issue no 29 - 24 November 2001
Risks is the TUCs weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 2,500 subscribers and 1,000 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer Privacy The TUC website lists future health and safety events in Whats On - new events are covered below.
People in Britain want to see more companies prosecuted for breaking health and safety laws and more health and safety inspectors to catch them, according to a telephone poll conducted for the TUC last weekend. More than twice as many people said that they want to see more rather than fewer health and safety prosecutions (45 per cent to 19 per cent). Overall, two thirds (66 per cent) of those expressing a view said there are not enough health and safety inspectors. TUCs Frances O'Grady told a joint TUC and Centre for Corporate Accountability conference on 21 November: 'The public clearly want more prosecutions so that employers who injure their workers are held accountable.' David Bergman, director of the Centre for Corporate Accountability, said: 'The law needs to be more adequately and rigorously enforced and companies and directors need to be held to account when their negligent or reckless conduct causes death or injury.' Last year there were 376 work-related fatalities, 30 per cent of which are likely to lead to an employer being prosecuted. In only four cases are manslaughter charges likely.
Prospect, the union representing HSE inspectors, has launched a campaign to increase HSE funding. The Prospect campaign comes after HSE figures released this summer showed a dramatic rise in the number of people killed at work. Prospect joint general secretary Paul Noon said: 'The cost of putting in place a framework of safety inspections with enough inspectors to carry them out would only be about £35m extra in real terms each year. We want this money spent on doubling the number of safety inspectors so that workplaces are inspected at least every five years. Currently, employers can expect to be inspected once every 10-15 years, if at all.' And Michael Clapham MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary occupational safety and health group, backed the campaign. 'While the government is setting more ambitious targets, which increase the executives workload, it has not given enough grant-in-aid to achieve them. We simply need more inspectors and more resources for the HSE and local councils.'
A police investigation has been launched after an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing on a builder who was crushed to death by a wall. David Clifford Higgins died at a building site in the hamlet of Carey, near Ross-on-Wye, in April last year. A team of police officers will now work with the HSE and the Crown Prosecution Service in the investigation.
A leading Shropshire farmer has been jailed for 15 months for the manslaughter of a 16-year-old employee. Alastair Crow, 33, was also told he would have to pay £10,000 costs towards his two-week trial. His father Edward Crow, 61, was sentenced to 12 months, suspended for one year and also ordered to pay £10,000 costs. Both had denied the manslaughter of trainee farm manager Lee Smith, of Grinshill, who was killed when the JCB farm vehicle he was driving was struck by a lorry. Sentencing them at Birmingham Crown Court last month, the judge Mr Justice McKay said that 'over a period of just over four months both of you knew about, condoned and shut your eyes to a practice whereby this young man was allowed on a regular basis to drive a heavy, powerful and dangerous machine, on the farm and on public roads - a machine on which he had received no training at all." The jury had heard that a health and safety inspector had given verbal and written instructions that Lee should not drive the JCB until receiving training.
Swindon-based civil engineering contractor Crapper and Sons has been fined £10,000 after a site agent was crushed to death by an excavator. Roland Hillier-Paul, 43, died after climbing onto an excavator to check the quality of topsoil he had ordered. But the excavator turned, causing him to fall into its path, and crushed his abdomen and chest. Swindon Crown Court heard that Hillier-Paul was not made aware of safety rules before climbing onto the machine. The death in May last year was the second fatality at the family firm in just over three years.
Tougher laws on workplace deaths are to be introduced in an Australian state. The Crimes (Workplace Deaths and Serious Injuries) Bill was tabled in the Victorian parliament this week. Under the new law, companies whose gross negligence causes the death of a worker will face fines up to $5 million (£1.8 million). Senior officers of those companies face five years' jail or fines up to £60,000. Attorney General Rob Hulls said the laws would remove the corporate veil from directors who liquidated their companies to avoid prosecution. "It's specifically targeted at those rogue employers who don't give a damn about workplace safety," he said. Victoria's union movement promised mass rallies and a campaign aimed at employer groups if proposed industrial manslaughter laws are blocked by the conservative parties in Victoria's upper house. At a rally on the steps of parliament on 22 November, unions and other supporters said employers meeting their obligations to provide healthy and safe workplaces had nothing to fear from the new laws. Leigh Hubbard, secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, said: 'This Bill is a step forward, but is not the be all and end all of workplace health and safety.'
A special fund has been set up for the victims of the explosion at the Corus steelworks in Port Talbot. Members of the ISTC trade union have been collecting cash in the Aberafan shopping centre in the centre of Port Talbot for the families affected. Money will also be donated to Swansea's Morriston Hospital, where the victims of the 8 November blast are still being treated. Five men remain in a critical condition in the specialist burns unit of the hospital, while four are recovering on general wards. The union has said that they have had a "fantastic response" from the community. The HSE, which is carrying out an inquiry jointly with South Wales Police, has said it could be three weeks before investigators are able to access the site.
General union GMB has launched the latest phase of its Asbestos: Its still a killer initiative. The union says that over the next five years key aims will include lobbying the HSE to introduce a duty on building owners and employers to manage asbestos in buildings and pressing the government to establish a National Asbestos Register to identify where asbestos is located in the UK. GMB adds that it will press the European Commission 'to improve worker protection, training and awareness of asbestos across all Member States, to improve the enforcement of asbestos laws across all Member States.' The union says it will campaign for a worldwide ban on asbestos and will urge the government 'to investigate the whole insurance industry in the UK to ensure they will fully meet their future liabilities in relation to asbestos compensation claims.'
New HSC proposals are designed to reduce the threat to workers' lives caused by asbestos, said Timothy Walker, director general of the HSE. In a speech to a GMB conference in Newcastle, Walker added that HSCs new consultative document on asbestos risks management in the workplace says the main duty still remains on the employer, but a duty will also be placed on other parties who legally have maintenance and repair responsibilities for any part of the building. Mr Walker said that under the new duty, enforcing authorities would ensure 'building workers and others who maintain or refurbish buildings get the right information to enable them to protect themselves.' He added: "To rise to the challenge of getting the message across to all these people about the new duty, we will be relying in part on the support of bodies like the GMB which, I know, has already done much awareness-raising work on asbestos issues."
Barking and Dagenham Council's gardeners breathed a sigh of relief when ex-military man and GMB union safety rep Dave Radford helped dispose of a bomb. The team was operating the local authority's soil sifting machine at a soil storage heap, when they came across a Second World War incendiary device. Dave, 41, a council gardener, used his expertise to identify the explosive and call in the bomb squad. Dave's manager, Jim Ventris, congratulated the quick-witted employee saying: "It was certainly a stroke of luck that Dave was the man who discovered the bomb. The staff reacted professionally closing the park and were an example for us all in dealing with an emergency, calmly and effectively."
The HSE will need more resources if it is to implement the main recommendations of a new official report on managing occupational road risk, says the TUC. Deaths and injuries on the road could be reduced by applying existing safety management systems to occupational road activities, says a new report from the Work-related Road Safety Task Group which makes 18 recommendations, including: health and safety law should be more rigorously applied to on-the-road work activities; the HSE should produce guidance to help employers manage at-work road safety; and mechanisms for closer working between enforcing authorities should be put in place. TUC general secretary John Monks welcomed the report, saying: 'It's time to end the hidden scandal of work-related deaths on the road. One thousand deaths a year is nearly three times the number of workers killed at the workplace and accounts for nearly a third of all road traffic deaths.'
The government has launched a scheme under which National Health Service (NHS) hospitals will sell occupational health services to private companies. 'NHS Plus' will offer companies services including counselling, immunisation, pre-employment screening and medical examinations, with the revenue generated being reinvested back into NHS Trusts, health minister Hazel Blears said. The Department of Health says 100 NHS occupational health departments have already joined the service, generating a turnover of £10 million. Bill Callaghan, HSC chair, praised the initiative and offered the full support of the Commission and Executive. TUCs Owen Tudor called for more funding to provide a universal quality service, and said: 'We are always told that what matters is what works - so this is the NHS chance to excel. Unions support this initiative, because people at work want to stay that way!'
Three out of four junior doctors are at potentially high risk of HIV infection at some time during their careers, shows a survey in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections. Yet two thirds were unaware that they could be treated immediately afterwards to minimise the risk of infection. A study at two London teaching hospitals assessed knowledge of treatments after exposure to HIV, known as post exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Only 8 per cent of the doctors could name the recommended PEP drugs and over four out of 10 were unable to identify any. Almost a third did not know that these drugs needed to be given within an hour of exposure. Three out of four of the doctors surveyed reported that they had been at high risk of exposure to potentially infective material at some stage in their careers. Up to 1997, 95 definite and 191 possible cases of occupationally acquired HIV infection had been reported, 16 per cent of which were in doctors or medical students.
A new, purpose-built Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton has been given the go-ahead and will be financed under the controversial Private Finance Initiative, health and safety minister Alan Whitehead has said. The new facility, to be built on HSL's existing site at Buxton, 'will replace a number of old and defective buildings in Sheffield and Buxton and will be used to conduct experimental work, such as the investigation of fires and explosives'. Construction work, due to be completed Summer 2004, will be funded through a public private partnership. Alan Whitehead said: "Having considered carefully the Business Case for this project, it is clear that the Concession Agreement that HSL has negotiated with ICB under the Private Finance Initiative, provides the best value for money.' HSE inspectors union Prospect warns: 'The viability and integrity of the Health and Safety Executives world-renowned laboratory service is being put at risk by the private finance initiative.' It says HSL could lose highly skilled staff and would be less cost-effective to run, and adds the PFI move would cost more than refurbishing the existing sites.
In the recent rush for protection against biochemical attacks, some postal workers, police, airport security personnel and ordinary citizens may have been exposed to another serious threat - severe allergic reaction to latex rubber gloves. Allergic reaction to latex affects from 1 to 6 percent of the US population and can cause symptoms ranging from minor rashes, hives and difficulty breathing to brain damage and death. The Center for Disease Control has warned specifically against powdered latex gloves, noting that the powder can become airborne and cause inhalation of latex proteins. "It can be life-threatening," said Mary Foley, president of the American Nurses Association.
The International Federation of Journalists has urged journalists and media organisations to avoid unsafe front-line reporting and not to travel without protection in Afghanistan after four more journalists perished in a roadside ambush near Kabul - bringing to seven the toll of media deaths in Afghanistan the past week. The IFJ says that 2001 is becoming one of the worst years on record for the killings of journalists with some 90 cases of media staff deaths under investigation. "How many reporters have to die, before we get the message across that safety must come before the story?" said IFJs Aidan White. The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in 100 countries.
The TUC has responded with concern to the HSCs consultative letter, issued on 23 November, which seeks to restrict the public information available about contained use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The Commission is proposing that, in the light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the addresses of facilities where GMOs which could be used by terrorists should be kept secret on the say-so of a Minister, where national security is at risk. The TUC supports that precaution (which would not only protect the public from attacks, but could also protect workers in GM facilities from break-ins etc). However, the proposal also allows Ministers to withhold the fact that certain work is going on at all, including genetic modification of viruses such as anthrax. The TUC says 'this would give Ministers the power to cover up the fact that anthrax and worse is being modified genetically - we think that sort of knowledge is too important to keep secret from the public and unions representing workers who might be exposed.'
At least 40 people have been killed in a landslide at an abandoned gold mine in western Colombia. Civil defence and Red Cross workers rushed to the site in the town of Filadelfia, in the province of Caldas. Officials say up to 200 gold-seekers had entered the abandoned mine, which had been officially closed due to its poor safety record. In April, seven miners were killed by a landslide in an open pit gold mine in the Choco Province.
Officials in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi have ordered all small coal mines to halt production for safety checks after more than 50 miners were killed in a series of gas explosions in the past week. In the latest incidents, 14 miners were killed after an explosion at a pit near Jincheng, and the same number were trapped following a blast at another mine at Datong. China's coal industry is the world's largest, but also one of its deadliest, with 5,300 deaths reported last year alone in mining accidents.
The Australian Industrial Relations Commission has begun hearings on the first case to define general working hours since 1947. ACTU, the Australian national union confederation, says its reasonable hours test case seeks to establish guidelines on excessive hours of work. ACTU President Sharan Burrow said evidence to be presented in the case would show Australian full time employees have the second longest working hours in the developed world, including unprecedented levels of unpaid overtime - only South Korea has longer hours, and their working time is decreasing, not increasing. Hearings before a five-member full bench of the Commission are expected to last two weeks. A decision is expected next year.
The South African Labour Court has ruled that transport company Metrorail invaded workers' common-law and constitutional rights to privacy and to bodily and psychological integrity by introducing compulsory testing for drugs and alcohol. Dozens of Metrorail workers had been disciplined for refusing to be tested for alcohol since the policy was instituted four months ago. In a statement, transport union Satawu welcomed the ruling, adding: 'Satawu has never been opposed to negotiating a substance abuse policy with Metrorail, inclusive of a provision for voluntary testing. However the union will not accept an approach that seeks to deal with substance abuse in an authoritarian way.'
A new study indicates that the introduction in March 1995 of a workplace smoking control law in Finland has led to 'significant' reductions in smoking. Investigators from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found the incidence of smoking decreased from 29.6 to 25.0 per cent and was significant for both men and women. The average number of cigarettes consumed daily by smokers fell from 19 to 16 and airborne nicotine pollution in industrial and white collar workplaces also fell. Finnish unions add that a recent tightening of legislation on smoking in restaurants and cafeterias has 'resulting in a remarkable fall in exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work for tens of thousands of employees in the catering industry.'
Respiratory specialists say hundreds of thousands of people with asthma may have developed the disease from their workplace. Experts from the American College of Allergy, Asthmas and Immunology report about five per cent of all adult asthmas cases can be linked to workplace substances. The doctors believe there are two ways to get asthma from the workplace. The most common way is when a person has constant exposure to allergens such as latex. Another way is to be exposed to an irritant such as chlorine. In October, the TUC won a ten-year battle for legal controls on asthma hazards in UK workplaces ( Risks 23 ).
Keeping well @ work - a TUC guide is the TUCs new handbook on the most common health risks at work and how to tackle them. Issues covered include: tackling stress at work; workplace violence; bullying; new health issues like PMS, muscle aches and strains; what to expect from your doctor; your rights and the regulations; and personal injury claims. TV doc Dr Phil Hammond said: 'Armed with this book, I confidently predict youll know more about occupational health than your boss and your doctor put together.' And Neasa MacErlean, work editor, The Observer, said the book 'gives hundreds of tips and insights for people who want to stay fit and healthy. It is interesting, easy to read, full of practical suggestions - and one of surprisingly few books on the subject for employees.'
Only newly announced events, events next week and very important events will be listed here in future. But there is a comprehensive listing of health and safety events on the TUC website - bookmark it for easy reference!
A TUC organised seminar in London aimed at union and workplace reps, employers and managers, intended to help make everyone take workplace bullying seriously. £11.75 TUC member organisations; £23.50 employers - registration form and details.
Workers' Memorial Day 2002, 28 April
TUC is planning to highlight occupational health, including access to occupational health services, and rehabilitation. Ask your union for details of Workers Memorial Day events or organise your own. Hazards magazine round up of Workers Memorial Day resources.
European Week of Health and Safety 2002, 14-21 October
Next years week will take place in Britain from 14 October, on the theme of stress.
Visit the TUC health and safety website or the main TUC website pages on health and safety. See whats on offer from TUC Publications and Whats On in health and safety.
January to March:
Wales Scotland Southern and Eastern (plus COSHH Essentials courses) South West North West Northern Yorkshire and Humberside
Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
Whats 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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Issued: 24 November, 2001