Risks 288 - 23 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 .

Safety must stay top of the council agenda

Retail union Usdaw has said health and safety must remain top of the agenda for local authorities. The call follows the announcement of a government review of local council statutory responsibilities. The government has appointed Peter Rogers, chief executive of Westminster City Council, to identify five national priorities for local councils from a list of over 60 statutory powers designed to protect local communities. Usdaw is concerned that establishing five key priorities will allow some councils to put less funding into enforcing their other 55 legal duties, including health and safety inspection. 'The reality is 90 per cent of Usdaw members work in small stores, warehouses and call centres which are protected by local authority inspectors,' said Usdaw general secretary John Hannett. 'Our fear is that if the government identity five key priorities then other legal checks will have less priority putting our members at risk of serious injury or death from bad employers.' He added: 'Usdaw accepts the need for a review, but setting five national priorities sends out the wrong message to councils already struggling to fund their statutory responsibilities that they can just ignore other serious areas with no real penalty. Usdaw has seen too many examples of bad health and safety practice from poor employers that should have been enforced by hard pressed councils and if this review gets it wrong then that situation will only get worse.' The Usdaw general secretary said the union's submission to the review 'will challenge the misguided perception that there is too much interference from local authorities into how businesses are run. We intend to make the case that rigorous inspections prevent businesses losing millions after being closed down after serious accidents or paying out compensation to injured workers. The Rogers Review will report before the next budget and Usdaw members will be writing to their local councillors and MPs making the case that five national priorities is the wrong way forward.' The Rogers review comes as the government is pushing a national campaign to slash red tape, which has highlighted safety measures as priority areas for action, including initiatives in the retail sector ( Risks 287 ). Usdaw health and safety officer Doug Russell commented: 'Local people do not expect to have to choose between safe homes, safe food or safe work.'

Teachers back NUT on workload action

Members of the teaching union NUT have responded positively to their union's campaign to tackle excessive workloads. A ballot of members showed 'overwhelming majorities' in support of the NUT workload guidelines and possible school level action. NUT said its ballot received a 'robust and significant' 20 per cent return. More than 40,000 members - over 99 per cent of those voting - said they backed the union's guidelines on 'removing unnecessary workload'. And almost nine out of ten (87 per cent) of those voting said they 'would be prepared to support a ballot for school based industrial action, without loss of pay, in order to address the problem of unnecessary workload where locally supported negotiations are unsuccessful'. NUT said its workload guidelines 'have been widely welcomed in schools as the most concise compilation available of teachers' conditions of service and policies on workload.' It added that the removal of excessive and unnecessary workload, the reduction in teachers' working time and the achievement of a better work-life balance for teachers will benefit the profession and 'be good for teachers, their families and the children in our schools.' NUT general secretary, Steve Sinnott, said: 'The ballot results fully support the NUT's campaigns to improve teachers' conditions and reduce workload.'

Six figure payout after injury travelling home

An electrical worker who suffered career-ending injuries on a ferry when travelling home after working away has been awarded £140,000. Amicus member George Shimmans, an electrical craftsman from Denbighshire, received the payout after being medically retired as a result of back injuries sustained on the Condor Ferries' craft. The incident took place in November 2003, as Mr Shimmans, then aged 56 and working for Siemens, was travelling back to Portsmouth from Jersey. When the night ferry jolted he went over backwards in his chair. 'The accident has changed my life completely,' said Mr Shimmans. 'I can only walk for a very limited distance before suffering extreme pain, and I can only drive for about 20 minutes. As a result, Siemens have had to retire me on medical grounds which impacts my future earning potential. But for my accident and symptoms, I would have continued in my job at Siemens earning my normal wage, together with overtime until retirement at age 65. This has all changed now.' Amicus regional officer Michael Barr said 'George Shimmans was able to take on the company using Amicus' solicitors and win.' He added: 'This successful outcome highlights the benefit of being in a union.' Solicitor Imogen Wetton, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: 'The chair which Mr Shimmans was sitting in was neither suitable nor safe and as it was unsecured it was both a danger and a trap. The accident has led to him taking early retirement on medical grounds, and the compensation secured reflects this. Union members don't often realise that their union legal service covers them for accidents outside of work too, even in unusual circumstances such as taking a ferry to or from work.'

Fat cats clean up as cleaners are washed out

Bankers at multinational firm Goldman Sachs have been warned they could end up clearing up their own rubbish and cleaning their own toilets by the over-stretched cleaners who work at their City of London offices. The union TGWU - which has launched a Justice for Cleaners campaign - says that while the bankers have pocketed Christmas bonuses averaging £320,000, the 120 low-paid cleaners have seen fewer workers having to pick up an increased workload. The cleaners, who protested outside Goldman Sachs' Fleet Street offices on Wednesday 13 December, are considering industrial action. The result of any industrial action ballot would be expected in the New Year. Commenting last week, TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley said: 'While bankers at Goldman Sachs will be splashing out on second homes, cars and polo ponies with their multi-million pound bonuses, cleaners at Goldman Sachs are being squeezed by staff cutbacks. The lack of cover means the cleaners are overstretched which makes an already difficult job even more stressful.'

Safety watchdog acts after union safety claims

A London food firm targeted by the union GMB after a series of safety violations ( Risks 286 ) has received an official safety warning. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation at one of three London factories run by Katsouris Fresh Foods, owned by the giant Icelandic Bakkavör Group, has resulted in an improvement notice, after the safety watchdog found a machine that removed a worker's finger tip was inadequately guarded. GMB says this is the seventh improvement notice issued by HSE at the Katsouris plants. It says the prospect of improvements are not good, as members of the Bakkavör human resources team have being touring the factory saying that the accident was the fault of operator, Mrs Dimple Mulgi, who lost the finger tip. Bakkavör management are refusing to recognise the union, which the GMB members and Katsouris want to represent them on safety and other issues. GMB officer Eamonn Coy said: 'HSE found that inadequate guarding of a dangerous machine led to the amputation of Mrs Dimple Mulgi's finger tip. This further improvement notice - the seventh to date - proves that Bakkavor's response is both complacent and uncaring.' He added: 'The 2,500 mainly migrant workers need a trades union to negotiate for them and improve health and safety.'

Union attacks hospital's xmas puddings

A union has attacked scrooge hospital bosses who say there will be no staff canteen facilities on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Amicus says Bedford Hospital Trust must provide staff working over the festival days with the opportunity to have a hot Christmas lunch and dinner on these days, especially as canteen facilities will be providing patients with hot traditional Christmas dinners. The union has written to management to ask them to explain the situation and to reconsider their decision. Amicus regional officer Owen Granfield said: 'It seems that the spirit of scrooge is alive and well in Bedford Hospital Trust. We think a responsible employer operating in a 24/7/365 day service should provide its hard working staff with the option of a hot Christmas dinner and their decision to withdraw it harks of ghosts of winters past. This hospital includes the old workhouse and even in 1724, those who worked there over Christmas, were provided all the necessary provisions for eating and drinking.' Mr Granfield added: 'Closing the canteen at Christmas is the act of mean minded, penny pinching philistines who have no grasp of social history and who should have no place working in public services - Charles Dickens would have agreed. Understandably the staff who have volunteered to work and forgo Christmases with families and friends are very angry and upse t.'

Questions asked about Corus 'justice'

The day steel giant Corus received what has been described as a 'pinprick' fine for criminal safety offences which led to the deaths of three workers, three sub-contract migrant workers at another Corus plant were jailed and told they would be deported for working illegally in the UK. The cases have thrown into stark relief concerns about the adequacy of existing workplace health and safety penalties, with the father of one of the dead men backing a campaign calling for the jailing of company directors found guilty of deadly safety crimes. The steel-making giant was fined £1.3m this week at Swansea Crown Court after admitting two breaches of health and safety law. Mr Justice Lloyd-Jones, who criticised the company's 'casual' attitude to safety, ordered Corus to pay more than £3m in a combined fine and costs award. But families of victims of the tragedy, dismayed at the penalty, walked out of the court in disgust. Len Radford, 53, Stephen Galsworthy, 25, and Andrew Hutin, 20, were killed when blast furnace number five exploded at Corus's Port Talbot plant in November 2001 ( Risks 244 ). Mike Hutin, the father of Andrew and a member of Families Against Corporate Killers (Fack), said he was 'absolutely gutted' by the small size of the fine. 'I find it quite unbelievable that they should have been fined such a meagre sum. I honestly believe that Corus should have been fined up to the maximum allowable. No amount of money will bring back my son but at least a large fine would have ensured that other companies sat up and listened and understood the consequences of not doing enough for health and safety.' Michael Leahy, general secretary of Community, the union representing steelworkers, said the fine 'certainly doesn't begin to reflect the scale of suffering of the workers and their families and of the traumatised community of Port Talbot. My union put all our resources at the disposal of the community - we spent over £500,000.' After the case, Health and Safety Executive director for Wales, Terry Rose said: 'This was systematic corporate management failure at the Port Talbot works. Proper management attention may have broken the chain which led to the explosion.' He added: 'This must be a wake up call for the industry. The process is centuries old but the risks need to be managed to the highest modern standards.' The three Indian immigrants who used false National Insurance cards to obtain work on the Corus site in Scunthorpe, received four month jail terms. The trio, who have all been served with deportation notices, were sentenced by District Judge Daniel Curtis, sitting at North Lincolnshire Magistrates' Court.

Building bosses fined after fall through floor

Two Bristol building companies have been fined after a pair of workers fell through a floor that had been overloaded with bricks. Mark Anthony Steventon-Smith of Mass Development and Tim Woodman of Westfield Roofing both pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations. Woodman, who was working as the site supervisor, was fined £1,500 and Steventon-Smith £1,000 at Bristol Magistrates Court. The men were also ordered to pay £3,894 costs between them. The court heard bricklayers Neil Hotchkins and Andy Fletcher were helping build a town house when the timber floor of the house fell through, taking the two men and their equipment with it. Mr Hotchkins suffered multiple injuries to his ankle and back. Mr Fletcher was unharmed. The Health and Safety Executive brought the charges against the two companies following the accident on 3 January this year. Steve Frain, prosecuting, said: 'It would have been simple to take some precautions. They should have made sure simple precautions were put in place. If they had done this then the accident wouldn't have happened.'

Firm fined over lift shaft horror

A Runcorn company has been ordered to pay £30,000 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to health and safety breaches which left two staff seriously injured. TJ Morris, trading as Home Bargains at Halton Lea, allowed two employees to attempt to hand-wind a stuck goods lift. The employees climbed a ladder and entered the motor room above the lift shaft at 7.20am on 4 January 2005, but a panel they were standing on gave way. The employees fell down the lift shaft and suffered serious injuries. The galvanised steel panel was designed to stop products falling down the shaft. The court heard the motor area entered by the women had a sign on the door stating in red block capitals: 'Danger lift machinery. Danger lift machine access. Forbidden to all unauthorised persons. Switch off power supply before entering the machine room.' Runcorn Magistrates Court heard the company had failed to limit access to the motor area to the authorised and trained employees of contract lift engineer, Classic Lift. It had also allowed branch-level management to develop, for several years had employed an unsafe system of work where employees dealt with intermittent lift breakdowns. The prosecution was brought by Halton Council under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 costs.

Teenage apprentice crushed to death

A teenager has been crushed to death at work. Apprentice plumber Michael Scott, 18, died after the accident at Anderson Plumbing and Heating Services in Aberdeen. Grampian Police is holding a joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Mr Scott was given first aid by a worker from a neighbouring company until ambulance crews arrived but he died later in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. His mother and father, Fiona and Peter Scott, spoke of their grief. 'Now we have been left with only the happiest of memories of a loveable, hardworking, decent young man who had his whole life in front of him and who would have made a difference to people's lives in the future.' Police are involved in the investigation but said there are not thought to be any suspicious circumstances. A spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive confirmed their inspectors had been to the site. A TUC-backed report published earlier this year in Hazards magazine revealed nearly 4,500 workers aged 16 to 24 were seriously injured or killed at work last year, over 20 per cent more than five years ago ( Risks 269 ).

Firms warned over road crashes

More than 1-in-4 road deaths in Britain last year involved an at-work driver, official figures show ( Risks 282 ). Department for Transport (DfT) data issued by road safety charity Brake indicate 850 people died and 6,012 were seriously injured as a result of the crashes. The statistics are being made available for the first time following changes in the way police record accidents. Brake, which has produced a free DVD for company drivers, is urging firms to improve risk management practices. 'Busy enough to kill?', which is part-funded by the DfT, includes interviews with families bereaved by road crashes involving at-work drivers. DfT figures show there were a total of 3,201 deaths and 28,954 serious injuries on Britain's roads in 2005, a year-on-year drop of 0.6 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. Brake said 26.5 per cent of the fatal crashes last year involved employees, resulting in the deaths of the at-work drivers themselves or other road users. Companies are only required to report driving incidents that happen on-site to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). But Brake wants firms to be required to report all at-work road incidents to the HSE. And it says every fatal and serious injury crash involving company drivers should be investigated by HSE. Jools Townsend, head of education at Brake, said: 'These figures demonstrate how important it is that, firstly, the government takes corporate responsibility for at-work driving seriously and, secondly, all employers take the life-savings steps of educating employees on safe driving and effectively managing their road risk.' A DfT spokesperson said the government has long encouraged companies with drivers to address safety, adding a new campaign highlighting the issue is planned for 2007. 'Driven to death', a TUC report in 2000, warned that one-in-four road deaths were in people driving for work, making driving Britain's most dangerous job. The report called for driving to be made an official workplace safety priority.

Jingle hell, jingle hell, jangling nerves all day

Christmas music in shops is stressing out shopworkers, a noise campaign, a trade union and a peer have warned. The relentless march of the Little Drummer Boy down Britain's high streets and the associated seasonal jingle hell over an ever-extending festive period amounts to 'torture', some campaigners say. 'If people don't want it and if they have a negative response to it and if they're exposed to something continually, the same songs over and over, it's no different to being tortured, it's the same reaction, the body will react in the same way,' said Val Weedon, national coordinator of the UK Noise Association. Paul Clarke, a spokesperson for shopworkers' union Usdaw, commented: 'It's an issue that has been brought to our attention. What we're saying to managers is if Christmas carols are being played on the same CD repeatedly that could create an unhealthy working environment for people.' He added: 'Our first port of call would be our officials or reps talking to managers and saying we're sick of listening to Little Drummer Boy for the 15th time today, could we change the CD over?' The union said it recommends that staff first negotiate informally with managers over the issue, but that it will back any members who want to take the issue further. Catherine Barker, an employment lawyer with Pinsent Masons, said: 'If the incessant Christmas music does in fact make an employee ill they may try to bring a claim in the civil courts for personal injury.' Life peer Lord Beaumont of Whitley proposed a bill earlier this year which would outlaw piped music altogether in public places related to health and transport. Beaumont believes that it can cause real damage. 'I think quite definitely that people who work in shops should have certain rights not to have music permanently pumped into them,' his Lordship said.

Temporary work is bad for you

A study of the health of workers has found that men in temporary jobs are more likely to suffer health problems than men in secure employment. Dr Vanessa Gash from The University of Manchester's School of Social Sciences spent two years examining health statistics of Spanish and German workers. The results, she says, are relevant to any country where there are temporary workers - including the UK. She says her findings chime with Scandinavian research which found fixed-term contract workers are more likely to die from alcohol and smoking related causes than permanent workers. Dr Gash said: 'Getting a job is good for your health, but according to our research it's less good for your health if you have a fixed-term contract - especially if you're a man.' She said frequent job loss 'often results in unemployment which usually causes a deterioration of general health indicators and health status. Fixed-term contract workers are also disproportionately affected by job insecurity which is also thought to affect health status. There may also be stresses linked to the comparatively poor job quality of some fixed-term jobs which tend to be relatively low paid.' Dr Gash said there was a 'major trend' towards temporary contracts across Europe ( Risks 261 ). 'In Spain where we did some of our work, a third of all workers are on fixed-term contracts,' she said. 'But it's also common in the UK especially as according to a recent EU report, new forms of work arrangements - including freelance or temporary agency workers - have increased to almost 40 per cent in 2005 across the EU.' Precarious work has been linked to host of workplace injury and ill-health risks ( Risks 260 ), with studies showing the health of insecure workers is between that of the secure - healthiest - workers and the unemployed.

Kitchen assistant awarded £60,000 after fall

A kitchen assistant who fell after being distracted by a faulty hot drinks machine has been awarded more than £60,000 in compensation. Helen Given, 61, said she heard hissing from a vending machine at James Watt College in Greenock, Scotland, in May 2003. She jumped backwards in shock and toppled over when something 'flashed' inside the drinks dispenser. She broke her hip and right wrist in the fall, spent 10 weeks in hospital and was bed-ridden for six months. She still needs a stick to walk. She was awarded £60,426 in compensation after an Edinburgh court found that the college had been at fault for breaching health and safety operations by operating faulty machinery. James Watt College agreed that the drinks machine was prone to malfunctioning but said they could not take responsibility for Given's fall. After her victory at the Court of Session, Helen said: 'The machine was like a wild animal. It started hissing and spitting water and then suddenly there was a flash. I just got such a fright that when I jumped back I lost my balance and fell over. Everyone knew that machine was an accident waiting to happen.' Seconds before she fell, Helen moved a student with special needs away from the machine after it started to hiss. The damages award included £20,000 for pain and suffering and £30,000 for past and future wage loss.

Victory for Scotland's asbestos families

Families of Scottish asbestos disease victims are celebrating an early victory in their fight for compensation. Changes in Scottish law to help people with asbestos-related cancer claim compensation have been brought forward to this week, the Scottish Executive has announced. Until now, asbestos disease victims have been forced to choose between claiming damages for themselves or waiting so that relatives can possibly claim more after their death. Deputy justice minister Johann Lamont said last week the Mesothelioma Damages Bill would be amended to enable people with the disease to benefit from its provisions from 20 December - rather than waiting for it to become law. She said: 'When mesothelioma strikes, we must ensure families receive the support they need and are not worried about legal choices. This legislation is designed to deliver exactly that.' Campaigners said they were delighted at the development. Phyllis Craig, of Clydeside Action on Asbestos, said: 'This really is fantastic news for all the victims and their families.'

Global: International contractors sign up to safety

A groundbreaking global agreement will commit construction contractors worldwide to providing improved and properly costed and resourced health, safety and welfare standards on public contracts. Global building workers' union federation BWI and the international contractors' association CICA struck the deal last month. They agreed the lowest price rule undermined safety and social security standards. Striking the deal at a Dubai consultation involving CICA, BWI and the World Bank, the new agreement improves on a basic safety and labour rights agreement signed by CICA and BWI in 2003. As well as a joint statement on corporate social and environmental responsibility, the new agreement commits the organisations to ensuring contracts and specifications have social and health and safety considerations and costs built in. Issues to be covered include workplace transportation, health and welfare facilities, workers' accommodation, training, prevention measures and protective equipment. 'Contractors have control over employment and labour standards, but only within the parameters set by the overall design and budget of the project,' said Fiona Murie, BWI health and safety director. She said the new agreement meant 'when a construction project goes out for tender the client must ask contractors to provide their written health and safety policy, and a project specific health and safety plan that details the hazards they foresee and how they will comply with legislative and contractual requirements to protect the health, safety and welfare of the workers.' BWI assistant general secretary Marion F Hellmann added: 'The client has to pay, however the contractor has the responsibility for the day to day implementation of the health and safety and welfare policy.'

Global: Workplace risks increasing worldwide

Long hours and longer working lives in developed countries is leading to greater lifetime exposures to health and safety risks, a paper in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine has warned. Finnish researchers estimate there are about 2 million work-related deaths annually, with the biggest categories of work-related diseases now cancers, circulatory diseases and communicable diseases. In developing countries, work exposures may start in infancy, the authors say. Due to industrialisation, workers in these countries are facing new conditions without the relevant knowledge and skills to minimise risks. The authors say with the help of information, nations can direct resources and skills for appropriate purposes such as regulatory measures on health and safety at work.

  • Päivi Hämäläinen, Jukka Takala, Kaija Leena Saarela. Global estimates of fatal work-related diseases, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 50, number 1, pages 28-41, January 2007 [ abstract ].
India: Workers killed as scaffolding collapses

Five workers were killed and several others were injured, some critically, in a scaffolding collapse in Bangalore last week. The labourers were migrants from Lingsugur taluk in Raichur district, employed by the construction company Sobha Developers. The men were attempting to remove the scaffolding after the completion of a building, but fell 70 feet when the scaffold collapsed 'like a pack of cards'. Police said the victims were aged between 20 and 25. Mathew Mammen, executive director of Sobha Developers, told the press the company always complied with standard safety measures at all their work sites. He said that the company would ensure that the injured were given full medical support and care. The police have filed a case under the Indian Penal Code against the contractor.

USA: Asbestos hazard warning survives challenge

An official warning to mechanics that exposure to asbestos in brakes can cause deadly disease will not be removed from a US government website, and official safety watchdog the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will not now suspend a scientist who had refused to water down the warning. Edwin Foulke Jr, the head of OSHA, made the decision to keep the five-page warning, called a Safety and Health Information Bulletin, on the agency's website. The safety bulletin was posted on an OSHA website in July, but subsequently faced an industry challenge. 'There is no proof of asbestos in brakes ever harming those working on or around them,' Michael Palese, a spokesperson for Daimler-Chrysler Corp's legal communications, told The Baltimore Sun last month. 'Not a single case has ever been documented. Not one.' Worker safety specialists tell the opposite story. Richard Lemen, former acting director of the US government's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and a former assistant US surgeon general, and other public health experts have presented case studies and medical records of scores of brake and friction-material workers who were reportedly sickened or killed by asbestos-related diseases. Ira Wainless, the OSHA scientist who wrote the bulletin, was told last month that he would be suspended without pay for 10 days because he refused requests by supervisors to add references to industry-friendly asbestos studies that he and other asbestos experts said lacked credibility. Last week, after several hours of negotiations between the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and OSHA officials, the agency signed an agreement to withdraw its proposed suspension of Wainless. Eleanor Lauderdale, the executive vice president of AFGE Local 12, said: 'He stood up for the safety of workers, as is the job of everyone in OSHA.'

Go on - 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. So far over 80 have signed up - but that means several hundred have not. 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.

Building stronger unions conference, 6 February 2007, Cardiff

A Wales TUC 'Building stronger unions' conference aims to support organising efforts by unions in Wales. The conference is for any union activists who want to see their trade union grow - including shop stewards, health and safety reps, union learning reps and officers involved in organising or in organising organisers. The conference will include: expert speakers on the latest labour market information in Wales; workshops to develop organising skills and strategies; and opportunities to share good practice in organising. The conference is free of charge and includes lunch.

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