Risks 285 - 2 December 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 .

Union exposes evidence of 'doctored' DHL timesheets

Union officials have discovered drivers' timesheets at distribution firm DHL Exel in Redditch have been deliberately changed by managers without the drivers' knowledge. TGWU said the changes were made in red ink by local managers to show the drivers as being on a "period of availability" instead of driving. This would mean those hours would not then count towards the calculation of working hours under the Working Time Directive. The union says this has 'serious implications'. The changes were discovered as part of the union's investigations into a grievance submitted by a member who had been told he had still had to work additional hours. The union has since discovered eight worker - one in five of the 40 working on the contract - have had their timesheets altered. DHL Exel has confirmed the changes were made. TGWU regional industrial organiser Bob Shaw said: 'DHL Exel in Redditch has acknowledged that managers changed drivers' timesheets without informing the individuals concerned. But the worry is the admission had to be dragged out of them and there were more instances than they first acknowledged. Not only is there a potential safety issue for our drivers if their timesheets are being doctored, but there are issues around whether or not they and the company would be properly covered in the event of any accident.' TGWU national secretary for transport Ron Webb said he was astonished that a reputable company was behaving in such a manner, adding the union was conducting its own investigation. 'The question that must be asked is how widespread is this falsification by employers,' he said. 'Are we dealing with one rogue manager on one contract or are other employers fiddling the hours behind our drivers' backs? These are very serious issues for the industry and employers can take this as a warning that we are not going to let them get away with manipulation and exploitation.'

Teachers 'victims of sexist bullies in class'

Young teachers are increasingly seen as 'fair game' by some pupils for sexual harassment including touching and innuendo, according to a report from teaching union NUT. The union's study found young female teachers in particular are frequently confronted with sexist language and bullying in school. There is a growing trend for sexist language, leading to sexist bullying, to 'enter the mainstream', with girls and women 'beginning to accept sexist language as the norm', the study found. One in 20 of the 190 teachers in England and Wales who replied to the survey said the abuse happened at least once a week. Steve Sinnott, the NUT's general secretary, described the findings as 'pretty horrendous'. He said: 'The government must encourage schools to develop policies that have teeth which discourage parents and young people from using sexually abusive language.' Some of the sexist language used by pupils was so bad that the report had used asterisks rather than spell it out, he said. According to the findings, 'younger male and female teachers, in particular, seem to be seen as 'fair game' to some pupils to touch, in some cases, and to make sexual innuendo towards.' Details of the survey were included in a submission to an inquiry into bullying in schools being conducted by the Commons education and skills committee. The union told MPs that, in contrast to racist and homophobic bullying, sexist bullying is frequently ignored and minimised, even though women make up more than two-thirds of the teaching workforce in state schools. NUT warned that sexist language and bullying cannot be ignored in the playground because they are often the foundation for violence against women. However, nearly half of respondents said they felt very safe with almost a quarter feeling safe or fairly safe in their schools.

CWU rams home workplace rights message

Communication workers' union CWU has repeated its call for new rights for union safety reps and for them to be given better official support. The union has given verbal evidence to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on the worker involvement issue, and has now made three separate written submissions. CWU national health and safety officer Dave Joyce said the union welcomed 'modest' HSE proposals including a legal requirement on employers to consult and involve safety reps on risk assessments and a duty on employers to respond to safety reps representations in good time. He added, however, 'while the proposed new safety reps rights will be welcome, they are only part of the package' which must include proper enforcement of the existing safety reps' regulations. The union is also calling on 'the government to look again at the Australian system of safety reps having the power to issue legally binding 'provisional improvement notices', especially in light of the HSE limited resources.' Dave Joyce said: 'Trained safety reps are at the cutting edge when it comes to addressing the new health and safety hazards of the 21st century.' He added: 'It's now down to another three or four months wait to see what the final recommendations contain.'

Union calls for action on cash van robberies

Criminal gangs of robbers attacking security guards must be taken off the streets, the union GMB has said. The union says it intends to raise with Britain's chief police officers the 'growing problem' of 'cash-in-transit' (CIT) attacks. It says across the CIT industry in 2005, 836 security workers were attacked whilst moving cash and valuables around the UK. GMB said 208 of these attacks involved a firearm and 170 led to CIT workers being injured. The attacks figure is 10 per cent up on 2004 and a 20 per cent increase on the 2003 figure. GMB says figures so far this year show the rate of attacks is increasing, up 19 per cent compared with the same period in 2005. So far in 2006, 96 CIT workers have suffered injuries during attacks, 13 suffering serious injuries. GMB reports CIT workers have suffered shootings, pistol whippings, severe beatings and post-traumatic stress. Already this year, three workers and a member of the public have been shot by CIT criminals. Gary Smith, GMB's national officer for the security industry, told its sector conference last week: 'Great progress has taken place in approving the security contractors and licensing the security guards who work for them. This is a big improvement which weeds out the criminal element.' He added: 'GMB members in CIT now want greater priority from the police to tackle the criminal gangs of robbers who are targeting our members and injuring them in violent attacks in the course of their work. These people must be taken off the streets and that is the job of the police.' He said he would be contacting the Association of Chief Police Officers to raise these concerns.

Government promises to cut red tape

The government has delighted the business lobby by promising to slash red tape. Prime minister Tony Blair told the CBI conference this week he plans to order every government department to cut regulation by 25 per cent. 'This is for real,' he said. 'Unless we actually set a challenging target, it is unlikely to happen.' The anti-regulation theme was repeated by the Chancellor Gordon Brown, who picked out health and safety as an example of overly prescriptive red tape. He told the conference: 'You know the old regulatory model, the implicit principle from health and safety to the administration of tax and financial services has been, irrespective of known risks or past results, 100 per cent information requirements, 100 per cent form filling and, if resources allow, 100 per cent inspection, whether it be premises, procedures or practices.' He added: 'The risk based approach of the future that Britain is now pioneering is founded on a different view of the world - trust in the responsible company, the educated consumer and the informed employee, with then on a risk basis the goal should be a fraction of forms, a fraction of information requirements and a fraction of inspections needed. And over time this new model of regulation should not only apply the concept of risk to the enforcement of regulation, but also to the design and indeed to the decision as to whether to regulate at all.' But TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson warned: 'There are grave dangers in seeing regulation as something negative. It has come about to control the excesses of employers who have put profit before lives and is only a burden to those employers whose working practices put people at risk. The TUC has always argued against unnecessary bureaucracy and for simplification of regulation, but there is no evidence that there is over regulation or enforcement as is borne out by the injury and illness figures.' Stephen Boyd, STUC assistant secretary, said: 'The UK is not over-regulated as is clearly demonstrated by every international survey on the matter. The UK is currently sixth out of 155 countries on the World Bank's 'ease of doing business' rankings and tops the OECD list of lightly regulated nations.' A TUC report in October pointed out that there were more than twice as many health and safety regulations and laws 35 years ago ( Risks 280 ). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the UK's second largest official regulatory and inspections body, after the Environment Agency.

HSE action 'too late' says grieving family

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) improvement notice came 'too late', a grieving family has said. HSE has ordered Camden council to take urgent action to make council-run construction sites safe. The action to improve electrical safety on the borough's sites came two months after the electrocution of scaffolder Ralph Kennedy on a Camden construction job. Mr Kennedy's relatives welcomed the HSE intervention but said it was 'a little bit too late'. An HSE spokesperson told local paper the Camden New Journal last week: 'The investigation is ongoing but this action is to make sure that nothing similar happens while we are investigating.' June Loughran, the aunt of Mr Kennedy, who was 24 when he died ( Risks 276 ), said: 'Reading between the lines the council have been told they have to smarten up their act in relation to safety. It's a good thing and not a good thing because it's a little bit too late.' She added: 'Put it this way, if it prevents another tragedy then it's all well and good. But it's like watch this space really as to whether they practice what they preach.' At the time of his death, Mr Kennedy was working extra hours to pay for a puppy which he intended to give his son Bailey for his birthday. The family is angry that it has been stopped from putting up a plaque at the spot where Ralph Kennedy died.

Family's grief after preventable site death

A family mourning the loss of a construction worker in a tragedy that the workplace safety watchdog said 'could easily have been prevented' have told of their grief. Ellen Sinclair whose son Steven, 40, died in a four storey fall while replacing windows, said: 'To say my heart is broken is just words but to feel the depth of pain you have to sit by the bed of that son and see the broken body of that lovely man who, only 24 hours before, was happy and so full of life with all his friends.' Steven's brother Darren said: 'Losing my brother Steve has had a devastating affect on my life. Aside from the not sleeping, losing my job and coming to terms with not having any brothers, there's a great void in my life that will never be filled.' The family's comments came after Christopher Lucas pleaded guilty this week to safety offences and was fined £15,000 at City of London Magistrates Court. Mr Lucas runs Four Seasons, the double glazing window replacement company that employed Steven and another man to replace windows on the 3rd and 4th floor of a residential apartment block in London. The glass was very heavy and as the men lifted it into place they and the glass all fell 11m to the ground. Steven Sinclair was taken to hospital but died later that day. Following the trial, HSE inspector Lisa Chappell said: 'Mr Sinclair's family are grieving the loss of a son and brother following a fatal accident that could easily have been prevented. This case highlights once again the absolute necessity for work at height to be properly planned, and for equipment such as guard rails, barriers or harnessed to be used where appropriate.'

Firm fined £100,000 after worker, 21, is killed

A Chorley company has been fined £100,000 after pleading guilty to three criminal charges brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the 'entirely preventable' death of an employee. Pin Croft Dyeing and Printing Co Limited was also ordered to pay the £18,895 costs of the case which followed the death of 21-year-old Daryl Wayne Lloyd in a tow tractor incident. He was driving the three-wheeled battery operated vehicle at the premises on 16 May 2005. The vehicle was not fitted with a seat belt and the cab doors were missing. The floor surface was uneven and Daryl had not received sufficient driver training. He sustained fatal injuries after being crushed by the rim of the cab when it toppled over. Rosemary Leese Weller, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, said: 'Daryl's death was entirely preventable by simple health and safety precautions such as provision of a well maintained vehicle, properly maintained floor surface and by ensuring sufficient training in its use. Every year about 50 people are killed in accidents involving workplace transport. This particular accident illustrates the importance of employers providing safe sites, safe vehicles and safe drivers.' The firm pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety of Daryl Lloyd, failing to make a suitable risk assessment and failing to ensure the tow tractor was maintained in efficient working order.

Iceland fined after preventable accident

A Plymouth store employee was left trapped and injured when a cage fell on her in a stock room in a 'preventable' accident, a court has heard. Food giant Iceland was fined £12,000 plus costs last month following the incident on 23 October 2005. Linda Walke, the store's deputy manager, was left pinned to the ground by her head, hair and hand after a roll cage toppled back onto her. City magistrates heard that the storeroom had a 'dip' deliberately cut into the floor and that the accident happened as Mrs Walke, who was on her own, pushed the roll cage up and out of the dip. Mrs Walke was eventually able to free herself from under the cage and call for help. She was taken to hospital where she needed stitches to a head wound and treatment for bruises on her face, hand and leg. Magistrates heard that there had been similar accidents, including incidents in September 2002 where an employee suffered arm, shoulder and leg injuries and in January 2004 when store's manager received a bump on the head. Iceland's barrister John Cooper said the company accepted it was an accident which should not have happened. He also admitted Iceland had failed to act on an accident report from the store manager, submitted after he injured his head in a similar incident in January 2004. As well as fining the company £12,000, magistrates ordered Iceland to pay the prosecution costs of £3,127, saying the accident involving Mrs Walke was 'foreseeable and preventable' and that previous incidents should have acted as a wake-up call to the company.

New warning on insurers

Injured people should not be pursued and pressured by third party insurers who offer them upfront cash to 'deal direct,' the president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has warned. Speaking at a Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL) conference, Richard Langton called for strict guidelines to protect claimants who are cold called by insurance lawyers attempting to 'capture' the claim. He said: 'We want proper regulation by the Law Society of lawyers; proper regulation of claims management companies, and proper regulation of insurers.' He added: 'I hope all those who purport to act in the vulnerable claimant's best interests are subject to similar controls.' Unions have also raised concerns about their members, who are entitled to union legal cover for workplace and frequently out of work accidents, getting poor treatment at the hand of no-win/no fee outfits. Last month, Amicus member Donald Ford, a welder, received an out-of-court settlement of £100,000 negotiated by union solicitors Thompsons from Langley Holdings plc after suffering a serious injury to his left hand ( Risks 282 ). He said: 'I previously tried the 'no win no fee' solicitors but got absolutely nowhere.' Unions are urging any suffering a workplace injury or disease to take their case through the union's legal system.

Government promotes school trips action

Teaching union NASUWT has welcomed new government policy which it says while help protect teachers and pupils alike. Commenting on the launch of the government's 'Manifesto for learning outside the classroom', NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: 'NASUWT advises its members to consider very carefully before participating in educational visits. Although no activity can be entirely risk free, NASUWT has always considered there were risks associated with these activities which could be minimised.' She said the union had raised with the education ministry DfES its concerns about the 'vulnerability of staff participating in these activities. Concerns had been amplified after recent safety prosecutions involving teachers supervising school trips. She said: 'Significant progress has been made, adding: 'The DfES will promote maximising the use of generic risk assessments of activities to remove this burden and responsibility from individual staff... Work is under way on developing fair investigations guidance to provide much-needed protection for staff who accompany visits and who found themselves being abandoned by the employer or unfairly treated when an incident occurred or a false allegation was made against them. No activity is risk free but when all of this work finally is completed staff who choose to participate in education outside the classroom will be better protected as a result of NASUWT's efforts and the government's positive response.' John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said there is 'genuine anxiety' among teachers that they could be personally sued or face prison in some cases. 'I think it is an entitlement for youngsters that they should all have equal entitlement to outside experiences,' he said. 'That said, what I don't want to see is a situation where government decides to get very enthusiastic about a manifesto and then tries to enforce school trips on schools which are still nervous about conducting them.' HSE has launched new 'getting it right' webpages providing guidance for education staff.

Security guards to protect train staff

Private security guards are to ride trains in the north of England to crack down on the abuse of rail staff. The action follows more than 300 incidents of abuse and assault on Northern Rail staff so far this year. Rail union RMT says some of its members have been kicked in the head, punched in the face and so badly assaulted that they have taken weeks off work. The union has been campaign for a zero tolerance approach to violence on Northern Rail ( Risks 283 ). Some rail staff have suffered verbal abuse, threats of violence and have been spat at by passengers. According to RMT, the incidents of assaults and abuse across the rail network doubled from 2001 to 2005. So far this year there have been more than 5,000 reported incidents. Northern Rail says it takes the problem extremely seriously and is employing security staff for problematic routes.

Intensive mouse use is harmful to health

Intensive computer use appears to be associated with hand, arm, neck and shoulder symptoms, with mouse work worse for health then general computer use. A review of the occupational health literature by Dutch researchers found nine relevant articles, of which six were rated as high quality. On the basis of the evidence presented in these papers, the researchers concluded there was moderate evidence linking mouse use and hand-arm symptoms, with the likelihood of symptoms increasing with use in a 'dose-response' relationship. The evidence was less strong for neck and shoulder symptoms and for total computer and keyboard use. The study, published online last month in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concludes more research is needed 'to improve our understanding of safe levels of computer use by measuring the duration of computer use in a more objective way, differentiating between total computer use, mouse use and keyboard use, attaining sufficient exposure contrast, and collecting data on disability caused by symptoms.'

Dead trawler crew had no lifejackets on

Three crew members of a Belgian fishing vessel who died when it capsized off East Sussex might have survived if they had been wearing lifejackets. An inquiry into the sinking of the Noordster off Beachy Head found none of the four crew were wearing the jackets and also concluded crew fatigue was a significant factor in the tragedy. 'Had the crew been wearing lifejackets their chances of survival would have dramatically improved,' the inquiry report concluded. 'Despite the lessons of many previous accidents, fishermen generally remain reluctant to wear lifejackets on deck,' the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said. The report recommends measures should be taken to raise awareness among trawler crew of the need to wear jackets when carrying out hazardous tasks. The Zeebrugge-registered Noordster Z122 overturned in the busy Channel shipping lane after its nets became snagged. MAIB said the trawler's liferaft and its radio beacon were trapped at the time of the capsize. 'That neither of these vital pieces of safety equipment functioned after the vessel capsized is of serious concern,' the report said. At the time of the accident, the crew had been at sea for four days and would have been very tired, especially the skipper, 35-year-old Tom Vlietinck. 'Taking this into account, the MAIB believes that the skipper's level of fatigue was a significant factor in the cause of the capsize,' the report said. The only survivor of the accident on 13 December was Hendrik Vlietinck, the 19-year-old nephew of the trawler's captain.

Canada: Government lied on asbestos motives

Canada uses its international prestige to promote asbestos worldwide in an informal marketing deal which means low-cost foreign producers in exchange don't drive Canada's asbestos producers out of business, according to an official federal government document. A report in the Global and Mail says the document, obtained under freedom of information rules and written for Natural Resources minister Gary Lunn, contradicts the federal government's long-standing public position that its efforts to encourage what it calls the 'safe use' of asbestos are purely for public health reasons, and not for commercial gains by Canadian companies. Senior bureaucrats prepared the document as part of a briefing in May for Mr Lunn to explain why Canada should oppose an effort by the Rotterdam Convention, a UN-organised body, to place chrysotile (white) asbestos on the list of the world's most hazardous manufactured substances subject to right-to-know export controls, which would have been a damaging image blow. The effort to place chrysotile on the Rotterdam list was blocked in October, with Canada taking a leadership role in scuttling the attempt ( Risks 279 ). The document indicates that federal officials believe there is a type of informal quid pro quo operating in the industry, with Canada using its good image abroad to promote asbestos, in return for foreign companies treating Canadian miners with kid gloves in the battle for market share. 'Foreign producers tolerate higher-cost Canadian producers because of Canada's leadership and credibility in promoting the safe use of chrysotile,' the document says. Natural Resources is the main federal department handling asbestos issues. The document was produced by a group that included assistant deputy minister Gary Nash, the former head of the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute, the government-backed industry association spearheading promotion of asbestos trade worldwide ( Risks 283 ).

China: Spate of mines tragedies sparks fury

China's top safety official has blasted 'unscrupulous' mine owners and local officials after a string of incidents killed at least 88 miners in recent days. State media reported that an angry Li Yizhong, director of the state administration of work safety, launched the attack on the mine owners and officials in a teleconference with safety officials around the country. Four accidents last weekend killed at least 81 people, while a coal heap collapsed at a mine in southwest Guizhou on 27 November, entombing seven miners. Li was quoted as saying 'such a high frequency of serious accidents is unprecedented' and added mine owners and local officials should be held responsible. The weekend accidents included one in southwestern Yunnan that killed at least 32 miners in a gas explosion. Li said that accident should never have happened because the mine was ordered closed by his agency and the provincial government at the beginning of the year. 'The case illustrates how some local governments are wilfully flouting national safety regulations,' he said. Besides the Yunnan incident, 24 workers were killed in a mine blast in Shanxi last Sunday. Police have detained the mine owner but the general manager is on the run, the official Xinhua news agency said. A further 22 miners died in a gas explosion in Jixi, Heilongjiang. Five miners are still missing. A total of 3,726 miners died in more than 2,300 floods, blasts and other incidents in the coal mine industry in the first months of this year, according to figures released by the State Administration of Work Safety earlier this month. Government statistics puts the number of coal mine deaths at about 6,000 last year, but the real figure will be much higher due to cover-up of accidents by local officials and mine owners.

New Zealand: Reports warn of under-reporting problem

The New Zealand authorities are urging family doctors to improve their reporting of work-related diseases or injuries, and to encourage their patients to do likewise. Two reports released this week by the Department of Labour (DoL) detail the diseases linked to workplace exposures that have been registered with the department. Speaking on the launch of the reports, Notifiable Occupational Disease System (NODS) 2000-05 and Asbestos exposure in New Zealand 1992-2005, DoL's chief adviser for occupational health Geraint Emrys said while notifications to the NODS and asbestos registers were voluntary, the value of reporting was high. 'Notifying the department of a health problem that may have been caused by work protects not only an individual's health, but also that of their workmates who may be being harmed by the same workplace exposure.' Dr Emrys believed few GPs informed their patients about the NODS reporting system, and even fewer people knew to ask their doctor about it. By registering their condition with the department, people gave consent for an investigation to be conducted. 'It's as if these medical conditions are so common, people have stopped associating them with work activity and the requirement under the Health and Safety in Employment Act to protect employees from work that is hazardous to their health,' Dr Emrys said. The asbestos report showed that the number of people registering an asbestos-related condition was continuing to rise. Dr Emrys said the medical panel noted that lung cancer notifications were relatively small compared with other asbestos-related medical conditions. 'This suggests that there is an under-reporting of lung cancers associated with asbestos because GPs are automatically linking a person's smoking habits with the cancer, and excluding any asbestos-related history. That's of great concern to us, as the occupation factor can be important in lung cancers and that is basically being ignored in most cases.' Carpenters, plumbers and electricians made up almost 66 per cent of the asbestos cases reported to the department in the past 13 years, Dr Emrys said.

Sweden: Work still hurts one in four Swedes

Almost a quarter of Swedish employees (24 per cent) had suffered from a health problem caused by their work in the preceding year, an official survey has found. The 16th Swedish survey on work-related health disorders, published in November 2006, questioned more than 23,000 employees. More women reported work-related health problems, with over a quarter (27 per cent) saying work had affected their health, compared to 21 per cent of men. The figures represent a 1 per cent drop on last year's report ( Risks 250 ). The Swedish surveys suggest work-related stress and mental strain have risen sharply over the past decade. They are now the main cause of work-related ill health cited by women workers (13 per cent) and the second biggest cause among men (7 per cent). The situation is flipped for strenuous working postures, which are the main cause of workplace health problems reported by men (8 per cent) and rank second for women (11 per cent). Heavy manual labour ranks third, cited by 8 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men. The survey also reveals that 37 per cent of workers who suffered a work-related disorder in the 12 months preceding the survey took sick leave, but only 17 per cent of respondents with a work-related disorder had reported it as such. Sweden is the one European Union country the UK authorities concede has a comparable health and safety record. However, HSE's own survey-based official estimate of work-related ill-health, which suggests the UK level is under a third that reported in the Swedish survey, has been criticised for systematically under-estimating real risks and overlooking some conditions entirely ( Risks 232 ).

USA: DaimlerChrysler to make $20m asbestos payout

Global car giant DaimlerChrysler must pay $20 million (£10.3m) to a retired police officer and brake repairer whose right lung was removed because of cancer caused by asbestos. A jury in Manhattan's state Supreme Court ruled that Alfred D'Ulisse, 73, and his wife were owed a total of $25 million (£12.9m), D'Ulisse's lawyer Jerry Kristal said. DaimlerChrysler was found to be 10 per cent liable for D'Ulisse's cancer, and it will be responsible for a total of 80 per cent of the damages because two other companies found to be liable no longer exist, Kristal said. The automaker was responsible for the amount owed by the now-defunct companies because the jury found it acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others, Kristal said. The company said the ruling was based on 'junk science' and said it was confident the verdict would be reversed on appeal. Two other car manufacturers, each found to be 10 per cent liable by the jury, settled with D'Ulisse before trial for undisclosed amounts. D'Ulisse contracted the asbestos cancer mesothelioma after working at Morak Brakes in Brooklyn, Kristal said. Surgeons removed his right lung in 2004. D'Ulisse worked in the brake shop from 1960 to 1964 and then worked there part-time during some of his 36 years as a city police officer, Kristal said. He stripped worn linings from brakes and installed new ones. Last month is was revealed officials in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were trying to scapegoat longtime employee Ira Wainless for refusing to tone down a document warning of risks posed by asbestos in brake linings. OSHA wanted more emphasis on industry-backed studies downplaying the risks .

USA: Non-union workers at greater risk on site

Union members are less likely to be injured or killed at work, US safety officials have said. Twenty-nine workers died in construction accidents in New York during the 12 months ending 30 September, marking a 61 per cent increase over the previous year and a five-year high, according to the official safety watchdog OSHA and the New York City Department of Buildings. Non-union, immigrant workers employed by small contractors suffered worst. Richard Mendelson, the Manhattan director for OSHA, decried the lax safety enforcement at construction sites, and acknowledged a connection between union presence and worker safety. 'There's no reason why non-union workers should have a lower level of protection,' he told the New York Times. 'Obviously there's a disparity here.' Joel A Shufro, the executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), said enforcement of building safety requirements has been feeble at best. 'The administration has moved forward to finally consider this epidemic of fatalities, and it's about time,' he said. 'Whether they have the political will to move aggressively to perform inspections and impose strong fines on employers remains to be seen.' The NYC building department has promised more surprise site inspections, has created a special task force, and is urging observers and workers to report unsafe working conditions.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease webpage

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published new webpages on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The extremely common condition - also known as chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD) - includes a number of breathing problems where there is damage to the breathing tubes and air sacs within the lung, including chronic bronchitis (regular phlegm production) and emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lung). These 'obstructive' conditions are commonly caused by workplace exposures, although most cases are attributed to smoking. HSE says there are approximately 30,000 deaths each year from the disease in the UK and says this toll would be reduced by 4,000 if occupational risks including dust, smoke and fumes were removed. Hazards magazine last year put the COPD occupational toll at 6,000 deaths a year. Its 'A job to die for?' report also warned that the UK government and safety authorities had massively under-estimated the extent of the occupational COPD problem, missing possibly hundreds of thousands of cases in workers in dusty trades. An official compensation scheme for miners with COPD was swamped with an unanticipated volume of claims, with hundreds of thousands of miners eventually compensated - far more than HSE's total for all jobs. Work also causes 'restrictive' lung conditions, where lung scarring causes the effective working volume of the lung to decrease. Restrictive conditions include asbestosis and silicosis and coal miners' and other pneumoconioses.

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