Risks 283 - 18 November 2006

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Number 283 - 18 November 2006

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Hazards logo - warning signEditor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 14,000 subscribers and 1,500 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 and Privacy statement .

Verbal abuse mars working lives of teachers

Verbal abuse is marring teachers' working lives, a conference has heard. Speaking ahead of last week's NASUWT bullying conference Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, said: 'Constant challenges to authority, refusal to obey school rules, offensive remarks and swearing are marring teachers' working lives. The extent of this behaviour is still underestimated. NASUWT has called for a national register of physical and verbal assaults on workers and has the backing of the TUC for this initiative.' NASUWT national executive member John Rimmer added: 'Teachers are still being subjected to verbal abuse and threatening behaviour on a daily basis. It continues to be one of the main reasons teachers leave the profession. A consistent strategy for dealing with pupils must be applied nationally.' He added: 'Governing bodies have a legal duty to ensure the safety of employees in the workplace and to report criminal acts that take place at the school to the police and ensure that where a teacher is physically assaulted by a pupil, that pupil is permanently excluded. Zero tolerance to verbal abuse and threatening behaviour is the only way forward.' Schools minister Jim Knight told the conference bullying of teachers was 'absolutely intolerable.' He said: 'There is absolutely no place for violence, threatening behaviour or abuse in schools,' adding: 'I fully back the Heads who stand up for their staff and pupils by removing or prosecuting anyone - whether pupil or parent - who does not respect that.' A drama production, 'Slipping Up', jointly funded by NASUWT, UNISON and NUT, was unveiled at the conference and deals with risk assessment for stress and violence at work, older workers and the role of health and safety representatives in the workplace.

Scots campaign against betting shop abuse

Betting shop union Community is backing a Scottish Executive campaign to encourage workers to report all incidents of abuse. Heather Meldrum, Community organiser for Scotland, said: 'We're launching this campaign to raise awareness of the issue of violence against betting shop workers and encourage them to report it, however small and insignificant they think it is, because only then can we get a picture of the scale of the abuse. 'A lot of workers face daily abuse, including verbal abuse, spitting, and physical violence.' She added: 'A lot of the time they don't report it because they think it's part and parcel of the job but no one should have to put up with it. Once we get an idea of the scale and type of abuse that occurs we can tackle it more effectively.' In a bid to improve reporting, the union is operating an online and telephone incident reporting system. Community is also campaigning on other issues important to betting shop staff, including working hours, unpaid overtime, shop security, safety, single staffing, pay and proper consultation over industry changes. The Scottish Executive's 'Bang Out of Order' campaign against workplace violence includes an online reporting form.

End of the line for rail violence

Rail workers are demanding more be done to tackle violence on trains and at stations across the north of England. Staff at Northern Rail, which operates services across the region, are calling for a zero tolerance approach, according to the RMT union. The union wants more station and on-train staff, a more visible police presence, a ban on alcohol on some services and a zero tolerance approach to infringement of railway bylaws. A petition, which RMT says has already been signed by the 'vast majority of Northern Rail conductors and station staff', also calls for managers to be on hand late at night and at weekends to provide support and to co-ordinate resources, and for stations to remain open until the departure of the last train. The RMT campaign is supported by MPs, who last week tabled a commons motion calling on Northern Rail and the British Transport Police to act to stem rising anti-social behaviour and abuse on the railways. 'The statistics tell the sorry story of more and more violence against railway staff, particularly late at night and at weekends, and our members are telling Northern Trains that they have reached the end of the line,' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said. 'We will work with anyone who can help stop the violence - but Northern Rail really do not have the option of failing to respond positively to this campaign.' British Transport Police said officers worked closely with Northern Rail staff to tackle violence, adding it had launched numerous schemes, such as issuing DNA swab kits to rail staff, and saying there had been a senior BTP officer seconded to Northern Rail since February.

Support for Scotland's seasonal shop shutdown

Retail union Usdaw has welcomed a report by MSPs backing a new bill that aims to stop large stores from opening their doors on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Thousands of Usdaw members have lobbied their MSPs to back the bill put forward by Labour backbencher Karen Whitefield. The bill now has the backing of the Justice 2 Committee, which voted in favour of plans to keep both days special. 'Usdaw members across Scotland are delighted they've won the support of the influential Justice 2 Committee who have very carefully analysed all the evidence from both sides of this debate,' said Usdaw general secretary John Hannett. 'We made a very strong submission to the committee that allowing big stores to open their doors on those days would ruin the festive season for our members and would undermine the traditional Hogmanay family celebrations shopworkers have enjoyed for generations.' He said shopworkers were 'worried they would have to work on those days and that would further erode precious family time in what is already the most deregulated retail environment in Europe. This is a victory for common sense and our members will continue to lobby MSPs from across the political spectrum to make sure they are fully aware of the huge support for this bill from shoppers and shopworkers in their constituencies.'

Poisonous package leads to payout

A TGWU member who was taken ill after being exposed to toxic fumes at work is to receive £1,200 compensation. Tony Green from Solihull was employed as a stock controller by Yuasa of Birmingham, one of the world's largest manufacturers and suppliers of valve regulated lead-acid batteries. The June 2004 incident occurred when a package was exposed to the rain and began to smoke. Mr Green went to help workmates handling the smoking package. A security officer was called and then the head of security but neither was able to stop the smoke. 'The package that contained the toxic material should have been taken out before the containers were brought on site but Yuasa failed to check that this had been done,' said Tony Green. 'It was a terrible experience. I was aware of a fishy smell. Subsequently I felt nauseated and developed a headache and was breathless. My eyes were sore and so were my throat and mouth. My wife Pauline and I went on our annual holiday the next day and spent the whole time worrying that I'd have a relapse.' It was later determined the package contained phosphine, which made the exposed workers unwell. All had hospital checks. Eric McDonald, from the TGWU in Birmingham, said: 'We see far too many cases of our members being poisoned by chemicals at work and as a union we are determined to expose those that do so.' Sian Thompson from Thompsons Solicitors' Birmingham office, who represented Mr Green, said: 'Given the toxic material that Mr Green was exposed to, his injuries could have been much more serious. Hopefully this will remind other local employers of their duty of care to employees from a health and safety perspective.'

Union cuts traffic accident deal for teenage butcher

A teenage TGWU member from Devon has secured £4,000 in compensation after being hit by a car as he used a zebra crossing. Butcher James Broom, 19, was injured in August 2004 when a driver failed to give way at the crossing. He sustained an injury to the soft tissue of his knee and was unable to work. James Broom said: 'As a result I was off work for two months and on returning to work I was sadly made redundant at the end of February 2006.' He added: 'Before the accident I was unaware that my union membership covered accidents outside of work.' Steve White, from TGWU's Taunton office, said: 'James Broom's claim demonstrates the importance of union members using their union's legal service for non-work related accidents. Motor insurance companies are increasingly referring claimants to their own panel solicitors, who may not provide the same independent legal advice as trade union solicitors.'

Work injury forces octogenarian's retirement

A Sheffield octogenarian has had to give up work after sustaining a serious workplace injury. John Moffatt, 80, received a £5,000 out-of-court settlement from his former employer after suffering the shoulder injury at work in January 2005. At the time he was working part-time as a general handyman for Flex-Seal Couplings in Barnsley. His boot became caught as he manoeuvred a hydraulic pump truck full of empty pallets, causing him to fall heavily. He said: 'I was in immediate pain and felt badly shaken and dazed. I tried to pull myself up but was unable to do so because of the pain so had to sit for about 10 minutes before managing to get myself up and see a colleague who took me to the first aid room.' A series of hospital visits determined Mr Moffatt had suffered muscle damage known as a rotator cuff tear and at some point may need a shoulder replacement. He was also told that he would never regain the full use of his arm. He now needs assistance around the house with things such as DIY and decorating. He commented: 'The thing I miss the most is not being able to go ballroom dancing with my wife as this is something we have both done for many years and thoroughly enjoy.' His legal adviser, Lynne Parker of personal injury firm Irwin Mitchell, said: 'Mr Moffatt really enjoyed the continued independence of working and has been robbed of the chance of being able to work until the age of 80 as he had planned. He was never given any training in respect of use of the pump truck or manual handling.' She added: 'Employers need to realise the duty of care they owe to their entire workforce, be they full or part time employees the duty is the same.'

Government not doing enough for older workers

The government should set itself more challenging employment targets if it is to successfully cope with demographic trends and an ageing workforce, an older workers' campaign has said. Patrick Grattan, chief executive of TAEN - the Age and Employment Network - last week told the Work and Pensions Select Committee the government was not doing enough or setting itself a robust-enough target or timeframe to hit its 80 per cent employment rate target, which includes getting an additional 1 million people in the 50+ aged group into work. He told the select committee: 'We are not asking for special (employment) programmes based on people's age but that all programmes are measured and monitored for how they work for people of all ages.' He said the same approach should be adopted across a broad range of programmes, 'including skills training, career advice and occupational health.' TAEN says the government's 'Health, Work and Wellbeing' agenda must be seen to address the 50+ workforce 'because the extension of working life requires action on well adapted workplaces, occupational health and the reduction of ill-health as a reason for early retirement.' The Health and Safety Executive, Department of Health and Department of Work and Pensions October 2005 'Health, Working and Well-being' strategy includes among its objectives 'working with employers to make changes in the workplace necessary to allow people to work to a later age'. Safety minister Lord Hunt last month said age discrimination was a workplace health issue (Risks 277).

Concern over chemicals brain risk

Industrial chemicals may be causing a pandemic of brain disorders because of inadequate regulation, researchers have warned. An online report in the Lancet identifies 202 chemicals, including metals, solvents and pesticides, which have potential to damage the brain. Studies have shown low-level exposure to some can lead to neurobehavioural defects in children, the researchers said. The team, from Harvard School of Public Health and the New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said pinning down the effects of industrial chemical pollution was extremely difficult because symptoms may not develop for several years. They added that developing brains - defined as from foetus to adolescence - were much more susceptible to toxic chemicals than those of adults. They said the 202 brain-damaging industrial chemicals they identified were likely to be the 'tip of a very large iceberg.' The authors examined the published literature on the only five substances on the list - lead, methyl mercury, arsenic, PCBs and toluene - that had sufficient documentation of toxicity to the developing human brain. They found a similar pattern in how the risks of each substance were documented: first, a recognition of adult toxicity and episodes of poisoning among children, followed by a growing body of epidemiological evidence that exposure to lower levels of the substances caused neurobehavioral deficits in children. 'Even if substantial documentation on their toxicity is available, most chemicals are not regulated to protect the developing brain,' says lead researcher Dr Philippe Grandjean. 'Only a few substances, such as lead and mercury, are controlled with the purpose of protecting children. The 200 other chemicals that are known to be toxic to the human brain are not regulated to prevent adverse effects on the foetus or a small child.'

Top work cancer researcher had "secret ties to industry"

Researchers have revealed that the co-author of the most frequently cited but much criticised estimate of occupational cancer prevalence had "secret ties to industry". An analysis of the academic literature on occupational cancer found: 'The most striking case is that of Sir Richard Doll, co-author (with Richard Peto) of one of the most influential papers in cancer epidemiology, one that concluded that only a small percentage of cancer was caused by environmental exposures.' The same paper produced HSE's 'best overall estimate available' of a 4 per cent occupational contribution to the total cancer incidence (Risks 225). The new analysis, due to be published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, shows Doll had a long term financial relationship with Monsanto between 1970 and 1990. The authors describe a letter from a Monsanto epidemiologist renewing Doll's contract for £1,000 per day from Monsanto. The Doll and Peto paper was published in 1981. The Monsanto letter formed part of dossier of documents revealing Doll's relationships with companies and trade associations. For example, in a paper on vinyl chloride cancer risks which was later to be heavily cited by industry groups, Doll did not disclose receiving £15,000 plus expenses from the Chemical Manufacturers' Association and the vinyl chloride manufacturers ICI and Dow. Doll was also receiving payments at the same time from Monsanto, another large producer of vinyl chloride. A Hazards report last year estimated that the real occupational cancer prevalence was at least twice and could be four times Doll's estimate, claiming up to 24,000 lives a year (Risks 234), compared to HSE's estimate of between 3,000 and 12,000 deaths. HSE was warned by Hazards of Doll's industry bias over a decade ago, but has not so far dropped the discredited figure (Risks 222). The known number of asbestos related mesothelioma and lung cancer cases alone are well in excess of HSE's lower estimate of total UK occupational cancer deaths. Mesothelioma alone killed 1,969 people in 2004.

Raised cancer risk in firefighters

Firefighters are at a far higher risk of developing certain cancers than people in many other professions, according to new research. A University of Cincinnati team said exposure to substances such as benzene, chloroform and soot posed a threat. Rates of testicular cancer were 100 per cent higher and prostate cancer 28 per cent higher among firefighters, their analysis of 32 US and European studies suggested. The US researchers looked at studies covering 110,000 firefighters, which compared cancer rates in that profession with the general population or other professions. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine paper found in addition to the 100 per cent increase in testicular cancer cases among firefighters, their was also a 50 per cent increase in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma. The researchers say firefighters are exposed to many compounds designated as carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer - including benzene, chloroform, soot, styrene and formaldehyde. Dr Grace LeMasters, who led the research, said firefighters' protective equipment was 'heavy, cumbersome and uncomfortable to wear and they don't like it. So as soon as they come out of the fire, they take it off. But there's a lot of soot and chemicals in there which they are being exposed to.' Firefighters suffering a range of cancers are eligible for official compensation in some US and Canadian jurisdictions (Risks 259).

Firefighters welcome new legal protection

Firefighters have welcomed a new law to help protect emergency services workers from abuse and attack and which will make it an offence to 'obstruct or hinder' emergency service staff. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Bill will extend the protection to emergency workers, introducing measures in England and Wales similar to those which recently took effect in Scotland. The union added the legislation will close gaps in the law in relation to ambulance workers, where no current offence of obstruction exists. It will also make clearer and easier to prosecute for obstructing or hindering fire crews dealing with emergencies. Commenting on the 8 November passage of the Bill, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'We welcome the Royal Assent given today to the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Bill. I would like to thank MPs and Lords who supported this legislation and in particular MP Alan Williams, who tabled the original Private Members Bill.' He added: 'The number and ferocity of the attacks has been getting worse. If we can't do our job because of violent assaults then it is our communities which are being put at risk. We are the targets, but it is our communities which are deprived of an emergency response which are the victims. The Bill needs to be part of a package of measures aimed at tackling some of the underlying problems. Central to this package is the need for a range of educational measures to try and stop these attacks happening.'

BT cleared over engineer's death

BT has been cleared of safety charges brought after the 2001 death of telephone engineer Tara Whelan. The company was criticised at the 2003 inquest into the death by a coroner, the police and Ms Whelan's union, CWU (Risks 96). After a four-week trial at Bristol Crown Court, BT was acquitted this month of a single charge of failing to ensure the safety of their employees. After deliberating for eight-and-a-half hours, a reduced jury of 10 people returned the not guilty verdict. The case had been brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). A CWU spokesperson commented: 'We are of the view that the HSE were right to bring the prosecution in view of the weight of evidence and don't think anything more could have been done in respect of presenting the evidence to the court. Of course we are more than a little surprised at the verdict particularly in view of the previous coroner's inquest but the technical nature of the case may have made it difficult for the jury to reach a verdict as they were out for an unusually long time of over eight-and-a-half hours.' CWU said it would accept the court decision. It added: 'We will continue working with BT and the HSE to keep working at height as safe as we can for our members and of course our deepest sympathy remains with Tara's family, friends and work colleagues.' Ms Whelan, 30, was killed when a high-sided lorry snagged a telephone cable hanging low across a road, snapping the pole in two. Despite Ms Whelan wearing a safety belt and helmet, she suffered serious head injuries as the pole was dragged along the road. BT was criticised by police for taking 17 months to improve its procedures in the light of the tragedy.

Firms fined after railway death

Network Rail has been fined £130,000 and a sub-contractor £33,000 for the death of a worker who was hit by a train near Edinburgh in April 2005. Scotweld Employment Services and Network Rail both admitted at Edinburgh Sheriff Court breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Ian Gilmour, who was acting as a lookout, was struck by a train at the Newbridge junction on 5 April. The court heard how Network Rail had failed to ensure that track inspections were planned and carried out properly and safely by ordering a site safety controller and lookouts at short notice. The company failed to provide Scotweld with a safety pack which gave details of the risks and hazards of the operation. Scotweld, the court was told, had failed to request the safety pack and had accepted orders from Network Rail in an informal and poorly-documented manner. Both firms had exposed three employees to unnecessary risks. Fining the companies, Sheriff Andrew Lothian said: 'There was a failure to do what should have been done and what could earlier have been done, creating an unnecessary risk of severe injury or death.' He said the fatality was not a matter for the court at this stage. There could be a fatal accident inquiry in the future.

Widows appeal for asbestos help

Widows who lost their husbands to asbestos-related disease are appealing for help from their former workmates. June Scott's husband Lawrence 'Laurie' Scott of Shildon, County Durham died in April 2005 from bronchopneumonia associated with cancer of the lung and asbestos related lung disease. It is suspected that Laurie may have contracted the disease as a result of exposures at the British Railway workshops at Shildon, County Durham, where he was employed between 1939 and 1971 as a welder. Mrs Scott remembers that her husband, who died on 14 January 2005, wore an asbestos apron at work and may also have been exposed to asbestos from asbestos laggers within the British Railway workshops. Neil Wilkinson of the law firm Irwin Mitchell said: 'We are particularly keen to hear from anyone who may have worked as a welder at the British Railway workshops although it is likely that many of the employees who worked at the site may also have information which could be of assistance.' William Marler, who died in July 2006 aged just 68, worked from 1964 to 1967 for RV Chuck (Transport) Ltd. Based in Rosher Road, Stratford. Mr Marler worked as a lorry driver, regularly driving to Millwall to collect asbestos and take it to the now infamous Cape factory in Watford. Kim Bouwer, from Thompsons Solicitors, said: 'Because the company has long since ceased trading, the only way we can get compensation for Ms Ayers and Mr Marler's family, is to find the insurer for RV Chuck at the time when he was exposed to asbestos.' She wants to hear from anyone who worked at RV Chuck during the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s. Thompsons Solicitors has just secured a payout of over £100,000 for Ronald Whiston, 72, who is dying of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. He was exposed to the deadly fibre whilst working at the Ford Motor Company's Dagenham plant.

Global: Asbestos touts get official backing

The governments that blocked an October bid to get right-to-know warnings on asbestos exports (Risks 279) are ratcheting up their global promotional activities for the deadly fibre. Canada, which led the campaign to derail a widely supported push for more stringent export controls under the Rotterdam Treaty, has now approved a continuation of the Can$250,000 (£116,000) annual funding for the asbestos industry front organisation, the Chrysotile Institute. The institute is most prominent body lobbying for asbestos use worldwide, and also receives asbestos industry and Québec provincial government funds. The federal government funding was opposed by Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP). MP Pat Martin said: 'Corporate welfare for corporate serial killers is both morally reprehensible and economically unsound. Canada's asbestos industry is under attack from all sides. Consumers no longer want to buy a product that contains an acknowledged killer and markets are drying up. At the same time, chrysotile producers in Russia, Zimbabwe and elsewhere can undercut Canadian suppliers. In light of the eventual demise of the industry, would it not be a better policy to work with those affected in Québec to achieve a just transition for investors, workers and affected communities. The continued support for the Chrysotile Institute is throwing good money after bad.' According to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, the real level of Canadian government subsidy is much higher, and includes 'soft support' such as the use of Canadian embassies to host asbestos promotion events or the cost of sending teams of lawyers around the world to block and oppose any international efforts that might curb the use of asbestos. The Zimbabwean government, a key ally of Canada in the fight to maintain asbestos use, sent a delegation last week to South Africa, on a mission to block a planned ban on asbestos.

Egypt: Thousands walk out after dock death

About 3,000 workers at Egypt's largest shipyard downed tools last week in protest against the death of a colleague who was killed in a crane accident. The 8 November strike brought Port Said shipyard to a standstill. Dockworker Mahmoud Mohammed Attiya, 42, died after a faulty crane collapsed, port officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media. 'The workers are demanding better working conditions and full compensation for Attiya's family,' one official said. The dock provides maintenance and other assistance to ships passing through the Suez Canal and sailing in the southeast Mediterranean.

USA: What a difference a vote makes - hopefully

An end to Republican attacks on workplace safety standards could be a major outcome of the US elections, in which Democrats gained control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Reports say Democratic senator Edward Kennedy, who will chair the Senate labour committee, will reintroduce legislation to reform OSHA, the official safety watchdog, and increase penalties and provide coverage to many workers who are not currently covered by OSHA, including public employees. At the same time, Republican-backed OSHA 'deform' legislation, which would have greatly weakened workplace safety, will not be introduced. Instead, positive measures including mine safety legislation and better workplace ergonomics could find their way back on to the legislative running order. Confined Space editor Jordan Barab says the election could also mean more resources for OSHA. He said: 'With Dems in charge of the budget (except for the fact that Bush has to sign it), we may be able to look forward to larger OSHA budgets to reverse an 8.6 per cent drop in OSHA positions since Fiscal Year 2001, and more money for worker training grants.' He warns, however, that there are no guarantees because 'there are a lot of interests out there who have been waiting a long time to get something done. Workplace safety is just one of those issues. So in order for any of these great ideas to happen, unions and Democratic politicians need to get behind them in a big way. And in order for that to happen, all of you reading this - workers, union members, union staff, injured workers, families of injured and killed workers - all of need to talk (write, phone, fax, e-mail) to your elected representatives, union officials, newspapers, television and anyone else who will listen.'

Gender equality, work and health

'Gender equality, work and health', a new review published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), documents the relationship between gender inequality and health and safety problems. It reviews gender issues in research, policies and programmes on work and health, and highlights some specific issues for women, including the types of jobs they do, as well as their need to reconcile the demands of work and family. Biological differences between women and men also are considered in relation to hazards they face in the workplace. The report says 'economic survival' strategies for women and their families sometimes result in a great danger to women workers' health. It calls for more and better programmes and practices 'to ensure women's health and safety at work, while facilitating their access to economic and social equality.'

Using maps to find problems

Workplace mapping techniques have become a highly popular and effective union tool to identify health and safety problems in the workplace and the measures necessary to resolve them. Dorothy Wigmore, a Canadian safety specialist who has been a key advocate of the technique, working with unions in North and Central America and Europe, has now written a clear and concise guide to what it is all about. A feature in the November issue of the US-based Labor Notes magazine explains how body maps, hazard maps and 'world maps' can make sense of problems at work, and can better involve the whole workforce in identifying and remedying health and safety problems in the workplace.

Acoustic shock safety conference, 27-28 November, Glasgow

The second annual acoustic shock safety conference will be held in Glasgow on 27-28 November. Acoustic shock first came to public attention after call centre and telephone operators complained of painful bursts of noise through the headset, sometimes causing long term health problems. A definition has been agreed recently. 'An acoustic incident is a sudden, unexpected noise event which is perceived as loud, transmitted through a telephone or headset - acoustic shock is an adverse response to an acoustic incident resulting in alteration of auditory function.' The event is backed by communications' union CWU.

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