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TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Risks Number 658 - 14 June 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





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Unions slam Europe’s do little safety strategy

Europe’s long overdue health and safety strategy has been condemned as “weak and insubstantial” by unions. Commenting on the European Commission’s ‘Framework on Health and Safety at Work,’ published on 6 June, the TUC said the strategy “contains absolutely nothing new.” TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson noted: “One of the few positive proposals is that they will be ‘Improving enforcement by Member States for example by evaluating the performance of national labour inspectorates.’ However, overall, it is little more than a re-statement of the present, ineffectual policies that have done nothing to reduce the huge levels of MSDs [musculoskeletal disorders] and stress-related illnesses across Europe, or address the problems of exposure to carcinogens.” Józef Niemiec, deputy general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), said: “The ETUC has been waiting for years for this health and safety strategy, and we are disappointed it is weak and insubstantial. It contains no concrete proposal for action, and no specific improvements to health and safety.” The previous strategy expired in 2012, leaving safety policy in Europe in limbo. The ETUC says that while the framework document name checks a number of challenges to be addressed, including risks in smaller firms and from nanomaterials and musculoskeletal disorders it “does not, commit to improve legislation – or come forward with new proposals - to tackle  the challenges it identifies.” It also picks out risks faced by women and related to the ageing workforce, psychosocial problems and mental disorders and other work-related diseases including occupational diseases cancers, without identifying any measures to address them. Unions are concerned the strategy, which includes a commitment to “simplifying existing legislation where appropriate to eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens,” has been bolted onto the European Commission’s deregulatory REFIT programme. ETUC’s Józef Niemiec concluded: “The strategy proposes to treat health and safety as part of REFIT programme of cutting so-called red tape. Workers’ safety is not a bureaucratic burden.” The ETUC added that it was “disappointed” that the joint recommendations of trade unions and employers on health and safety “are not being taken up by the Commission in this strategy or in other initiatives.”

Ÿ  European Commission news release and Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020.

Ÿ  ETUC news release.

Fire service action continues over pensions

Firefighters in England and Wales are to continue a series of walk outs over attacks on their pensions after the government confirmed it intends to implement a new scheme without further negotiations. The plans include shifting the pension age from 55 to 60, a move the union FBU says is not tenable in a safety critical and physically demanding job. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Concerns over these unworkable proposals remain as valid and grave as ever, and the government has ignored all the evidence including its own reports.” Under the government’s proposals, firefighters who are forced on age-related fitness grounds to retire before the age of 60 will have half of their pension taken away. The union says the government’s own report published in December 2013 found that large numbers of firefighters would be unable to maintain operational fitness until 60. With few alternative non-frontline jobs, this would mean many were forced out of the service before the revised pension age and would take a massive financial hit as a result.

Ÿ  FBU news release.

UNISON backs healthy workplaces campaign

The public sector union UNISON has welcomed a new two-year Europe-wide campaign aimed at helping companies alleviate the impact of work-related stress. The 'Healthy workplaces manage stress' campaign is coordinated by the Bilbao-based European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). According to the agency’s poll, stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe. The campaign will involve hundreds of organisations from across Europe, and a range of activities such as training sessions, conferences and workshops, advertising campaigns and press conferences. UNISON says the EU-OSHA campaign chimes with its own “cut stress, not jobs” drive, launched last autumn. Welcoming the campaign, UNISON head of health and safety Tracy Harding said: “People are working harder, longer and for less pay. Something has to give and in many cases it is the health of our members.” She said the union will be producing new campaign materials ahead of the EU-OSHA coordinated European Health and Safety Week, beginning on 20 October.

Ÿ  UNISON news release.

Ÿ  European Agency healthy workplaces campaign.

Firms should push proper lunch breaks

Employers are being advised to encourage staff to take proper lunch breaks after a survey found many were skipping a proper break. Physios’ union CSP said poor work habits like not taking a break, staying late or eating lunch ‘al-desko’ are damaging the nation’s health. Its survey found one in five people (21 per cent) worked through their lunch every day. Of those who do manage to take a break, 48 per cent said they ate at their desk. Only 19 per cent leave their workplace to go outside for a break. The union found 42 per cent of people surveyed said they often had to cancel exercise plans because of work, while nearly a third (32 per cent) said they started earlier or finished later than their contracted hours every day. CSP is calling on employers to find ways to support staff to be more physically active during the working day in order to reduce their risk of developing musculoskeletal problems like back and neck pain and more serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Professor Karen Middleton, chief executive of the CSP, said: “Full-time workers spend a significant bulk of their week at work, or travelling to and from it. Finding ways to build in time to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, five times a week, can be a challenge.” Calling on firms to make it easier for staff to take care of themselves, she added: “Aside from the human cost, the price of inactivity for employers can be vast, with higher sickness absence costs and lower productivity. Physios play a key role in getting people back to work and keeping them fit for work.”

Ÿ  CSP news release.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Stressed teachers 'at breaking point'

Scotland's teachers “are at breaking point” over increased workloads and changes to their jobs, the union EIS has warned. General secretary Larry Flanagan told the union’s annual conference last week there was evidence many teachers were struggling to cope. A recent health and wellbeing survey, commissioned by the EIS, suggested severe workload pressures were placing strain on teachers and leading to increased stress and health problems. The EIS leader said: “Teachers are becoming increasingly worn out and frustrated. The message they are sending out is that enough is enough - action is needed now to lighten the load on our teachers.” He added: “The evidence is that many teachers are increasingly approaching breaking point. They have been driven there by a combination of factors that are out of their control. The budget-cutting austerity agenda has reduced both staffing and resource levels in schools, placing increasing pressure on teachers to achieve more with less.”

Ÿ  EIS news release and Make Time for Teaching campaign.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

‘Heroism’ bill sets out to slay a non-existent dragon

A proposed law the government says is necessary “to tackle the growth of compensation culture” is addressing a non-existent problem but could instead hurt victims of occupational injuries and diseases, critics have warned. Commenting on the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (SARAH) contained in the Queen’s Speech last week (Risks 651), TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Safety laws are not needless ‘red tape’, nor are they part of the ‘jobsworth culture’. They provide valuable protection for the UK’s 30 million workers. Any attempt to lessen employer responsibility for workplace safety could put employees at risk and make it harder for them to claim compensation if they are injured at work.” She added: “There is no evidence that current safety laws prevent anyone from acting heroically when someone’s life is threatened, but where workers are being put into dangerous situations they must be protected.” Tom Jones, head of policy at personal injury law firm Thompsons Solicitors, said the bill was a response to a problem that does not exist. “No one can justify people, who go above and beyond their duty to put themselves in danger in the cause of helping another being held liable for injury if they 'did the right thing' as best they could in difficult circumstances. And no court would do so.” He added: “Courts already behave sensibly on those occasions where this does occur, by throwing out lawsuits on the grounds of ‘common sense’. The government says it respects the independence of the judiciary and yet here it is trying to dictate to it. This is headline grabbing with no real thought and will produce no real change. Everything the government says the Bill will do is already the law.” He said: “The government is looking for right wing media plaudits for fighting dragons that exist only in their collective imagination.”

Ÿ  TUC news release.

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Prospects are poor for injured lorry driver

An HGV driver many never return to work after a preventable incident at work left him with serious injuries to his neck and shoulder. Unite member Steven Bardrick was delivering goods to Spicer Limited, his employer when he was injured. He was moving goods into the premises when a warehouseman removed a safety mechanism from the roller shutter above the entry. The roller shutter then fell onto Steven with a force of two-and-half-tonnes, causing him serious soft tissue injuries to his neck and right shoulder. He has been left with severely restricted movement in his shoulder despite undergoing an operation and a year of physiotherapy. He has been unable to return to work, and at the age of 56, looks unlikely to recover sufficiently to work again. Steven said: “The day of the accident was just another day at work, but instead of going back home to my family I ended up in a hospital. The list of things I can no longer do because of the accident is endless. I struggle with the simplest of tasks at home and can no longer go out and play golf or go swimming as I used to.” He added: “Spicer Limited tried to wipe their hands clean of me the second they heard about my accident.” He has now received a ‘significant’ compensation payout in a Unite-backed claim, which “at least made sure that my employer couldn’t escape from blame.” Unite’s Peter Kavanagh said: “We fought hard for our member in this case and while we are happy to have secured him the compensation he deserved, we are disappointed that another hard working employee may never work again because of a totally avoidable accident at work.”

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.


Death linked director jailed for illegal asbestos sales

A 64-year-old Shropshire man has been sentenced to 12 months in prison after his company illegally supplied roofing panels containing asbestos. Company director Robert Marsh’s offences only came to light after a 56-year-old construction worker, who was roofing a barn using the panels, fell through the fragile material and later died. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Mr Marsh, sole director of Newport firm RM Developments (2005) Ltd, had supplied pre-used roofing sheets containing white asbestos to a farming partnership building a barn in Frankley, Worcestershire. During a three-day hearing, Worcester Crown Court heard that after Mr Marsh supplied the roofing sheets, the partnership hired steel erector Tony Podmore to use the materials to build the barn. But during the final phase of its construction on 8 June 2011, Mr Podmore fell through the fragile asbestos cement roof sheets, landing on the concrete floor more than six metres below. He later died of his injuries in hospital. The farm partnership had agreed to pay £4,000 for what they thought would be substantial roofing materials. However Mr Marsh supplied poor-quality, second-hand roof panels that had cost him nothing. As he had paid just £250 for transport, he stood to make a profit of £3,750 on the roofing materials alone. The court was told that after the fall, Mr Marsh tried to persuade witnesses to hide the sheets. He also told Mr Podmore’s daughter that her father had fallen from the roof edge rather than through the fragile roof sheets. He subsequently tried to persuade Mr Podmore’s relatives not to report the incident to the HSE. As well as the 12 month prison sentence, Robert Marsh was disqualified from being a director for six years and ordered to pay £10,000 costs.

Ÿ  HSE news release and asbestos webpages.

Scots asbestos sufferers face compensation blow

Planned legal changes in Scotland could mean those suffering from asbestos-related illnesses could lose out on legal representation and compensation, a member of the Scottish parliament (MSP) has said. The Scottish government’s Court Reform Bill - which is currently being considered by MSPs - would mean some cases would be downgraded from the Court of Session to sheriff courts, or a new specialist personal injury court. Labour MSP Duncan McNeil said that would mean claimants would not be automatically entitled to the service of an advocate, when insurance companies contesting claims would always hire one to fight their corner. This could put claimants at a disadvantage, the MSP said. “This is an unintentional outcome of this proposed legislation,” he said, adding he was very concerned about an “uneven playing field in court” which could cost asbestos disease sufferers their compensation. Scottish government justice secretary Kenny MacAskill responded: “We do not believe this will result in asbestos cases where insurers have access to counsel and pursuers are denied access. We believe the reforms will provide benefits to all court users by ensuring cases are heard in an efficient and effective court system.”

Ÿ  Greenock Telegraph.

Has CBI finally got the message?

A CBI report recognising the ‘real business benefits’ of keeping staff healthy could be a sign the consistently regulation averse business lobby group is on the verge of a change of heart. “Having healthy staff is an essential part of running a healthy business,” said Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills at the CBI, launching ‘Getting better: Workplace health as a business issue’ earlier this year. “Investing in the wellbeing of employees is not only the right thing to do, it has real business benefits. It's time for businesses and government to work hand-in-hand to move from a reactive to proactive approach on health and wellbeing in the workplace.” The CBI revelations were welcomed by UNISON. Tracey Harding, the union’s head of health and safety, said: “We're delighted that the CBI has now supported what UNISON has been saying for years. Good health and safety is good for everyone.” She added: “We now look forward to the CBI backing UNISON's calls for the government to cease its relentless attacks on the HSE, and for a reversal in the policy that discourages the HSE in playing a more proactive role in promoting good health and safety.”

Ÿ  UNISON news release.

Ÿ  CBI news release and report, Getting better: Workplace health as a business issue.

Ÿ  International Business Times.

Work concerns led to top scientist’s suicide

An eminent scientist took his own life after struggling with problems at work and a spiralling workload, an inquest has heard. Entomologist Dr Mark Jervis, 62, was world renowned in the study of insect life. He killed himself in his 6th floor office of the university’s School of Biosciences on 11 March. An inquest in Cardiff heard he researched the manner of his death online in the days before he cut his wrists in his locked office. His wife, Julie Jervis, claimed that her husband was under stress due to a rising workload in the department and had been suffering “black thoughts” which she took to mean suicidal. A colleague also confirmed that a major influx of students the year before meant teaching staff were having to “double up” on lectures because the lecture theatres could not accommodate the numbers. His anxiety increased in February this year, after a post-graduate student, who was not wearing protective glasses at the time, was taken to hospital by ambulance after splashing himself with acid during a lab experiment. Dr Jervis feared the incident could lead to his dismissal. A statement from Mrs Jervis was read out by coroner Thomas Atherton in which she highlighted her husband’s anxiety at what he thought was his responsibility, despite an investigation finding it was a minor incident involving a small acid splash that caused no injury. Medical evidence from his GP revealed the respected scientist suffered from work-related stress and anxiety. Coroner Mr Atherton said: “It is quite clear to me that the whole incident did come on top of the stress he found in fulfilling his professional obligations, in spite of believing himself to be in the clear.”

Ÿ  Wales Online.

Ÿ  The Telegraph.

Ÿ  Cardiff University obituary.

Ÿ  More on work-related suicide.

Dad’s near-death fall lands firm in court

A young father of two suffered life-changing injuries after he plunged seven metres through an unsafe fragile roof at a farm in Harrogate. Spruce and Hawe Ltd, a Tockwith-based agricultural engineering company hired to work on the building, had failed to provide any precautions to protect its employees from falls. The incident, on 4 June 2013, left 22-year-old Daniel Telford with multiple injuries. He broke his neck and suffered shattered vertebrae, broken shoulder blades, several cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, broken arm, fractured pelvis, broken right hip, tendon damage to a foot and both hands, and serious nerve damage. Mr Telford, whose wife was then pregnant, was in hospital for four weeks and had to use a wheelchair for three months after being discharged. A year later, he is still unable to return to work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted Mr Telford’s employer, Spruce and Hawe Ltd and director Michael Spruce for serious criminal safety failings. Harrogate Magistrates were told Daniel was working with the director on the roof of the property replacing rooflights when the fragile roof sheet he was standing on gave way. He fell through and crashed down to the concrete floor below. No steps had been taken by the firm to protect workers at height, HSE found. Measures could have included netting underneath, safe working platforms, or working from a platform underneath. Spruce and Hawe Ltd was fined £12,000 after admitting a criminal safety offence. Director Michael Spruce was fined £3,000 pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. Costs of £513 were also imposed.

Ÿ  HSE news release and work at height webpages.

Roof fall changes worker’s life in seconds

A 54-year-old Leeds worker suffered life-changing injuries when he plunged nearly seven metres through an unsafe rooflight while installing solar power racking. Peter Bettison sustained multiple injuries and was kept under sedation for most of the 22 days he had to spend in hospital. As well as a punctured lung and fractured skull, he suffered a head wound needing 13 staples, a broken collar bone, broken ribs along his left side, a fracture to his left hand, a broken left pelvis and chipped bones in his spine and hip. He returned to work eight months later but in a different role. The fall through the rooflight, which lacked any protection, led to Mr Bettison’s employer, Duncan Plumbing, Heating and Electrics Ltd, being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for serious criminal safety failings. Bradford Magistrates heard that while installing the solar panel racks on a farm building roof in Ilkley on 28 November 2011, Mr Bettison stood up and unwittingly stepped on a rooflight. It instantly gave way, sending him crashing nearly seven metres to the concrete floor below. The firm had identified the presence of rooflights, and had loaded the information on their computer system for the design team. However, the firm then failed to take any action to protect either the workers from falls or the rooflights. It was fined £20,000 - the maximum penalty in a magistrates’ court – with £3,408 costs. Mr Bettison, a father of two and a grandfather to five, said: “The impact of the fall has been felt not just by me, but by all my family.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Company back in court for criminal failings

A Tyneside company has appeared in court for criminal safety breaches for the second time in less than a year after a forklift truck overturned at its factory in Burnopfield. The driver, a 51-year-old agency worker employed by Radford HMY Group Ltd, was uninjured in the incident on 27 June 2012 and returned to work to finish his shift. However, Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard the incident was reported as a dangerous occurrence and investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted the company. HSE found the forklift truck had been driven, during a night shift, on a totally unsuitable outside path. The path was only 40cm wider than the truck, and was raised above the adjacent ground in places along its length of some 150 metres. The driver was not assessed or authorised to operate the truck and had not been made familiar with the controls. It was also found that the agency worker had been taken on as a cleaner with no requirement for him to operate a forklift truck. An HSE improvement notice resulting in the company making improvements to the path. The court was told that magistrates had fined the company £2,000 in October last year following an incident in February 2012, when a worker’s hand was badly crushed in a machine on which a safety guard had been deliberately disabled. In the latest case, Radford HMY Group Ltd was fined £5,000 plus £3,824.45 costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. HSE inspector Cain Mitchell said: “The case is all the more serious as it is the second time in less than a year that Radford HMY Group Ltd has been prosecuted for safety failings.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and workplace transport webpages.


Australia: Death case is the first to charge manager

For the first time, a senior company manager in Australia is facing charges over the death of a worker. The case involves Michael Booth, a 48-year-old truck driver who was electrocuted while working for Kenoss Contractors in 2012. The company and a senior manager were charged last month but the case has been weighed down in legal argument about whether Kenoss can respond to the charges, having gone into involuntary liquidation last year. Mark McCabe, the Work Safety Commissioner for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), said this case would be a turning point as the Director of Public Prosecutions sought action against a senior manager as well as the company itself over a workplace death. Under new nationally harmonised work health and safety laws, the offence carries with it a maximum company fine of Aus$1.5 million while an officer of the company can be fined Aus$300,000. Mr McCabe noted that the new laws were designed to “ensure that people at the highest level have personal accountability for what happens with the company.” He added: “We believe that this is the first charge against an officer in the country under these new provisions.” The death of Mr Booth occurred when he tipped his truck trailer to offload gravel at a dumping station and the trailer touched a power line. Mr McCabe said that when he investigated the accident, the power line seemed to be very low. “You have to question why the dump was put in such a location. They could have located it across the road well out of the reach of power lines.”

Ÿ  Canberra Times.

Ÿ  ABC News.

Global: Unions and GDF Suez sign global safety deal

GDF Suez and global unions have agreed a global safety deal which will underpin improved safety for its workers and subcontractors and see use of hazardous substances reduced. The French multinational signed the Global Framework Agreement last month with global union federations BWI, IndustriALL and Public Services International (PSI). Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI, said: “The BWI welcomes this health and safety agreement with GDF Suez, which will guarantee better safety conditions at the workplace.” The signing event was held on 13 May 2014 in Antofagasta, Northern Chile, a region where the company has been expanding its business. Gérard Mestrallet, chair and CEO of the company said: "GDF Suez is committed to make the health and safety of everyone a permanent priority. This commitment must be affirmed everywhere the group works.” Before the ceremony, Chile’s president Michele Bachelet participated in the inauguration of the second largest reservoir of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the southern hemisphere. The project started in 2010 and at its peak employed around 1,000 construction workers.  The agreement will be subject to annual review in a five-year action plan from 2015-2020. It also complements a more broad-based international framework agreement signed in 2010 between the company and the three international trade union federations.

Ÿ  BWI news release.

Korea: Samsung in new cancer talks

After walking away from the table five months ago, Samsung has resumed talks with activists over compensation payouts for workers who believe their cancers were caused by their jobs for the microelectronics multinational. The move follows the company’s “deep apology” to affected workers and their families and promise of compensation last month (Risks 655). The new talks commenced on 28 May, when an eight member delegation from the campaign group SHARPS, led by Hwang Sang-ki, father of a Samsung leukaemia victim, met with a new delegation of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. The meeting came six years after Hwang Sang-ki filed for posthumous workers’ compensation for his daughter, Yumi. She died in March 2007 after two years of suffering from leukaemia she contracted while working at a Samsung chip plant. Her father’s campaign inspired sympathetic doctors, activists and labour lawyers to form SHARPS in November 2007. A joint statement released by SHARPS and Samsung after the meeting said: “First, both parties will negotiate in earnest over a comprehensive scheme to prevent the recurrence [of occupational disease] and to apologise and compensate [the victims]. Second, the next negotiation will be scheduled at the working levels of both parties. And third, Samsung will as soon as possible cancel civilian and criminal charges against SHARPS activists and families of the victims in connection with their rallies and protests.” Commenting on the talks, SHARPS said: “This is just a beginning. Samsung should review our demands in good faith, and prepare comprehensive responses.”

Ÿ  SHARPS news release.

USA: Government action on black lung scandal

The US Department of Labor has ordered officials who determine if coal miners are eligible for black lung benefits to no longer rely on the medical opinion of the Johns Hopkins Medicine doctor an investigation found systematically denied affected miners were significantly affected by the debilitating condition (Risks 630). From 2000, Dr Paul S Wheeler, who was head of the Johns Hopkins black lung programme, examined 1,573 miners' black lung x-rays and not once diagnosed the severe form of black lung that automatically qualifies for compensation. He frequently claimed the damaged lungs were the result of exposure to bird and bat faeces. The Labor Department will now notify every miner whose benefits were denied, based in part on the doctor's x-ray readings, that they should consider reapplying for those benefits. The review was prompted after the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) investigated the law firms and doctors the coal companies sought out to contest miners’ claims under the Black Lung Benefits Act. CPI exposed how lawyers at Jackson Kelly PLLC, the go-to law firm for coal companies fighting miners’ black lung claims, routinely withheld medical evidence. The investigation also exposed the industry efforts to undermine emerging scientific evidence and contain its liabilities.

Ÿ  AFL-CIO Now blog.

Ÿ  ABC Eyewitness News.

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