Risks 551 - 14 april 2012

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Asbestos-the hidden killer
Hazards Magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 23,000 subscribers. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy

Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

Union News

Action call after another rail runaway

Rail union RMT has renewed its call for secondary protection to prevent rail runaways after another potentially fatal incident late last month. The incident came the day after RMT held another round of talks on the issue with Network Rail. A road-rail dumper truck ran free for a quarter of a mile before hitting buffers at Bradford Interchange station on 25 March. The operator of the vehicle jumped clear before the impact and suffered minor bruising. RMT said the incident had 'echoes of the tragedy at Tebay in February 2004, in which four RMT members were killed by a runaway trolley' (Risks 543). An investigation by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) into the latest runaway is under way, but the union says the incident brings into sharp focus its demand for the introduction of a secondary protection mechanism to prevent further deaths and injuries. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Eight years after four of our members were killed at Tebay the relentless stream of runaways has still not stopped, and it is time that the secondary protection we are seeking was put in place. The Bradford incident took place the day after our latest round of talks and it underlines that this remains a serious problem and that it is deeds, not words, that will prevent further unnecessary loss of life.' He added: 'We are supposed to be working with Network Rail to develop a suitable mechanism but progress is still painfully slow and NR is not treating this issue with the urgency it deserves. Our members put their lives on the line to maintain the railway and they need action now - not after the next tragedy.'

Teachers blast 'reckless' safety cuts

The government's 'reckless' and 'simplistic' attitude to health and safety threatens to put the lives of children and adults in schools and colleges at risk, a teaching union has warned. Delegates at last week's annual conference of NASUWT condemned the removal of 'vital' health and safety protections in the workplace. Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: 'NASUWT research has shown time and time again that teachers are facing serious health and safety risks in schools as a result of high levels of stress, school buildings which are outdated and not fit for purpose, the presence of asbestos and excessive classroom temperatures. Despite the weight of this evidence, since coming to power the government has slashed the budget of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and announced plans to axe or reform 84 per cent of health and safety laws.' She said the government axe had already fallen on 'important' school safety rules. 'Over 140 pages of health and safety guidance for schools, including robust and detailed advice on protecting pupils on school trips, have been scrapped. This guidance provided schools and teachers with an important safeguard if things went wrong.' The union leader added: 'The coalition government's decision to sweep away this advice could make teachers more vulnerable. Parents will continue to expect schools to act in children's best interests. Parents should be extremely worried that the coalition government's cost-cutting measures could endanger their children and damage their education.' A government consultation on reducing regulations covering school premises closed in January. NASUWT's response warned the government's moves to deregulate safety are endangering the 'quality of the educational environment and the health, safety and welfare of children, young people and staff.'

Work pressure makes school staff sick

School workers are falling ill as a result of the pressure of their jobs, teaching unions have warned. ATL has said in the current academic year four in ten education staff have visited the doctor and a quarter taken sick leave because of job pressure. And NUT said excessive working hours are taking a toll on teachers' mental health. A survey by ATL found staff felt overwhelmingly that their job has a negative impact on their health and well-being (73 per cent). The main contributing factors were their workload (84 per cent), working long hours (69 per cent), the pressure of inspections (47 per cent), and the pressure of observations (40 per cent). The ATL survey found 43 per cent of all staff believed their workload has increased over the last two years, and for 36 per cent it has increased significantly. Half of all those surveyed said they usually work more than 50 hours a week. Just over 80 per cent of staff rated their current workload as high to extremely high. ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: 'The government doesn't seem to care about teachers' workload or their mental health and is showing a callous disregard for teachers' well-being in many of its policies. Schools and the government must work together to ensure the introduction of well-being programmes and better policies to look after the health of their staff.' NUT general secretary Christine Blower, whose union conference last week passed a motion warning of the impact on staff of spiralling workloads, said: 'Despite the government's supposed commitment to ensure that the pressure on teachers to work excessive hours is reduced there is no evidence to show that this is happening. Many classroom teachers, heads and deputies work in excess of 50 hours a week, which inevitably takes its toll not only on home life but also on teachers' mental health.'

Overheated schools cause lethargy

Many classrooms are so overheated that sweltering pupils are finding it impossible to study, a union survey suggests. NASUWT said its survey shows that one in three teachers have had to give lessons in temperatures that are over 30 degrees Celsius. Modern building design, with much more use of glass, was making the problem worse, the survey indicated. The union's general secretary, Chris Keates, said stifling conditions made pupils' behaviour more difficult. The survey, published last week at the union's conference in Birmingham, also found more than three quarters of teachers had faced classroom conditions above 24 degrees Celsius. A large majority of teachers said that such temperatures had an adverse impact on pupils' ability to learn. The reason that this was becoming a more urgent problem, said Ms Keates, was a combination of new school design and old buildings. There were new buildings where glass was used extensively in the design - but she said these did not always have sufficient ways to reduce the heat, such as blinds that could be pulled down by teachers. There were also problems with older buildings, including windows that could not be opened because of worries about security. These classrooms faced a build-up of heat that made it impossible to study. Teachers in the survey talked about both staff and pupils becoming lethargic and light-headed because of the temperatures. NASUWT believes there should be a legal maximum temperature for the workplace. The TUC (Risks 421) and unions including USDAW, Unite and BFAWU (Risks 523) have also pressed for a legal maximum temperature.

Bullies and cyberbullies blight schools

Over two-thirds of teachers have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying in the last 12 months and one in five teachers have left their job because of bullying from colleagues or managers, a survey by teaching union NASUWT has found. Over 3,000 teachers responded to the union's online survey. Over half of teachers who had been bullied said they experienced persistent, unjustified criticism and 45 per cent reported intimidatory use of discipline and competence procedures against them. Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, said: 'Unfortunately the culture of macho management and punitive accountability created by this government is enabling bullying to flourish. One of the first acts of the coalition was to abandon plans to record all incidents of bullying of staff and pupils. Concern for the health and welfare of the workforce is not high on the coalition's list of priorities. Indeed, it doesn't seem to appear at all.' NASUWT research also found many pupils are routinely using social media to abuse teachers online.

Border Force falls down on footwear

A UK Border Force worker slipped and suffered a catalogue of injuries because he hadn't been provided with the replacement work boots he had requested. Just a week before the incident the PCS member, whose name has not been released, had written to bosses saying he needed the new boots as a matter of urgency. It was the second time he had raised the issue but his requests were ignored. His fears that the seriously worn soles on his old boots would cause him to slip were realised in July 2011, when he fell from a foot high walkway at Dover Docks whilst he was monitoring lorries as part of his duties as an executive officer for the Border Force. The 47-year-old suffered a fractured elbow, jarring to his neck and exacerbated a previous knee injury. Eight months on and despite physiotherapy he is still not back to full duties. Lawyers brought in by PCS settled a compensation case out of court for £10,000. UK Border Force did not admit liability. PCS national officer Paul O'Connor commented: 'Our member had twice asked for a new pair of work boots but this simple request was ignored. For the cost of listening to its employees and a new pair of work boots the Border Force has paid out thousands of pounds and our member has gone through agony.' Gwen Wylie at Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by PCS to represent the injured worker, said: 'Having the correct footwear in the workplace may seem trivial - the government may call it health and safety madness - but as this accident shows, wearing work boots which are fit for purpose can mean the difference between being able to get on with your job or ending up in accident and emergency.'

Hospital injury shows need for proper staffing

A hospital worker needed two operations on her shoulder and had to take over a year off work after she was injured helping a 20-stone patient. The 53-year-old, whose name has not been released, has been left unable to lift heavy items with her left arm after the incident at Alcester Community Hospital in Warwickshire. The technical instructor in physiotherapy and a colleague were helping the patient to lean on a pulpit frame as part of his rehabilitation. Without warning he flung himself backwards onto a chair. The physiotherapy worker was catapulted with him, suffering a tear to the rotator cuff and bicep which needed two operations to repair. She has been told her shoulder is unlikely to improve. As a result she can no longer lift, cannot undertake certain job functions and in total has had to take 17 months off work. She has been able to return to work, but is now employed in the community with Warwickshire Primary Care Trust (PCT). Lawyers brought in by her union, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), argued that Warwickshire PCT should have made sure there was adequate staffing to move a very large patient. The patient's care plan required two members of staff to be present but union solicitors argued that this was clearly not enough. The PCT admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £25,000. Jess Belmonte, national officer at the CSP, said: 'Care plans should be written to take into account each patient's unique needs. It is clear that this care plan was flawed and that more members of staff were needed to help move a patient of this weight. As a result our member has suffered a painful injury which has had an impact on her home and work life.'

Train door slamming caused tinnitus

A train driver was left unable to carry out his job for a year after his hearing was damaged by an explosion-like bang of a faulty door. The ASLEF member, who is employed by Northern Rail Ltd and was driving a train from Manchester Oxford Road station to Liverpool Lime Street at the time of the incident, was left with tinnitus in his right ear which meant he was unable to drive trains for almost a year. The tinnitus - noises in the ear which can be extremely stressful - started when the gangway door leading from the driver's cab to the main part of the train burst open as he approached a station at 60mph. The driver, whose name has not been released, tried to secure the door and lock it at the next station but the door's lock was faulty and it slammed open again at another station, exposing him to another loud bang. Afterwards he noticed buzzing in his ear which became so bad he sought advice from a doctor. He was diagnosed with tinnitus which means he hears a constant ringing in his ear. It affects his sleep and means he is unable to concentrate on reading. As a result of the condition, company policy meant that he was unable to drive trains for a year and was put on light duties for six months. After receiving specialist treatment for his tinnitus he has been able to return to his job full-time. Lawyers brought in by ASLEF to act in the case negotiated an undisclosed out-of-court settlement after Northern Rail admitted liability. ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: 'Our member has been left with a permanent condition because this door hadn't been correctly checked for faults or properly maintained. Being unable to do your job for almost a full year is in itself both a financial strain and frustrating - but having to live with constant ringing in your ear for the rest of your life is very difficult to endure.'

Signal box fumes caused disabling chronic fatigue

A railway worker who was exposed to chemical fumes at work went onto to develop Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). It is not known if the 44-year-old, from Liskeard in Cornwall, will ever recover from the debilitating condition which has already seen him lose his job as a signalman for Network Rail. The RMT member, whose name has not been released, was exposed to the unidentified fumes escaping from a faulty electrical box whilst working at Lostwithiel signal box. The fumes caused him to become unwell immediately. Initially he suffered from a burning sensation in his chest and nose, dizziness and pain in his limbs. Over the following weeks and months his symptoms worsened. Now on some days he is in so much pain he cannot get out of bed. He suffers from poor memory and at times finds it difficult to breathe. He has been diagnosed with chemically induced CFS with a 60 per cent disability and can no longer work. Following the incident he attempted to return to his job but in the end was signed off on long term sick and eventually had his contract terminated. In a compensation case brought with support from union lawyers, Network Rail admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £37,000. Bob Crow, general secretary at RMT, commented: 'Signalmen play an important role in ensuring the railways run smoothly and are responsible for ensuring that millions of passengers reach their destinations on time. It isn't a lot to ask that Network Rail provide its employees with a safe environment to allow them to continue to do their job as best they can.' Kevin Digby from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by RMT to act in the case, added: 'Our client's life has been turned upside down by this accident which could have been avoided had this antiquated electrical box been updated and maintained properly. We hope this compensation will help him as he learns to adapt and cope with this debilitating condition.'

Other News

Daily Mail insane crowing on seagull rescue

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) myth busting challenge panel launched this week to counter the 'health and safety gone mad' stories that appear routinely in the press has had an inauspicious start. The Daily Mail, which has a history of running myth-propagating stories about health and safety 'jobsworths' and killjoys, was near the front of the queue with a referral to the panel. The paper wanted HSE's view on an incident last week when 25 fire-fighters called by RSPCA to rescue a gull decided it wasn't a justified use of resources, but stuck around in case a member of the public got in to difficulty in their own rescue bid. When HSE said it would take five days to get a response from the panel, the Daily Mail had got its headline: 'The Mail contacted the new health and safety Myth Buster panel and were told... Give us five days and we'll say if the firemen did the right thing.' However Judith Hackitt, the Chair of HSE, said on the day the mail story appeared "We have now had chance to examine the facts in this case and it is clear that it was not about health and safety at all. The fire service itself has made clear that their decisions at Carshalton were not based on health and safety factors. We endorse this view.' ' The panel's high profile launch a day earlier had been welcomed by health and safety minister Chris Grayling. He said: 'Common sense is the key to successful health and safety. The Myth Busters Challenge Panel will advise people where they think local authorities, insurance companies or schools have got it wrong.' But the Hazards Campaign had warned the panel was addressing the wrong problem. Before the gull left HSE's panel pondering its position, spokesperson Hilda Palmer had warned: 'The HSE is in danger of creating its own myths by wasting time and resources on this myth-busting exercise.' She called on HSE to 'get its priorities right and bust the real pernicious myths' around health and safety such as 'only 171 people were killed at work last year when the figure is nearer 50,000.' She added the government and HSE were promoting deadly myths of their own, including 'that the docks, quarries, agriculture, manufacturing and transport are all so 'low hazard' that preventive lifesaving inspections are banned despite the fact that the death rates are well above average.'

HSE confirms docks rules are for the chop

A union prediction that essential safety rules protecting dockworkers were to be targeted as part of the government's drive to cull or revise 84 per cent of workplace safety regulations (Risks 549) has been confirmed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The Docks Regulations 1988 are included in the latest list of regulations HSE has lined up for the axe, despite a union warning this will lead to the removal of safeguards in an industry with a fatality rate at least five times and possibly over 20 times the national average (Risks 547). Importantly, removing the regulations will mean an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP), which dock unions believe provides important industry-specific rules, would also go, to be replaced by guidance. The HSE consultation document published last week seeks views on the axing of one Act, 12 sets of Regulations and one Order, as well as the withdrawal of approval for one ACoP - all of which, according to the HSE, are either redundant or have been superseded by more up-to-date legislation, or they have not delivered anticipated benefits. Most of the targeted laws are archaic, but more recent regulations including the docks regulations, the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989 and the Notification of Conventional Tower Cranes Regulations 2010 are likely to prove more contentious candidates. A consultation on the first seven statutory instruments lined up for the chop closed on 12 March (Risks 540).

Controversy over accident reporting changes

A dramatic reduction in the number of workplace injuries required to be reported by employers will deliver scant savings to business but could mean early warnings of problems are missed. Since 6 April, employers have not been required to report to the Health and Safety Executive injuries that keep workers off normal duties for seven or fewer days. Previously three day plus injuries were reportable. Employers will also be given 15 days, rather than 10, to report an incident. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) says the changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995 will see a fall of around 30 per cent in the number of incidents that must be reported by law - an average of around 30,000 fewer reports a year. It estimates the move could save businesses 10,000 hours a year. Health and safety minister Chris Grayling said: 'We want less red tape for business, and these measures should save companies thousands of hours a year. We are freeing them from the burdens of unnecessary bureaucracy, while making sure serious incidents are properly investigated.' But Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, commented: 'This will do absolutely nothing to improve the health and safety record of UK employers or make workplaces safer. There will be 30,000 fewer accidents reported, which is not the same as 30,000 fewer accidents.' Unions believe records of less serious incidents could provide valuable intelligence which could help prevent future more serious problems. The plans were also ridiculed by the business lobby. John Longworth, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said 'the government's own figures show that this will only save firms £240,000 annually, which in the grand scheme of things, is tiny.' The saving equates to 5p per business per year. In 2008, the Health and Safety Executive estimated the cost of a single workplace fatality was £1.5m. Each occupational cancer prevented would save society considerably more than this, government estimates suggest. Unions argue this shows protective, preventive regulation backed up by enforcement easily and quickly pays for itself - delivering benefits to business and society as a whole.

Shiftworkers face diabetes and obesity risk

Shiftworkers getting too little sleep at the wrong time of day may be increasing their risk of diabetes and obesity, according to a new study. The researchers are calling for more measures to reduce the impact of shiftworking. In the study, the team from Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US controlled the lives of 21 people, including meal and bedtimes. The results, published this week in Science Translational Medicine, showed changes to normal sleep meant the body struggled to control sugar levels. Some participants even developed early symptoms of diabetes within weeks. The 21 health-trial participants started with 10 hours' sleep at night. This was followed by three weeks of disruption to their sleep and body clocks. The length of the day was extended to 28 hours, creating an effect similar to a full-time flyer constantly getting jet lag. Participants were allowed only 6.5 hours' sleep in the new 28-hour day, equivalent to 5.6 hours in a normal day. They also lived in dim light to prevent normal light resetting the body clock. Sugar levels and insulin control were disrupted, with three of the participants showing sugar levels which stayed so high after their meals they were classified as 'pre-diabetic.' The study also highlighted a risk of putting on weight as the body slowed down. 'The 8 per cent drop in resting metabolic rate that we measured in our participants... translates into a 12.5-pound increase in weight over a single year,' the authors noted. Lead researcher Dr Orfeu Buxton said: 'We think these results support the findings from studies showing that, in people with a pre-diabetic condition, shiftworkers who stay awake at night are much more likely to progress to full-on diabetes than day workers. Since night workers often have a hard time sleeping during the day, they can face both circadian [body clock] disruption working at night and insufficient sleep during the day. The evidence is clear that getting enough sleep is important for health, and that sleep should be at night for best effect.' A study last year found women working certain shifts had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Risks 535).

  • OM Buxton and others. Adverse metabolic consequences in humans of prolonged sleep restriction combined with circadian disruption, Science Translational Medicine, volume 4, number 129, 11 April 2012 [abstract and related news release].
  • BBC News Online.
  • The Huffington Post.

Another seven figure fine for Network Rail

Network Rail has been fined £4m over the Grayrigg crash in Cumbria in which an 84-year-old woman died and 88 people were injured. Margaret Masson died after the Virgin train derailed on the West Coast Main Line in February 2007, after going over a 'degraded' set of points. At an earlier hearing in the prosecution brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd had admitted criminal health and safety breaches (Risks 546). Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers' union ASLEF, commented: 'As predicted, Network Rail received a meaningless fine and no one is truly being held accountable. Even though Network Rail pleaded guilty and admitted health and safety breaches, the senior managers still walk away without sanction or a stain on their name.' He added: 'Company bosses ignore health and safety laws and simply hide behind a faceless company when things go wrong... They should be held personally responsible for the breaches that lead to passenger injury and death.' Speaking ahead of the sentencing, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The harsh reality is that any financial penalty on Network Rail as a result of this action will simply come out of the budget for maintenance increasing the likelihood of another Grayrigg in the future.' He added: 'The ORR which has brought the prosecution has also been demanding the cuts that led to Grayrigg in the first place as it is both financial controller and safety regulator in the insane world of rail privatisation. RMT will not let them off the hook for their responsibility for the cuts programme that results from their dual role.' Mrs Masson's family said they found it 'offensive' that as taxpayers they would be contributing to the fine. The prosecution comes less than a month after Network Rail was fined £1m for criminal safety offences related to the death of two schoolgirls on a level crossing. The judge said the firm was guilty of 'culpable corporate blindness' (Risks 548).

Firm fined after driver impaled on steel tube

A Darlington engineering firm has faced a criminal prosecution after a delivery driver was seriously injured when a 6cm diameter steel bar passed through his chest. Jason Ripley, 42, was delivering timber to Henry Williams Group Limited when the incident happened on 19 August 2008. Darlington Magistrates' Court was told a horizontal swing barrier on the site, which consisted of a six metre long, 60mm diameter steel tube, had been left open by a Henry Williams Group employee to allow Mr Ripley access to the unloading point. Mr Ripley had reversed his flat bed lorry through the open barrier so that timber on the left side could be unloaded. However, the court was told that as he drove toward the open barrier on his way through, the end of the horizontal bar was not visible. It had partially swung back into the carriage way and the surrounding foliage and its face-on position made it difficult to see. The bar hit the bonnet, breaking through the windscreen of the lorry and impaling Mr Ripley through the chest. The tube entered his chest on the right side, smashing three ribs and causing damage to one lung. The pole caused a 3-4 inch diameter exit wound in his back. He raised the alarm himself, calling his employer on his mobile phone. After being cut free by fire-fighters, he was airlifted to hospital with part of the barrier still embedded in his chest. Mr Ripley was off work for 10 weeks but has since made a full recovery. A Health and Safety Executive investigation found Henry Williams Group Ltd had failed to assess the risks involved with vehicles driving on and off the site and there was no means of securing the swing barrier in the open position. Henry Williams Group Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,424.80.


Bangladesh: Dangerous work campaigner is brutally killed

A Bangladeshi union rights activist and former garment worker was tortured and murdered last week in the country's capital Dhaka, according to authorities. Aminul Islam's body was dumped outside of the city and was found by local police on 5 April. According to the police report, the body bore signs of brutal torture. Workers' rights organisations in Bangladesh and the United States believe the killing is associated with Aminul's work on behalf of garment workers employed by suppliers to major US retailers and brands. Aminul had worked for several years as a labour rights organiser. His organisation, the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), was featured in a recent ABC TV News story exposing the relationship of US brands to a sweatshop factory fire in Dhaka that killed 29 workers last year (Risks 487). US-based campaign groups the Worker Rights Consortium and the International Labor Rights Forum say BCWS and its staff have been the target of a campaign of harassment by the Bangladeshi government and apparel factory owners for two years. The organisation's licence to operate was revoked and Aminul and two of his colleagues were jailed in 2010. Their release was secured only after international pressure. On the evening of 4 April this year, Aminul received a call from a worker urgently seeking assistance. He left home to meet the worker and was never heard from again. Earlier in the day he had closed the BCWS office early, after noticing a police van parked outside the premises. Labour rights organisations in the US and Bangladesh are calling for a full investigation of the murder and for those responsible to be brought to justice.


India: Taking education into the stone quarries

A union-backed mobile school is providing education for children in India who might otherwise be employed in some of the most hazardous industries around. The school-on-wheels is based in Jodhpur in the Western State of Rajasthan, and will serve families working in the stone quarrying industry. It will educate 118 children aged between 6 and 14 years old at two settlements supplying labour to several stone quarries. It will also provide transportation to hospital for injured or sick workers in emergency situations. The Jodhpur Jila Patthar Khan Mazdoor Sangathan union (JJPKMS), an affiliate of the global union federation BWI, will be responsible for the CHILD LEARN school's operation. Kalu Ram Bhati, the union's general secretary, said 'these settlements of stone quarry workers do not exist on government records, hence they are deprived of schooling, medical and other facilities.' The CHILD LEARN board is investigating ways of extending the education initiative to communities working in brick kilns and forestry, including migrant workers. Mobile health units could also be developed.

USA: Amazon warehouse jobs push workers to the limit

Claims by web retail giant Amazon that it has an industry beating safety record have been called into question. The company ships merchandise to consumers from 69 warehouses - known as "fulfilment centres" - in the United States, Europe and Asia. The network has expanded rapidly with 17 centres opened in the past year. But a federal lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania and interviews by The Seattle Times with a physician and more than 40 current and former warehouse workers in Washington and Kentucky suggest that the impressive injury figures Amazon is reporting may not tell the whole story. In the lawsuit, settled in July last year, Amazon warehouse worker Paul Grady said a warehouse safety worker in Allentown, Pennsylvania, instructed him to tell emergency workers that his hip injury was not work-related, even though he says it was. Three former workers at another Amazon warehouse told The Seattle Times there was pressure to manage work-related injuries so they would not have to be reported to OSHA, the federal safety watchdog, such as attributing injuries to pre-existing conditions or treating wounds in a way that did not trigger federal reports. A former warehouse safety official said in-house medical staff were asked to treat wounds, when possible, with bandages rather than refer workers to a doctor for stitches, a treatment that could require federal reports. And warehouse officials tried to advise doctors on how to treat injured workers. 'We had doctors who refused to work with us because they would have managers call and argue with them,' he said. Dave Clark, Amazon's vice president for global customer fulfilment, says the company offers its workers financial incentives tied to safety. Those payments can be affected by the number of injuries at the facility, and also by individual tasks - such as whether an employee follows the rules for using and properly storing equipment, employees said.

USA: Regulatory axe aims to speed up chicken plants

A plan to privatise meat inspection in the US linked to a government assault on regulation has been criticised widely for putting public health at risk. But the 'despicable plan' will have other casualties, primarily workers in the already notoriously hazardous sector. According to law professor Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform: 'The proposed rollback would make corporate owners rather than federal inspectors responsible for scrutinising slaughtered carcasses to ensure they are free of blood, guts, and (euphemistically) 'faecal matter.' The new rule would save the federal government about $39 million annually - a small amount that accounts for the savings at USDA when a few hundred inspectors are offloaded. But the proposal would save the poultry industry an estimated $259 million annually.' Steinzor explains how workers will lose out as the companies cash in. 'Because without federal inspectors checking individual carcasses as they flash by on an already back-breaking assembly line, multi-billion dollar companies like Pilgrim's Pride, Perdue, and Tyson's will be able speed up those lines considerably, requiring workers to process as many as 175 birds per minute or three birds per second while still checking for faecal matter and other nasty detritus. Or, in other words, the existing workforce, with a smattering of additions (about one position for each of the 219 covered plants) - no big job development here! - will be put in the insufferable position of working that much faster, with the added responsibility of safeguarding public health.' Unions, food safety and public health groups are opposing the changes, part of a government move to reduce regulation on business.

Events and Courses

The world is gearing up for 28 April...

Unions and campaigners are gearing up for 28 April, Workers' Memorial Day - the largest annual health and safety event anywhere in the world. This year looks set to top last year's record number of activities in over 70 countries, when hundreds of thousands of workers participated everywhere from Angola to Vietnam. Global union federation ITUC and UK-based Hazards magazine are tracking the events, resources and strategies unions and safety campaign groups are employing worldwide to publicise workers' rights to a safe workplace and to expose efforts by governments to deregulate safety. There's a Google map which will pinpoint events worldwide and constantly updated ITUC/Hazards facebook and webpages. In the UK, the TUC has called a Day of Action on 28 April. It says with safety facing an unprecedented attack from the government, the national action will 'make it clear that we want clear commitments and action from those who should be protecting us.' It adds: 'Join any events in your area on that day and demonstrate that we will not give up our right to a safe workplace.'

TUC courses for safety reps


Useful Links

  • Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
  • Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
  • HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
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