any dust that might be causing an obstruction. A company employee, Carl Lewis, opened the hatch but hot cinders cascaded out, burning Mr Gilbody on the chest, neck and face but without causing serious injury. As Mr Lewis tried to close the hatch, he was himself engulfed by hot coals. After showering for 30 minutes he was taken to hospital and received skin grafts for severe burns. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Maxibrite Ltd had not carried out a suitable risk assessment for the safe working of the rotary dryer and did not have adequate procedures in the event of a fire. The firm was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £5,115 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Steve Lewis said: “Mr Lewis and Mr Gilbody could have suffered far worse injuries or even death in this incident, which could have been prevented. The drying process at the plant involved intensive heat so the risks of fire should have been obvious. There had been a fire at the plant previously involving a similar drying process.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and fire safety webpages.


Australia: Court hammers site union over safety dispute

An Australian construction union has been given a massive fine after blockading Melbourne building sites for several days in a dispute over safety. The union’s concerns about safety at Grocon sites, where the company had denied workers union safety representation, had been supported by reports from the official safety regulator Worksafe (Risks 603). But the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was fined $1.25m (£700,000) and ordered to pay costs for ignoring court orders and blocking the sites. The CFMEU began a blockade of Grocon's Emporium site in Melbourne in August 2012, stopping workers from entering for about two weeks and choking peak hour traffic. In a statement after the court ruling, CFMEU state secretary John Setka said the protest “was about safety. That's a matter of life and death for building workers.” He added: “Building workers need someone on site who genuinely represents their interests, and that doesn't happen when that person is hand-picked by the boss. The union is not seeking to be above the law. We want to save lives.”

Ÿ  CFMEU Victoria news release. The Guardian.

China: At least 11 dead in garment workshop fire

At least 11 people were killed and another 17 injured when a fire broke out at a small family-run underwear workshop in Puning county, Guangdong, on the afternoon of 26 March. Official media reports said the five-storey concrete structure appeared to have only one exit. The Southern Metropolis Daily reported that the factory contained plastic and foam materials that gave off toxic fumes, which may have caused many of the fatalities. The Puning fire follows a blaze at shoe factory in Zhejiang on 14 January which killed 16 people and a fire at a wholesale market in Shenzhen in December 2013, which also killed 16 people including three young children. The region has seen several similar tragedies over the last decade, the South China Morning Post reported. In December 2012, 14 young women workers died in a blaze at a lingerie factory in Shantou. In April that year, three workers died a workshop in in a four-storey building in Puning. In February 2010, seven people died in Daping village. In May 2006, 13 workers died in Gurao Township in Shantou, and in December 2003, 10 workers died in Hudong village in Puning.

Ÿ  China Labour Bulletin. South China Morning Post.

India: When will the ‘world’s worst job’ finally end?

Clearing human excrement by hand – dubbed the world’s worst job - is continuing in India, despite laws outlawing it. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Creation of Dry Latrines Act of 1993 made the manual cleaning of non-flush toilets illegal, reports Equal Times. Last year a new law was passed to make local authorities directly responsible for its implementation. However, there are still hundreds of thousands of ‘night soil workers’ in India – those who physically remove human excrement from ‘dry’ toilets. And there are millions more who perform the task of clearing human waste and general refuse by hand. The 1993 Act introduced penalties for the employment of workers to remove or carry human excreta, or to construct dry latrines without proper drainage facilities. Those found guilty could face imprisonment of up to one year, a fine up to 2,000 rupees (£20), or both. The 2013 law extended the prison term to up to five years and the fine to up to 500,000 rupees (£5,000). But this hasn’t stopped the centuries-old practice from continuing, or seeping into more conventional forms of waste disposal work. Equal Times reports that the work is usually performed by the ‘lower-class’ Dalit community. The work is dirty and dangerous. Every year, thousands of Dalit sewage cleaners die in ‘accidents’ or from exposure to noxious gases. Strike action in Gujarat in January this year led to an interim agreement with government officials on improvements, including better wages, paid days off, and permanent contracts. But India’s worst job is not history yet.

Ÿ  Equal Times.

Ireland: Fishing fatalities 40 times workplace average

People working in Ireland’s fishing industry are almost 40 times more likely to be killed at work compared to the average worker.  The statistic forms part of a new public awareness campaign by Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the official workplace safety regulator, to help improve safety standards. According to the campaign, the fatality rate in the general working population is 2.5 deaths per 100,000 workers, while in fishing it is 92 per 100,000 workers. HSA has said the industry must take steps to ensure the safety of its workers after an inspection programme found just one in three fishing boats had a safety statement, while only one in five completed adequate risk assessments. “There’s no doubt fishing is a dangerous job and fishermen often work under very dangerous and extreme conditions where the smallest oversight can lead to disaster,” said HSA chief executive Martin O’Halloran. “Under these circumstances, it’s vital skippers manage the risks and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their crew. Our inspectors regularly come across the same types of issues including injuries and ill-health caused by slips and trips, entanglement, poor manual handling and general unsafe systems of work.” He added: “We are concerned about the relatively low levels of compliance.”

Ÿ  HSA news release. Irish Examiner.

Events and Courses

Are you geared up for 28 April?

Workers’ Memorial Day, the biggest event on the union safety calendar, is fast approaching. So, have you sorted your action kit for 28 April? The Hazards Campaign is providing everything from the poster you stick on the wall to the t-shirt you stick on your back. You can: Get hold of your free 28 April posters; get ready to stick your stickers; splash out on a car sticker and forget-me-knot purple ribbons; and slip into a high quality ‘We didn’t vote to die’ or ‘Stop it you’re killing us’ t-shirt. Make sure your event is really something to see!

Posters: free (A3 and A4 available). Stickers: £1 for a single sticker, £0.50 each for 2-10, and £0.25 each for 11-100, with bigger discounts for bigger orders. Lapel stickers: £1 for a single sticker, £0.50 each for 2-10, and £0.25 each for 11-100. Car stickers: £1 each, £30 per 100. Purple ribbons: £0.30 each, £30 per 100. T-shirts: in s, m, l, xl, xxl, xxxl. £6. Order from the Hazards Campaign, Windrush Millennium Centre, 70 Alexandra Road, Manchester M16 7WD.  Tel: 0161 636 7557. Email:

Ÿ  For news, resources and updates on UK Workers’ Memorial Day 2014 activities, see the TUC 28 April webpages.

What will you be doing on 28 April?

The TUC webpages for Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April 2014 are now up, ready and waiting to list your planned activities. This year the theme for the annual event is 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights.' The TUC 28 April webpage notes: “The TUC believes that we should use the day to highlight the need for strong regulation at national, European and global level. We need to stop companies in the UK from benefiting from the lack of health and safety standards that lead to disasters such as the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed over 1,100 workers.” It adds: “We also need a strong strategy on health and safety from the European Commission which will raise standards throughout Europe, while in the UK we need an end to the cuts in enforcement and regulation and instead action to tackle the huge number of occupational diseases and injuries.” Among other activities, the TUC will be urging people to contact candidates in the European elections scheduled for Thursday 22 May 2014 to press the case for better workplace health and safety standards.

Ÿ  TUC Workers’ Memorial Day, 28 April 2014 webpages. If you know of any union 28 April events, email details to the TUC health and safety department.

TUC courses for safety reps

COURSES FOR January to March 2014

Ÿ  TUC courses


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