Risks 287 - 16 December 2006

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Number 287 - 16 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 .

Don't sell safety down the river

Maritime union RMT has called on MPs to reject changes to boatmen's training and licensing that could have disastrous consequences for tidal river safety. It says despite vocal objections from Thames boatmasters, safety campaigners and survivors and relatives of victims of the 1989 Marchioness disaster, the government is pushing threw a law RMT says would seriously water down riverboat safety standards from January 2007. 'MPs have one last chance to throw these potentially catastrophic changes out,' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said. 'If they do not we will be faced with a massive reduction in training standards and local knowledge, and would see 16-year-olds, without even having to take a medical, allowed to navigate vessels the size of the Bowbelle, which hit the Marchioness and killed 51 people. It is no good ministers hiding behind the European Union, because the directive on harmonising boatmasters' licences allows the application of higher standards on the Thames and other tidal rivers, and all we are asking is that those higher standards be kept in place,' Bob Crow said. An Early Day Motion submitted by Labour MP John McDonnell, supporting the RMT position, notes: 'That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Merchant Shipping (Local Passenger Vessels) (Crew) Regulations 2006, dated 5th December 2006, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th December, be annulled.'

Factory blast families angry at prosecution delay

Families of workers who died in the 2004 Stockline factory explosion in Glasgow (Risks 156) have expressed anger at a delay in the prosecution of the firm that owned the factory. Lawyers acting on behalf of ICL Tech and ICL Plastics have been given more time to prepare their defence. The preliminary hearing was due to take place on 11 December, but will now begin on 30 January. Nine people died in the explosion in May 2004 and several were injured at the factory in Maryhill, Glasgow. Families of the dead and injured criticised the legal move so close to the hearing and said the bereaved will be needlessly inconvenienced. Speaking on behalf of the group, STUC assistance secretary Ian Tasker said: 'The families are extremely annoyed at the tactics adopted by the company lawyers in making this application. Why have they chosen to make such a late application to delay the proceedings knowing full well that those who lost loved ones could see the prospect of, at last, seeing a process begin that could provide some of explanation as to how their loved ones died? It is beyond belief that these lawyers were not in a position to argue that they had not had enough time and make this application before now and this shows a remarkable lack of respect and understanding of the pain and suffering of the bereaved and those injured and unable to return to work.' The decision to prosecute was announced in February (Risks 245). Mr Tasker added that families were about to face hardship for a third christmas. 'We believe that the very least the lawyers could do by way of recompense is agree to reverse their decision to stop any further interim payments to the families and injured workers,' he said.

Overworking AA staff 'will lead to fatalities'

AA patrol staff and recovery vehicle drivers are being forced to work dangerously long hours, their union GMB has said. The union says compulsory overtime introduced after staff cuts means its members are to be forced to work up to 11.75 hours per day for five days in a row. GMB says AA's top boss Tim Parker recently admitted the firm sacked too many staff - 3,400 out of 10,000 employees were fired in autumn 2004 - and now has too few to deliver a service. Patrol staff are currently rostered to work 11 hours per day for a minimum of five days in a row, but the company wants to up this to 11.75 hours per day. The union said it is already dealing with grievances from members forced to work excessive hours or refused leave. Paul Maloney, GMB officer for AA staff, said: 'Forcing drivers behind the wheel of an AA recovery or repair vehicle 11.75 hours per day for five days on the trot is a recipe for causing road traffic accidents. This will lead to fatalities and serious injuries to AA patrol staff and to members of the travelling public who will be the innocent victims.' He added: 'GMB have taken personal injury compensations claims for 50 members working for AA who were injured in road traffic accidents over the past six years. The numbers will go up with long hours. This is a deadly serious issue and compulsory overtime and long hours must cease.'

Migrant workers facing exploitation and danger

Migrant workers in the UK are facing exploitation and danger at work, the TUC has warned. In a speech to a 11 December TUC conference in London, organised to encourage unions and agencies to work together to help migrant workers get fairer treatment at work and in their everyday lives, TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady said that while some migrant workers have a positive experience of working in Britain, 'the day-to-day reality many face is exploitation, dangerous working conditions, and employment far below their skill level. These problems are often made worse by a lack of English, little awareness of basic rights, and public prejudice.' She added: 'The only way to prevent employers from using migrant labour to undercut terms and conditions, and to prevent exploitation, is through stronger rights, better enforcement of the law, and trade union organisation. Whether they are from Warrington or Warsaw, Burnley or Bucharest, Lancaster or Lagos, all workers should be treated with respect, treated equally and paid a decent, living wage. That way, everybody benefits.' She said unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), citizens' advice bureaux, charities, welfare organisations and community groups 'must work in partnership towards a common goal - fairness for migrant workers.'

Firefighters remember biggest blast

A year after the Buncefield oil depot fire, which raged for days following Britain's biggest peacetime explosion in December 2005, firefighters' union FBU has been paying tribute to the efforts of its members and the public who rallied to tackle the disaster. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: 'Everyone in the service is rightly proud of the huge effort made by the fire crews and officers who worked to the point of exhaustion fighting the Buncefield fire. These tireless efforts were above and beyond the call of duty while working in very difficult and trying conditions.' He added: 'The fire crews who arrived from all over the country in support worked for many days away from their families, having left with no notice. They have asked me to thank Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Salvation Army and Tesco for providing the food and hot drinks that helped keep them going.' The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) this week said its 'highly complex investigation continues and will inform a final decision by HSE about any possible criminal prosecutions.' It added safety alerts issued since the disaster had 'required operators to review aspects of their operations and report their findings to HSE and were followed up by targeted inspections by HSE staff of over 100 fuel storage sites.' Two people were seriously injured in the blast. Some 2,000 homes were evacuated and 92 neighbouring firms were affected.

Scientist played down work cancer risks

A world-famous British scientist failed to disclose that he held a paid consultancy with a chemical company for more than 20 years while investigating cancer risks in the industry. Sir Richard Doll, the celebrated epidemiologist who established that smoking causes lung cancer and who died last year, was receiving a consultancy fee of $1,500 a day in the mid-1980s from chemical multinational Monsanto. The revelations appeared last week in The Guardian, and are based on documents uncovered by Injurywatch and trade union safety magazine Hazards in US court papers and in Doll's own archive at the Wellcome Institute. While he was being paid by Monsanto, Sir Richard wrote to a royal Australian commission investigating the potential cancer-causing properties of Agent Orange, made by Monsanto and used by the US in the Vietnam war. Sir Richard said there was no evidence that the chemical caused cancer. The documentation also reveals Sir Richard was paid a £15,000 fee by the Chemical Manufacturers Association and two other major companies, Dow Chemicals and ICI, for a review that largely cleared vinyl chloride, used in plastics, of any link with cancers apart from liver cancer - a conclusion with which the UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer disagrees. Doll was also receiving chemical industry payments when he co-authored in 1981 a major report which gave an extremely low estimate of the occupational contribution to the total cancer toll, a figure still described by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as 'the current best estimate'. 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 (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, with asbestos related lung cancers at least matching this figure, and possibly more than twice as high.

Legal win for widow of youngest mesothelioma victim

The widow of a 32-year-old man who died after inhaling asbestos on his stepfather's work clothing as a child, has succeeded in her legal battle for compensation. Claire Welch from Braunstone in Leicester continued the legal action originally launched by her husband Barry after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May 2004. Mr Welch died on 27 April 2005, after an 11-month battle against the illness (Risks 203). Asbestos solicitors Irwin Mitchell, acting on behalf of the family, launched the civil action against Eastleigh-based Palmers Limited, the former employer of Barry Welch's stepfather, Roger Bugby. It ended last month when insurance firm Zurich conceded negligence. The level of damages will be decided at a separate hearing in early 2007. Barry Welch is believed to be the youngest person to have died from the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. He contracted the illness after being exposed to asbestos fibres brought home on work overalls by his stepfather Roger, who worked as a scaffolder at Kingsnorth Power Station, Kent between 1977 and 1979. Solicitor Adrian Budgen of Irwin Mitchell said: 'This judgment is a testament to both Claire and Barry's determination to fight for justice.' He added: 'As a result of a public appeal a number of important witnesses came forward and their evidence was key in helping us to prove that Barry's exposure and illness were a result of negligence by Palmers Ltd.' Barry's widow, Claire Welch, commented: 'I am so relieved that the legal fight is now over. No amount of compensation can make up for the loss of Barry. I still miss him terribly as do our daughters, Natasha (13) Samantha (11) and Letitia (8) who have lost a much loved father.'

MEPs pass diluted REACH solution

The European Parliament has brought the passage of European Union (EU) legislation on the trade in chemicals close to completion. A plenary vote by members of the European Parliament leaves the REACH proposal requiring just the backing of the Council of Ministers, the final hurdle before implementation. REACH could become law by summer 2007, although member states would have years to incorporate the measures into national law. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) welcomed part of the new proposals, which it says place the burden of proof firmly on producers for the 30,000 substances covered by the reform. 'That marks clear progress, because industry will now have to provide information on the safety of their chemicals before they can put them on the market,' said Joel Decaillon, the ETUC's confederal secretary with policy responsibility for REACH. But ETUC expressed dismay that chemical safety reports 'vital to protecting workers' health' will now only be required for a third of the chemicals originally planned. 'If the chemical industry thinks it will win the drive for competitiveness at the cost of public, occupational and environmental health, it has another thing coming,' said Joel Decaillon. A coalition of health and environmental groups including WWF, FoE Europe and Greenpeace, was also critical of the compromise deal. They said: 'Major loopholes in REACH will still allow many chemicals that can cause serious health problems, including cancer, birth defects and reproductive illnesses, to continue being used in manufacturing and consumer goods. Further concessions exempt companies which import and manufacture chemicals in volumes below 10 tonnes a year - 60 per cent of chemicals covered by REACH - from the requirement to provide any meaningful safety data.'

Blair unveils massive attack on 'red tape'

Tony Blair has outlined 500 measures the government says will cut the £14bn cost of red tape to individuals, firms and charities. A number of safety measures are included in the plans, which aim to cut red tape by 25 per cent across all government departments. Mr Blair said: 'The UK is one of the best places to do business and we need to keep it that way.' Among planned changes is a roll out to 70 local authorities of the Retail Enforcement Pilot, criticised last year by shopworkers' union Usdaw as a 'misguided' attempt to introduce self-regulation of workplace and food safety in the sector (Risks 237). The prime minister also gave as an example the 'Health and Safety Executive (HSE) committing to savings of over £300 million through making compliance easier without compromising safety.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber urged caution. He said: 'Ministers should not forget that everyone is protected by regulations every day. At work we are protected from exploitation. When shopping we are protected from shoddy deals. And as citizens we are protected from toxic pollution, fire-trap buildings and dangerous vehicles.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson added: 'The TUC has been working with the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) in support of ensuring that health and safety regulation is clear and simple. We supported and welcomed the recent HSC simplification plan, because it meant better regulation, not weaker regulation.' He added: 'The TUC believes that regulation is a positive thing that is there to protect workers and the public, and is only a 'burden' on those employers who seek to put the health and safety of others at risk.' Launching its 'Challenging the red tape myths' report, STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: 'The setting of arbitrary targets is not only absurd, it is highly dangerous to the interests of workers, communities and the environment. Swingeing deregulation is also detrimental to the interests of good employers who find themselves undercut by cowboys.'

All sides say stop sniping at safety

Safety, enforcement, union and employers' organisations have ganged together to call for an end to the 'unremitting criticism' of health and safety and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In a 9 December letter to The Times signed by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) chief executive Rob Strange and top brass from the British Safety Council, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, The Work Foundation, the Electrical Contractors Association and the manufacturers' organisation EEF, the broad-based group wrote: 'There has been a steady stream of hostility towards the Health and Safety Executive, accusing it of creating red tape, restricting personal liberty, encouraging excessive risk aversion and supporting a claims culture. This highly negative portrayal does not reflect the experience of those at the sharp end, in business, trade unions and the professions who work closely with the HSE.' The letter adds: 'The HSE's 2006 performance report, 'Measuring up' (Risks 286), shows that over the past three decades this organisation has, with others, helped to save more than 5,000 lives and has actually cut the number of health and safety regulations on the statute books by half. There is a distinct danger that unremitting criticism of the HSE will obscure the reality that most health and safety regulation is fair, well balanced and works unnoticed to keep workers and the public safe. In a rapidly changing world of work, in which health, safety and wellbeing are increasingly critical to competitiveness, it is vital that we value and support the work of this world class organisation.'

Finger points at Browne on BP safety

BP chief executive Lord Browne was aware of safety concerns at the company's Texas City refinery for at least two years before a deadly explosion at the plant, internal documents suggest. A total of 15 contract workers died and 80 workers were injured in the March 2005 blast. There had been 23 deaths at the plant in 30 years. The refinery's director, Don Parus, told a confidential safety commission before the accident that 'killing somebody every 18 months seems to be acceptable at this site' and wondered why his staff turned up for work: 'Why would people take the risk, based on the risk of not going home?' The US Chemical Safety Board has accused BP of a 'cheque book mentality' towards safety. Texas City made profits for the company of nearly $1bn (£500m) annually. Yet BP ordered local managers to slash costs by 25 per cent (Risks 281). According to Andrew Clark of The Guardian: 'BP's chief executive has a duty of care to his employees. The size of that burden of responsibility is reflected in his pay packet of £3.3m last year.' An internal email suggested Lord Browne, the London-based global head of the company, knew of problems at Texas City as early as 2003 and that he was personally monitoring the site's monthly safety statistics. Clark commented: 'If Lord Browne saw and heard the many warnings, he should have shut down the site until it could be made safe. If he did not hear of them, he allowed a fatal culture of number-checking to pervade his senior ranks.' The Wall Street Journal revealed this week that Greg Coleman, who was UK based global vice president of BP's health, safety and environmental programmes before he left the company, said in internal BP interviews dated 21 June that Lord Browne 'showed little interest' in safety and demonstrated 'no passion, no curiosity, no interest' in safety issues. Mr Coleman is still featured on the UK Health and Safety Executive's website, among case histories to 'demonstrate the vital role that director leadership has to play in ensuring that risks to health and safety are properly managed.' Lord Browne signs off the company's global safety policy.

Insurance firms aim to add insult to injury

New research has shown that four out of five personal injury victims don't trust insurers to compensate them fairly without legal representation and over three quarters are not confident of bringing a claim themselves. The Law Society says it research shows an insurance industry proposal to increase the current limit of £1,000 for personal injury cases on the small claims track, where people are expected to represent themselves, will effectively leave thousands of victims unable to pursue justified claims, making insurance companies the big winners. Desmond Hudson, Law Society chief executive, said: 'With most people not trusting insurers to deal with them fairly without the help of a solicitor any increase to the small claims limit could leave most victims at the mercy of big insurers. This survey reveals that insurers, whether rightly or wrongly, are not trusted and access to independent legal advice is essential. Our new proposals for reforming the claims process would make it efficient while preserving the consumers' right to independent legal advice - making it fast and fair.' The Law Society says an increase of the small claims limit to £2,500 would mean that people with injuries such as broken bones, severed fingers and scarring would be left without the compensation they deserve. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'We welcome this report which reinforces the arguments already put forward by the TUC which is that raising the small claims limit would benefit no-one but the insurance companies and would deny hundreds of thousands of people access to justice.' Richard Langdon, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), said 'APIL's own research has found that if the limit were to increase, more than two-thirds of personal injury claims would be forced in the small claims court which would not only deprive people of their rights, but would fly in the face of what people are quite clearly saying they want.'

Fat chance this will work?

The government's health advisers are urging companies to do more to get their staff on their feet in order to combat a nationwide epidemic of unfitness. A raft of recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) range from providing bike sheds for those who want to cycle to work to encouraging staff to take the stairs instead of the lift. The guidance, set out as part of a detailed national plan for combating soaring obesity rates, will apply to larger businesses. NICE concluded that many workers do not have enough free time to engage in sports, and that activity needs instead to be built into the working day. The new NICE guidance, however, says nothing on improving the quality of the work so that doesn't lead to health problems. The Work Foundation said the NICE proposals did not go far enough, adding it 'believes that the primary route to healthier workers and healthier workplaces is not to focus on simple palliatives such as more bike racks and salad bars but to rethink the way workers work.' Director of research Steve Bevan said: 'Our research, and the research of others, shows that almost 25 per cent of the UK workforce have a long-standing illness or injury which affects their capacity to work. Over 16 per cent of the workforce has a mental health problem, and only a small minority ever receive treatment. While, on any one day, between 3 and 5 per cent of the workforce is away from work through illness, a further 25 per cent are at work but performing sub-optimally because of physical or mental illness. This is why we welcome the NICE initiative but also recognise it doesn't go far enough.' Workplace safety campaigners said NICE's acceptance that workers do not have the time to exercise outside of work begs more fundamental questions about how work is affecting the ability of the workforce to have healthy, balanced lifestyles. 'Futile exercise', a report this year from Hazards magazine, warned that an 'invasion of the buttie snatchers' to workplaces risked relegating workplace health and safety factors way below lifestyle initiatives in prevention priorities.

Australia: Call to tailor safety laws for young workers

A children's watchdog in Australia has called for a change in workplace health and safety laws after a study found four in every 10 employees aged 16 or under had been injured at work. 'Specific consideration"' should be given in law to the health and safety of workers under 18, the New South Wales (NSW) Commissioner for Children and Young People, Gillian Calvert, reported in recommendations on children at work tabled in the state parliament on 13 December. 'It's an alert to employers that children and young people may be different to adults and when they're looking at occupational health and safety they have to have policies that reflect that,' she said. A survey by the commission of 11,000 children aged between 12 and 16 found that 40 per cent had been injured at work. For 7 per cent, the injury was so serious they had to go to hospital or took at least three days off work or school. A Sydney Morning Herald investigation this year revealed that during the past decade, more than 310,000 under-25-year-olds in Australia had suffered work-related injuries or diseases - almost the same as the number of Australians killed and wounded during both world wars.

Australia: Self-insurance for firms to hurt workers

A new Australian government move encouraging big businesses to self-insure for workers' compensation could mean substantially reduced payouts for injured workers and could significantly lower the national standard of workplace health and safety, union federation ACTU has warned. It said the federal government is supporting moves by large businesses to withdraw from state-based schemes linked to enforcement, and instead sign up as self-insurers under the national Comcare scheme. Several major Australian firms were this week given permission to opt out of the state schemes and into the federal Comcare system. Unions are concerned that health and safety protections for workers are typically much lower in the federal system and that payouts for permanently injured workers are also much less. ACTU says, for example, the amount payable to a paraplegic is around 30-40 per cent less under Comcare than under the workers' compensation system in place in the state of Victoria. And for a worker who loses a thumb and forefinger in a workplace accident, the payment under Comcare is only Aus$66,000 (£26,400) while in Victoria it is Aus$107,000 (£42,800) and in New South Wales (NSW) it is Aus$114,000 (£45,600). ACTU president Sharan Burrow said: 'People don't go to the Bahamas to pay more tax. These companies are moving out of the State and Territory compensation systems so that they can cut costs. The big losers of this new move by the Howard government are going to be workers who are injured.' Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten was also scathing. 'The federal government is creating the health and safety version of Bahamian tax havens, where companies can go shopping for minimum safety regulation and premiums - at the expense of worker safety,' he said.

Canada: Work-related deaths rising sharply

The number of work-related deaths in Canada is rising sharply, revealing a dark side to the boom in the oil fields, mining and the construction sector. The escalating work deaths figure also reflects a steady increase in the number of workers dying from long-ago exposure to dangerous products such as asbestos, according to a report from the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. In 2005, the number of workplace fatalities totalled 1,097, an average of five every working day, said Andrew Sharpe, executive director of CSLS. Out of the deaths in 2005, 491 were the result of workplace 'accidents' while 557 were caused by diseases related to occupation. More than 30 per cent, or 340, of these deaths were asbestos-related - a big jump from fewer than 60 asbestos-related deaths a decade earlier, according to the study. 'The numbers and rates of workplace fatalities are troubling,' said Andrew Sharpe. 'Other countries are making progress in this area but we're not.' He added: 'In almost all other industrial countries, workplace fatalities are going down, but not in Canada.' The industries where workers have the greatest risk of dying on the job are those that typify Canada's image: fishing, mining, forestry and construction. Canadian workers are also paying the price for the widespread use of asbestos and its continued mining and export. Almost two-thirds of occupational exposure deaths were related to asbestos. 'We are in the midst of an epidemic of work-related mesothelioma cases,' said the Canadian Cancer Society, which is quoted in the report. The 119-page report, 'Five deaths a day', shows the number of work-related deaths has risen 45 per cent, to 1,097 last year from 758 in 2003. The statistics are drawn from provincial workers' compensation boards and include only deaths for which there was a claim. Men are 30 times more likely to die of work-related causes than women, according to the report. Older workers are also far more likely than young ones to die from work-related causes.

Europe: Cooperation is key says EU employment chief

High quality industrial relations including safety measures make a significant contribution to economic performance, from company-level to the economy as a whole, says a new European Commission report. The 2006 Industrial Relations in Europe report shows that co-operation between employers and trade unions plays an increasing role in the European workplace and can help to create the right conditions for strong growth. The report highlights health and safety agreements as prominent examples of cooperation at work, including Europe-wide deals on telework (Risks 63) and stress (Risks 178) and silica dust (Risks 254) and ongoing discussions on violence at work. 'Social dialogue at European level is changing,' said Vladimír ?pidla, EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities. 'We are seeing more and more new forms of cooperation between European employers and trade unions which bring concrete results for working people across the EU. In the evolving world of work, social partners are ideally placed to promote adaptability and to take measures for quality employment.' The 2006 report is the fourth edition of the Commission's biannual stocktaking exercise on the state of industrial relations.

Europe: Cancer problems hidden at work

Occupational cancers are being missed because of flaws in the reporting system, according to a new report. It says a major factor in the near invisibility of occupational cancer is that the related tumours in the great majority of cases only occur after the worker has retired. However, a pilot scheme by France's health protection agency which started in 2005 is using post-occupational monitoring for employees and self-employed skilled workers. Researchers have since 2005 identified retired workers who had work-related exposures to carcinogens and provided medical follow-up. Initial findings, based on 846 replies to a questionnaire sent out to 1,247 retired self-employed skilled workers in the Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes regions, suggest half of retired self-employed skilled workers have had at least one exposure to asbestos during their working lives. A medical checkup was offered to 75 per cent of those who responded to the questionnaire, but the medical data have not yet been processed. The research programme is due to go national sometime next year. Unions continue to play a critical role in identifying workplace cancer risks. Belgian union FGTB has said it is becoming increasingly concerned with the number of cancer deaths among former workers of a plant owned by the Belgian chemical giant Solvay. Out of 70 workers who used to work in two units in which mercury was used to produce caustic soda, 21 have died from cancer and several others are suffering from severe kidney disease and dental problems. According to FGTB, Solvay failed to take effective preventive measures and exposed its workers to high levels of mercury fumes because of a failure to maintain production equipment.

Global: IFJ hails UN action to protect journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has welcomed a move by the United Nations Security Council to press governments to give more protection to journalists in conflict zones and to fully investigate cases where media staff are killed under fire. A draft UN resolution sponsored by France and Greece and backed by Britain, Slovakia and Denmark that condemns all attacks targeting journalists and media workers in armed conflicts and urges combatants to respect the professional independence and rights of members of the media was circulated last week. 'After more than two years of hard campaigning we find the international community paying proper attention to our demands for an end to impunity in the killing of journalists,' said Aidan White, general secretary of the IFJ, which drafted an original text for a UN resolution that was presented to Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, just over a year ago. The campaign was initiated after the IFJ expressed concern that media staff had been omitted from an earlier UN resolution adopted by the Security Council in the aftermath of the devastating attack on the UN offices in Baghdad in which 22 staff members died. 'This is an unprecedented and important recognition of the dangerous crisis facing media staff in the field,' said White. 'This year is touching record levels in terms of media deaths and at least 163 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq alone over the past three years. Many of these deaths remain unexplained and uninvestigated.' The resolution, if adopted, would be the first by the UN Security Council that solely addresses the issue of journalists in conflicts. It would say that, due to the existing prohibitions in international humanitarian law, attacks intentionally directed against journalists covering armed conflicts are war crimes.

USA: Construction firms push unions as safer choice

With the number of construction deaths on non-union sites skyrocketing ( Risk 285 ), New York's largest building contractors' association has launched a $1 million (£0.5m) ad campaign to underscore the importance of hiring union workers. The year-long media blitz is aimed at 'public policymakers and real estate developers,' said Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers' Association (BTEA). The campaign, produced by top political strategist Hank Sheinkopf, will include radio and television spots, print ads and special events, Coletti said. The push comes at a time when the biggest building boom in decades has fuelled record construction deaths and accidents. In the year from 1 October 2005, 29 workers in the city were killed in construction accidents, 86 per cent of them on non-union job sites, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 'Non-union firms blatantly and intentionally circumvent established city regulations and put people's lives at risk,' Coletti said. Last month, the city established a taskforce to crack down on safety violations, most of them at non-union sites. The ad campaign will emphasise that BTEA has invested more than $50million (£25m) in worker safety training. 'Non-union contractors simply don't do that,' Coletti said.

New guide to the new asbestos regulations

The TUC and HSE have produced a brief guide for safety representatives on asbestos and the new Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. The online resource, which does not cover the legal functions of safety representatives, gives basic answers to the following questions: What is asbestos; why is it dangerous; where do you find asbestos; who is likely to be exposed to asbestos fibres; what's new in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006; what is a licence; what do the Regulations say and what should I do; what should I do if I suspect asbestos materials are present; and how do I find out more? You can start by reading this guide.

Tell your MP to support directors' duties!

There's still time to get your MP to sign up to Early Day Motion EDM 359 on directors' duties. The motion - sponsored by Labour MP Ian Stewart and designed to send a message to the government on the strength of feeling on the issue - says: 'That this House welcomes the provisions of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill; notes that it does not include any mention of health and safety duties applying to company directors; further notes that the report by the Home Affairs and Work and Pensions Select Committees (First Joint Report of Session 2005-06) clearly supported the introduction of such directors' duties; and calls on the government to introduce appropriate legislation to ensure that company directors who neglect health and safety to the point of causing death or serious injury can be prosecuted.' Make sure your MP is signed up and speaking up.

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