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TUC Risks E-Bulletins

Number 666 - 9 August 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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TUC warns the safety consensus is under threat

As celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the UK’s groundbreaking safety law continue (Risks 665), unions are warning that the lifesaving gains delivered by the Health and Safety at Work Act could be under threat. Writing in the British Safety Council’s ‘Safety Management’ magazine, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson notes: “If I could sum up what the Health and Safety at Work Act means to me it would be one word: consensus.” But he warns: “Sadly much of that has changed. Now board members are chosen through a process that allows politicians to pick who they want, and decisions are made despite the objections of the employers or union representatives. We have seen far more resistance from the government to the very concept of regulation and open hostility to ACOPs [approved codes of practice]. There is also far more political interference, as we have seen with the recent proposed changes on the self-employed regulations which really have the support of virtually no one outside the government. As a result, health and safety has become a much more polarised issue.” The TUC safety expert concludes: “We need regulation to be seen as providing a level playing field that protects the most vulnerable, rather than a burden on business, and we need unions and employers working together at all levels.” Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the HSE inspectors and specialists union Prospect, said that while the anniversary was a cause for celebration, this was not a time for complacency. “There are those who seek to characterise health and safety as a burden on business. In reality, promoting the highest standards of health and safety not only provides vital protection to workers and the public, but is, ultimately, sound business practice.”

Ÿ  Safety Management.

Ÿ  Prospect news release and 40@40 from the frontline.

Unite wins ambulance service rest time precedent

Unite has hailed an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) judgement concerning the working time arrangements of on-call technicians and paramedics in the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) as “a significant victory” for workers’ rights and patient safety. Relief ambulance paramedics Paul Truslove and Ellouise Wood pursued the SAS for compensation over a breach of their rest entitlements under the 1998 Working Time Regulations, having accumulated 97 and 48 consecutive working hours respectively. Although Mr Truslove and Ms Wood worked normally from a base station in Elgin, which is staffed on a 24 hour shift rota, both were required to provide nightly on-call cover for the Dufftown and Tomintoul areas where only day shift coverage is provided from local stations. In a decision Unite condemned as ‘ludicrous’, an original Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled the on-call time could be defined as a rest period. And the Honourable Mr Justice Langstaff sided with Unite and overturned the ET ruling, defining on-call duties as working time. Unite regional industrial officer Tommy Campbell said: “This is a significant victory for Unite’s long-term campaigning on behalf of our members in the SAS and the defence of their working time rights. He added: “Ultimately this ruling not only defends the working time rights of our members in the SAS but sets out precedence to protect all workers in general by upholding the principles of the Working Time Directive.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  Aberdeen Press and Journal.

Ÿ  Herald.

Blacklister loses council repairs contract

Islington Council has become the first to apply a ‘no blacklisters’ clause, with construction firm Kier losing its housing repairs contract. The council has ended the £16.5 million-a-year contract with construction firm Kier, which had been running the service for 14 years. Housing repair has been brought back in-house, and the 140 affected staff will now become council employees. Unite hailed the move as a significant step forward in the campaign to clean up construction and called on other councils to follow suit. Kier is one of several companies that have apologised for their involvement with covert blacklister the Consulting Association (Risks 657). Unite is now calling on other councils to ‘audit their contracts for blacklisting and rogue practices’ and says where services can be brought back in-house from companies abusing the law, it says councils should make this happen. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said the move by Islington Council was “extremely significant”, adding: “Taxpayers are not only getting the best level of service and value for money, but they can have the peace of mind that their council is preventing their taxes going towards the funding of illegal practices. Companies involved in the despicable practice of blacklisting have ruined lives through their actions over decades, and it should not ever be acceptable for blacklisters to profit from public contracts.” In March this year, Islington Council passed a motion to bar companies involved in blacklisting from council contracts. Blacklist Support Group spokesperson Chris Clarke had been lobbying the council for action. He said it was “a good day for Islington. A bad day for blacklisters. Bye-bye Kier.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

FBU battle for hero Ewan continues

The firefighters’ union FBU has welcomed a decision by Scotland’s Crown Office to proceed with criminal hearings into the death of firefighter Ewan Williamson. The decision came in the face of continued Scottish Fire and Rescue Service attempts to derail the case. Ewan lost his life in a fire at the Balmoral Bar in Edinburgh over five years ago. FBU believes many unanswered questions remain about the incident and it says as yet no one has been held accountable. John Duffy, regional secretary of the FBU in Scotland, said: “Something is clearly wrong with our legal system when it can take this length of time before Ewan’s family can understand how he died. Ewan’s family, friends and colleagues have found the past five years particularly distressing as many questions about the tragedy remain unanswered. Until this trial is complete, and lessons are learned, other firefighters will be at risk of a similar incident.” Roddy Robertson, executive council member of the FBU in Scotland, said: “Ewan will never be forgotten and the thoughts of all FBU members are with his family and friends, who for five years have campaigned for justice.”

Ÿ  FBU news release.

Ÿ  The Scotsman.

MPs back campaigners on asbestos cancer justice

A committee of MPs has backed unions and asbestos disease victims’ advocates, and called on the government to rethink proposals cooked up with the insurance industry to impose legal costs on people suffering a deadly asbestos cancer (Risks 665). The Justice Select Committee report published on 1 August is highly critical of a government review that concluded a costs exemption for mesothelioma sufferers should end. The committee found that the government review had not been conducted “in a thorough and even handed way” and described the “shoehorning” of part of the review into a wider consultation on the claims process as “maladroit”. It recommended the government conduct a further review, but should wait until sufficient time has elapsed to properly assess the potential impact on claimants. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, welcoming the report, said: “The Justice Committee is right to criticise the shoddy deal done between the insurance industry and the government. Victims of this terrible and fatal illness deserve proper and swift recompense.” She added: “We hope that the government will urgently accept the recommendations of the Justice Committee and do the right thing for the victims of mesothelioma, 2,500 of whom die each year as a result of exposure to asbestos through their employer’s negligence.” Thompsons Solicitors head of asbestos litigation Ian McFall said: “The recommendation that government undertake a proper, timely and evidence based review is the right way forward and will be welcomed by mesothelioma sufferers and support groups. The Committee’s inquiry has shown, as we believed, that the government’s review was flawed from its inception and was influenced unduly and covertly by the insurance industry.” Doug Jewell of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum said the report supported its long-held view that the government review was “a sham”, adding: “The government must now respect the wishes of parliament and satisfy the expectations of mesothelioma sufferers and their families that a fair review will be conducted.”

Ÿ  House of Commons Justice Committee: Mesothelioma claims and news release.

Ÿ  TUC news release

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

Ÿ  Irwin Mitchell Solicitors news release.

Unions welcome call for proper mesothelioma review

Unions have welcomed the Justice Select Committee’s call for a full governmental review on changes to the legal funding of personal injury claims. Public sector union UNISON warned, however, that a period of three to five years is needed to take stock of these changes and their effect before any such review should go ahead. UNISON said it is concerned at government plans to remove an exemption that has meant mesothelioma sufferers do not have to sacrifice part of their compensation settlement to meet legal bills. Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary, said: “We are pleased the Justice Select Committee listened and took our concerns on board. We have long campaigned for justice for mesothelioma sufferers. But with a short and painful life expectancy the last thing sufferers and their families need are extra costs.” He added: “The changes the government tried to impose would have a detrimental impact on mesothelioma sufferers. It’s the negligence of past employers that has condemned these workers. It is only right employers should pay. Mesothelioma cases present legal difficulties, but also critically the trauma and devastation caused to them and their families following such a diagnosis, and the rapid effects of this terminal disease is excruciating.” GMB national safety officer Daniel Shears said: “The original consultation was clearly flawed and it's absolutely right to look again at this as quickly as possible. In particular the behind the scenes deal done between the ABI [Association of British Insurers] and the government flew in the face of an open consultation and we thank the committee for bringing this shady backroom deal to light.”

Ÿ  UNISON news releases.

Ÿ  GMB news release.

Dying electrician secures asbestos cancer payout

A former electrician who is suffering from mesothelioma, an incurable asbestos cancer, has secured ‘substantial’ damages with the help of his union, Unite. The member, whose name has not been released, was exposed to asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s because a series of employers did not follow well-established workplace safety standards on preventing asbestos exposure or conduct proper risk assessments. The Unite member said the payout “will support me and my family financially as we struggle to come to terms with my diagnosis.” Unite regional secretary Annmarie Kilcline said: “Yet another of our members’ lives has been devastated by an employer’s flagrant disregard for workplace health and safety. The despicable legacy of asbestos exposure affecting our members across the UK is only set to rise.” She added the union was committed “to bring the employers responsible to book, and to provide the financial stability our members and their families need.”

Ÿ  Thompsons Solicitors news release.

UNISON calls for schools asbestos audit

The next Labour government must ensure there is a full audit of asbestos in schools, public sector union UNISON has said. “We will be lobbying to make sure that the health and safety of workers is on the agenda of all the major parties for the election campaign,” said the union's head of health and safety, Tracey Harding. The call for a schools audit came at a seminar on asbestos organised by the all party parliamentary group on occupational safety and health. UNISON’s assistant national health and safety officer Robert Baughan also called for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be provided the resources it needs to restart proactive inspections of schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other public services building. Labour has indicated it will consider all the UNISON proposals as it finalises its policy on health and safety.

Ÿ  UNISON news release.

Government must act on Bangladesh deaths inaction

The market has failed to get UK High Street firms to stump up the money to compensate those affected by Rana Plaza building collapse, so the government must now act, the TUC has said. It took an email campaign involving over 100,000 people to force clothing company Matalan last week to make a contribution to the compensation fund for victims and their families – over a year after the tragedy claimed over 1,100 lives. According to Owen Tudor, the head of the TUC’s international department, “while Matalan’s decision is welcome, we still don’t know how much they have given”, noting the fund is still £13m short of the £24m needed. “So the market failure that led to the Rana Plaza disaster in the first place is now compounded by a market failure to raise the funds needed for adequate compensation,” Tudor notes. “Corporates clearly aren’t listening, so the TUC has formally urged international development secretary Justine Greening to top up the corporate contributions with money from her overseas aid budget,” in the same way it match-funds public donations to other causes. In a 1 August letter to the minister making the match-funding call, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady wrote: “This would both encourage more companies to pay into the Fund and demonstrate to the government of Bangladesh the important role that governments need to play in providing support for victims of industrial harm.”

Ÿ  TUC letter to international development secretary Justine Greening.

Ÿ  TUC Touchstone Blog.

Ÿ  UNI news release.


Solvents exposure linked to brain cancer in your kids

Brain tumours in children have been linked to exposure of either parent to workplace solvents. The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found a link between parents' exposure to chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene and brain tumours in their children. Lead author Dr Susan Peters, of the University of Western Australia, said that while brain tumours are relatively rare they are a major cause of cancer death among children. “Because most of the cases occur before age five, the question is what are the risk factors because there are some genetic syndromes that are known to cause brain tumours but only in less than five per cent of cases,” she said, with solvents a possible cause of some of the remainder. The study examined 306 cases of children up to 14-years-old with brain tumours that were diagnosed between 2005 and 2010 in Australia. The researchers compared the parents' occupational exposures to solvents with those of the parents of 905 controls, where the children did not have brain tumours. The findings suggest that fathers working in jobs where they are regularly exposed to aromatic solvents – the group including common workplace exposures benzene, toluene and xylene - in the year before their child is conceived are more than twice as likely to have that child develop a brain tumour. Women working in occupations that expose them to chlorinated solvents - found in degreasers, drycleaning, cleaning solutions, paint thinners, pesticides and resins - at any time in their lives also have a much higher risk of their child developing a brain tumour.

Ÿ  Susan Peters and others. Childhood brain tumours: associations with parental occupational exposure to solvents, British Journal of Cancer, published online. doi:10.1038/bjc.2014.358. ABC Science News.

Cockpit fumes linked to pilot’s death

A British Airways pilot who died at 43 after complaining he was being poisoned by toxic fumes on passenger planes may have been right, according to new research. Richard Westgate, from Edinburgh, suffered years of ill health including severe headaches, mental confusion, sight problems and insomnia before he died in December 2012 at the age of 43. Just before he died, he instructed lawyers to sue BA for health and safety breaches, convinced his problems were related to his being exposed to toxic chemicals on board planes. Lawyer Frank Cannon, who says he is acting for 25 people who believe they are suffering ill-effects from hazardous fumes on planes, was instructed by Mr Westgate before his death. He said: “We believe that constant exposure to fuel leaks in planes contributed to Richard's death. This scientific research proves that Richard suffered from chemicals called organophosphates which cause chronic brain and other problems.” Warm air is pumped into jets from the engines to provide a comfortable environment. But chemicals in engine oil can also enter cabins, despite safety devices meant to stop fumes, causing a condition called ‘aerotoxic syndrome’. The study findings, published in the Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry, conclude organophosphates – neurotoxins and one of the suspect constituents linked to these effects - did affect Mr Westgate's health.

Ÿ  Flight Global.

Ÿ  Daily Mail.

Ÿ  Daily Mirror.

Crossrail facing two safety inquiries after death

Crossrail, the largest construction project in Europe, is facing two investigations by the health and safety regulator over allegations made by a whistleblower about the circumstances that led to the death of a worker earlier this year. The Observer reported last week that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is acting on a series of statements from the whistleblower in which safety standards on the £15bn project have been condemned. Among the former Crossrail worker's claims is that the death of Rene Tkacik, 43, who was struck by a falling slab of concrete in Holborn on 7 March, could have been avoided. At the time of his death he was spraying concrete through a hose, a process known as ‘shotcreting’ used by Crossrail contractors since last year. Unite immediately demanding an official investigation, noting the company “has some serious questions to answer” (Risks 646). A statement given by the whistleblower to the HSE in June claims that concrete regularly fell on and around workers, although usually in small handfuls. HSE has started one investigation into the fatality and another into claims by the whistleblower about his own experience and injury, working with shotcrete in the tunnel. An HSE spokesperson said the watchdog could not comment on ongoing investigations. Helen Clifford, a solicitor with the law firm Leigh Day acting for injured workers, said Crossrail and shotcreting contractor BBMV were “aware of shotcrete falls, but continued to require men to work in those conditions. Had they implemented a safe system of work, Rene's death might have been prevented.”

Ÿ  The Observer.

ICL defeats bid for damages over deadly factory blast

The owners of a plastics factory that exploded in Glasgow killing nine people have blocked a compensation claim by a neighbouring firm damaged in the blast, because the claim was made too late. ICL Plastics Ltd opposed the claim by decorators merchant David T Morrison on the grounds it was lodged outside the statutory five-year limit. ICL appealed to the Supreme Court in London after judges at the Court of Session upheld Morrison's case. Supreme Court judges ruled in ICL's favour by a majority of three to two. The explosion at ICL Plastics building on 11 May 2004 killed nine people and resulted in 33 people being injured. Extensive damage was caused to neighbouring properties, including a shop owned by Morrison. In 2007, ICL was fined a total of £400,000 for criminal breaches of safety laws after it was found that a build up of gas from a fractured pipe had caused the explosion (Risks 321). Morrison launched its claim for damages at the Court of Session on 13 August 2009 - more than five years after the tragedy. A report of a public inquiry, published in July 2009, concluded the blast was an 'avoidable disaster'.  Inquiry head Lord Gill also found that ‘serious weaknesses’ in Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection procedures contributed to the ‘a disaster that could have been avoided’, prompting an apology from the safety regulator (Risks 416).

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Ÿ  The Herald.

Ÿ  ICL/Stockline disaster website.

Undercover investigation leads to bakery safety probes

One of Britain’s biggest bakery firms is facing probes by the fire service and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an undercover investigation revealing serious health and safety failings putting the lives of workers at risk. Dunstable-based Honeytop Speciality Foods, which supplies all of Britain’s major supermarkets with products from pizza bases to tortilla wraps, was recently praised by prime minister David Cameron for its plans to create dozens of new jobs. But an investigation by Channel Four’s Dispatches programme broadcast on 4 August reported not only was a fire exit blocked, but signs for the exit were obscured by the production line. And new workers were not given any fire drill training – despite there being three fires at the factory between May and June this year - one of which saw more than 30 firefighters from Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service tackle a blaze at the factory after one of the ovens used for baking naan breads had caught fire. In a statement, a spokesperson for Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “All three incidents involved fires in industrial ovens on the production line... On each occasion all staff evacuated safely and all fires have been attributed to the same cause, a build-up of debris from production.” Secret filming also showed workers risking serious injury – with a man clambering onto a conveyor belt and climbing into a machine to keep the production lines running. Asked if it was safe, a worker responded: “No, no its not, but if we don’t do it, no-one else will. It’ll just be like that for ever.” An undercover reporter working at the factory was not given any safety training. Despite signs telling workers to wear ear protectors and hard hats, the reporter had not been given any. An HSE spokesperson said “we take any complaints of this nature seriously.”  Honeytop was fined more than £9,000 in 2012 for criminal breaches of safety laws. Workers at its factory had been exposed to dangerous levels of flour dust, which can cause occupational asthma, up to six times the legal limit. The company had been warned about the levels five years previously but failed to act.

Ÿ  Supermarkets: The real price of cheap food, Dispatches, Channel 4, 4 August 2014.

Ÿ  The Independent.

Council fined after grass cutting injury

A town council has been ordered to pay £29,000 in fines and costs after a worker was thrown from a mower while cutting grass. The man suffered four broken ribs and bruising in the incident at Cirencester Amphitheatre in September 2012. At Cheltenham Magistrates' Court, Cirencester Town Council pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach. the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the court the groundsman was carrying out routine grass cutting on the outside slope of the amphitheatre using a ride-on mower. The mower tipped over throwing him off, and he was then hit by the machine. His injuries caused him to be off work for two months and he was only able to work on light duties for a further month when he returned. Cirencester Town Council was fined £12,000 with costs of £17,000. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Alison Fry said: “The worker could have easily been killed, having been put at unnecessary risk because there were several other ways this work could have been carried out safely. I hope it serves to remind employers to take all site conditions into account, including slopes, before choosing equipment to cut grass.” She added: “Employers need to carry out risk assessments to decide how to carry out a job safely. They then need to provide adequate training, information and instructions.”

Ÿ  Gloucestershire Echo.

Ÿ  Stroud News and Journal.

Ÿ  Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard. BBC News Online.

Haulage companies fined after driver is paralysed

Two haulage companies have been sentenced for criminal safety failings after an HGV driver was left paralysed from the chest down following an incident at a transport yard in Sandy, Bedfordshire. The 51-year-old man was crushed as he was closing the rear doors of his HGV when another lorry reversed into the area he was working in at the yard.  The premises were being rented by his employer, H&M Distribution Ltd. The worker, who does not wish to be named, suffered life-changing injuries and will be unable to work again. As well as his paralysis, he suffered a brain injury which has affected his sight and has lost most of the use of his arms. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted H&M Distribution Ltd and HE Payne Transport Ltd, the owner of the yard. The court heard that before setting out on a delivery, the driver pulled his loaded HGV forward of the loading bay so he could close the rear doors. As he was doing so, a curtain-sided lorry reversed alongside the bay into the area he was working in, crushing him between the two vehicles. HSE found that despite both companies being road hauliers, there was no documented procedure for vehicle movements in the transport yard. H&M Distribution Ltd was fined £150,000 plus costs of £13,996 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. HE Payne Transport Ltd also pleaded guilty and was fined £100,000 plus £13,996 costs. HSE inspector Emma Rowlands said: “Our investigation found that there was no documented procedure which allowed workplace transport and pedestrians to circulate the site in safety, and a dangerous lack of segregation between vehicles and workers on foot. Tragically, as a result an employee is now paralysed for life.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and workplace transport webpages.

Company in court after massive chemical spill

An Essex company has been fined after four of its chemical storage tanks failed and spilled 150 tonnes of hazardous material. An industrial estate was evacuated and access roads closed as a result of the incident at Industrial Chemicals Limited (ICL) in Grays on 11 July 2013. No-one was harmed. Basildon Crown Court heard the incident occurred at the firm’s Titan Works when a glass reinforced plastic (GRP) tank failed catastrophically, releasing 66 tonnes of aluminium chloride. This caused chemical spills from a further three tanks damaged by the first spillage, releasing a further 32 tonnes of aluminium chloride and 52 tonnes of hydrochloric acid. During a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation, ICL was unable to demonstrate that the tanks were being operated within their design lives, or were being suitably inspected and maintained to ensure they were fit for continued use. Five prohibition notices were served preventing the use of the remaining GRP tanks on site. On 16 July 2013, a further inspection was made of the company’s metallic storage vessels by HSE’s mechanical engineering specialists, and a further ten prohibition notices were served for the same reasons. Industrial Chemicals Limited was fined £50,000 plus £14,231 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. HSE inspector Andrew Saunders said: “This was a major spill of highly hazardous material that caused the evacuation of an industrial estate and the closure of roads in the surrounding area. Fortunately in this case no employees or members of the public were injured.” He added: “Industrial Chemical Ltd’s failure to manage, inspect and maintain their GRP tanks contributed to this spillage.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and chemicals webpages.


Africa: Agencies fighting Ebola at ‘breaking point’

A shortage of trained health workers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea who can treat Ebola victims and prevent further spread of the deadly disease is hampering response efforts, health ministries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have warned. Stéphane Doyone, West Africa coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is shouldering the bulk of the case management burden in the three countries, said: “We are reaching the breaking point of our capacity where today we can’t guarantee to do more of what we’re doing - particularly when it comes to human resources.” MSF has deployed 300 health workers, 80 of them expatriate staff, to work on the Ebola response. “It’s a huge programme but human resources are very challenging: staff must be highly trained and they have to be turned over every 4-6 weeks due to stress and fatigue,” said Doyone.  World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics indicate up to 23 July, the cumulative number of Ebola virus cases had reached 1,201, with 672 deaths, making it the largest recorded outbreak. Health workers are among the casualties (Risks 663). MSF has limited its Ebola treatment hospital in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, to 88 beds because safety has to be the “overriding priority”, said Anja Wolz, head of the operation there. “For us the most important thing is that we're sure about the protection of the staff - from cleaners and drivers to doctors and nurses, and the safety of the patients.” Safety measures in place in Kailahun, where no staff members have died from the disease, involve disposing of up to 5,500 euros’ worth of equipment each day, with the majority of protective suits only worn once, said an MSF spokesperson. When entering or exiting the compound all must pass a security post to disinfect their footwear and hands. Before entering the isolation ward, staff pass through dressing rooms where assistants ensure they are wearing protective suits properly and their gear is sprayed with disinfectant when they leave to ensure nobody contracts the virus while removing the contaminated suit.

Ÿ  IRIN news report.

Ÿ  WHO Ebola factsheet.

Ÿ  UK government Ebola response.

Ÿ  ITF news release.

Ÿ  BALPA statement.

Ÿ  The Independent.

Australia: Union right of entry laws ‘save lives’

Calls by Australia’s building industry to further tighten the restrictions on union officials entering construction sites will lead to more injuries and deaths at work, the national union federation ACTU has said. ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said 186 Australians were killed at work in 2013, warning: “I have no doubt that number will grow even higher if union officials are restricted from entering building sites. In the first four months of this year alone, 46 Australians have been killed at work.” He added: “These shocking figures shows we should be strengthening workplace safety regulations not weakening them.” Under current Australian safety laws, union officials are only able to use their right of entry permit when they suspect a safety breach. “The Master Builders Association is effectively trying to diminish the ability of workers to speak up for themselves in their workplaces,” Michael Borowick said. He added that “around 600,000 Australian workers are injured every year, costing Australia more than $60 billion dollars annually. We have workers climbing unsafe scaffolding, being exposed to asbestos, falling victim to bullying and being put in unsafe and stressful situations every day. Trying to restrict a union official from entering a worksite is a move to effectively silence a worker’s safety concerns.”

Ÿ  ACTU news release.

China: Deadly blast leads to demand for more worker say

In the wake of a massive explosion at a factory in Kunshan, eastern China, on 2 August that killed at least 75 workers and injured 180 others, a group of labour activists and academics have called for urgent action. In an open letter, they argue that since factory owners and local governments have failed to protect workers, the workers themselves should be given the right to supervise workplace safety. The letter notes the failure of Zhongrong Metal Products to remove hazardous dust, install proper ventilation equipment or dust level monitors or to provide workers with adequate protective clothing. It is critical of the Kunshan municipal government, which conducted a round of safety inspections from the 16 to 25 July and that found no violations. Metal dust is the suspected cause of the explosion at the firm, which manufacturers wheel hubs for firms including US car giant General Motors (GM). Dai Chun, associate professor at a Hunan trade union school and one of the letter's authors, said problems with work safety were part of a wider failure to incorporate workers' rights into China's economic development model. Pointing to legal rights to joint management-worker safety committee elsewhere, the authors called on the government to give workers the authority to supervise safety in the workplace. The letter adds that trade unions should play an active role in eliminating hazards, preventing the company from violating labour rights, resolving labour disputes, and promoting harmonious labour relations. Within two days of being posted online, the letter had been signed by 15 organisations and 443 individuals. The official investigation into the blast, Yang Dongliang, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, said company leaders had neglected safety regulations and pointed to other recent incidents.

Ÿ  China Labour Bulletin report.

Ÿ  China Daily.

Ÿ  Wall Street Journal.

Ÿ  BBC News Online.

Ÿ  Orlando Sentinel.

USA: Campaigners fight off poultry line speed up

Sweeping new regulations for poultry plants announced by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will leave processing lines running at their current speeds – a decision that spares workers from an increase but still forces them to endure the current dangerously fast pace, unions and campaigners have said. “Although the most dangerous provision has been removed from this rule, poultry workers still face punishing line speeds and other conditions that lead to widespread and serious injuries,” said Michelle Lapointe, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) staff attorney. “We call on the administration to take meaningful steps to protect poultry workers, including the imposition of health and safety rules designed specifically for these plants.” The USDA ‘Modernization of Poultry Inspection’ rule proposed changing maximum line speeds from 140 birds to 175 birds a minute. However, after a two year campaign by poultry worker advocates, the industry backed proposal was finally rejected. Joe Hansen, president of the US foodworkers’ union UFCW said: “Poultry processing remains a dangerous job; a recent study showed 42 per cent of workers in this industry have evidence of carpal tunnel. With this rule behind us, I look forward to working with the Department of Labor and the USDA to make our poultry plants safer and ensure more workers can have a voice on the job.” SPLC research last year found even at current line speeds, nearly three out of four poultry line workers reported a significant work-related injury or illness, such as debilitating pain in their hands, cuts, gnarled fingers, chemical burns or respiratory problems. According to a report by the Guardian, large abattoirs in the UK typically run lines at a rate of 185 to 195 birds a minute, significantly higher than even the proposed new maximum speed rejected by US regulators (Risks 665).

Ÿ  UFCW news release.

Ÿ  SPLC news release.

Ÿ  USDA poultry rule webpage.

Ÿ  Common Dreams.

Ÿ  The Pump Handle.

Ÿ  Unsafe at These Speeds: Alabama’s Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers, SPLC, 2013.

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