Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 14,500 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 NEWS
- Action on 'absurd' sacking of injured worker
- Nestlé pays out for tennis elbow cases
- CWU action on mail strains
- Union backs MPs call on port safety
- Cyber-bullying 'rife' in UK business
- Safety reps briefed about floods
- Urgent action call as deaths soar
- DWP pushes for construction deaths action
- Corporate killing law finally passed
- Let-off for directors takes shine off new law
- BP boss survives safety scandals unscathed
- Firm fined over slurry pit death
- Firm fined after forklift accidents
- Work death leads to £75,000 fine
- Workers living in fear under 'brutal' Amazon
- Asbestos victim gets £160,000 payout
- Canada: Smoke, fire and Lou Gehrig's disease
- Brazil: Factory protest against deadly speed-up
- France: Renault could face courts over suicides
- USA: Industrial brakes caused steelworker cancers
Action on 'absurd' sacking of injured worker
Around 100 catering staff at Virgin West Coast's Manchester Piccadilly depot this week mounted a third day of strike action in support of an unfairly sacked colleague. RMT is demanding the re-instatement of Rachel Tombling, who sustained injuries when her head hit a computer screen in an on-board shop when her train experienced rough riding - but was sacked when the company claimed she had wilfully damaged it. 'The ludicrous allegation that she deliberately head-butted the screen shows a complete disregard for the welfare of Virgin employees,' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said. 'Rachel should have been given sympathy and help for her injuries, but Virgin chose instead to discipline her, and have even upheld their absurd ruling at appeal. The CCTV evidence the company presented simply does not support their absurd case that this was a deliberate act, but their unwillingness to listen to reason left us with no option but to call strike action.' Mr Crow added: 'Our members have responded magnificently once more, and picket lines have been busy with colleagues eager to demonstrate their solidarity with Rachel. It is time for Virgin to reverse this ridiculous sacking.'
Nestlé pays out for tennis elbow cases
Nestlé UK Ltd has paid compensation to four workers at the coffee making giant's site at Burton on Trent after each of them developed tennis elbow - mirroring the experiences of workers at another of the company's plants in Brazil. Steven Davis, received £11,000, a colleague £4,000 and two other workers undisclosed sums after developing the occupational strain injury. The same operation caused the painful condition affecting the outside part of the elbow in all four Unite TGWU section members. They were involved in digging out blocked coffee cyclones - a heavy and prolonged process which often took 3-4 days. Process operative Steven Davis, who had worked at the coffee granules plant for about 16 years, said: 'To give an indication of how big the blockages can be, we have to use a steel bar, a crow bar and even a jack hammer to break them up. I believe that Nestlé are to blame for my injuries as the effort needed to carry out these unblocking processes is excessive and one where you have to constantly hack away to get the blockages free.' Union officer Maurice Swindell said: 'Clearly there have been serious health and safety issues at Nestlé UK Ltd, so we're pleased with the successful outcome of these cases for our four members. All employers have a duty of care to their employees and Nestlé is no exception.' In 2005, the company faced international criticism for a 'silent massacre' of strain injury cases at a factory in Brazil making instant coffee and other produce (Risks 196). Global food union federation IUF said: 'The intensified pace of work, with no compensatory increase in work breaks, has not surprisingly led to an increase in the number of workers suffering from repetitive strain injuries (RSI)'.
CWU action on mail strains
Postal union CWU has launched a new guide to tackle the high rates of workplace strains suffered by mail delivery staff. It says musculoskeletal injuries in Royal Mail are running at over 10 times the rate for workplaces overall. CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said the company's track record on safety 'isn't good enough, in fact it's four times worse than the transport industry.' He added HSE 'aren't too impressed either' after a programme of delivery office inspections. 'The purpose of the new CWU 'Safe working on delivery guide' is to help our local safety reps and unit reps ensure the risks to health and safety on delivery work are properly controlled... Managers need to start listening to our safety reps and working with them, becoming problem solvers, deploying safety improvements, being compliant with the law, deploying risk control measures and safe systems of work.' He concluded: 'We're in difficult times but health and safety can't be side-stepped and delivery office managers, working with CWU health and safety representatives and delivery staff is the best way of realising health and safety benefits all round.'
Union backs MPs call on port safety
Recommendations of a government committee that would make ports safer places to work have been welcomed by a union. Top union members at the TGWU section of Unite - the union's docks and waterways national committee - backed MPs on the Transport Select Committee who urged ministers to establish a statutory safety inspectorate for ports and to make the Port Marine Safety Code compulsory. The committee's report said there was a need to 'reassure port workers that they are valued by the government and by their employers and that safety is paramount.' The government has rejected both moves, insisting the Health and Safety at Work Act as enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is sufficient, as is dock regulation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Ministers have also said the voluntary approach is the best way, supported by verification visits and risk assessments. 'The MPs are right to value the port workers but the ministers are all at sea by suggesting voluntary measures are the best way,' said Graham Stevenson, the union's national organiser for transport. 'We're not sure the HSE is properly resourced as it is. We hope ministers will think again.'
- Unite TGWU news release. Transport Committee. Ninth Special Report: The Ports Industry in England and Wales: Government Response to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2006-07 .
Cyber-bullying 'rife' in UK business
One in five UK workers has been bullied by email, new research has found. An independent online survey of over 1,000 workers for the Unite-Amicus led Dignity at Work Partnership found a fifth of respondents have been bullied by email in their current or previous jobs, and 6.2 per cent have been bullied via a text message. Almost nine per cent believe that cyber-bullying is a problem in their current organisation. The increased use of communications tools such as Blackberries is also making cyber-bullying a problem outside working hours, according to 13 per cent of respondents. The survey also found that many employees do not know what to do if they experience bullying at work, with six per cent saying they would take revenge on the bully, almost 10 per cent saying they would do nothing and four per cent saying they would leave their job. 'Bullying in the workplace can destroy peoples' lives,' said Mandy Telford, Unite's Dignity at Work coordinator. 'Our project aims to tackle workplace bullying in partnership with employers. We hope that showing the financial impact of bullying will encourage them to develop their own anti-bullying policies, benefiting both their staff and their bottom line.' The project's new booklet sets out the business case for tackling bullying at work, examines what has worked for other organisations, provides recommendations for preventing the issue arising and advises employers how to address problems. Dignity at Work is running a series of free seminars around the country on how to tackle bullying at work.
- Unite Amicus news release and Dignity at work project. The project's booklet, 'The role of trade unions and the business case for tackling bullying' is available free within the UK. Orders: email Mandy Telford; Online.
Safety reps briefed about floods
TUC is urging union safety reps to be on their mettle as the recent floods will not only cost the economy billions of pounds, they will also have a major and sometimes devastating impact on the lives, and the work, of hundreds of thousands of people. It has published a new guide for safety reps on coping with health and safety problems arising from flooding at work. Employers have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of all employees is protected during this period, the guide says, adding it is not in anyone's interests to ask employees to risk their lives or health either through the effects of the floods themselves, or the aftermath. TUC says the guidance 'is intended to assist union representatives and members in ensuring that the health and safety of employees is not put at risk as a result of the current crisis. It is not intended to deal with the wider societal issues, although unions are already heavily involved in supporting members in those areas of the country where the flooding is most widespread.' It does contain hard information, including: 'Under no circumstances should an employer ask anyone to travel in a flooded area unless they are part of the emergency services, have been trained in how to deal with such situations and have full support and back-up.' It adds: 'People should not drive in flooded areas unless they have to, and should never, ever try to drive through floodwater. Not only is there the possibility that a vehicle may be swept away, but floodwater is also likely to be contaminated with sewage.' The guide also deals with issues such as possible chemical and biological contamination of flood waters, and with reoccupation of buildings, where there may be electrical and other safety issue to address. The guide also warns about exhaust fumes from pumps used to pump-out flooded buildings. Two people died this week, thought to have been overcome by fumes while trying to pump out water from a flooded building at Tewkesbury Rugby Club.
Urgent action call as deaths soar
Deaths at work are at a five year high, new figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show. Statistics for 2006/07 released on 26 July show 241 workers died, up 11 per cent from 217 deaths in 2005/06. The fatalities figure is the highest since 2001/02. A total of 77 construction workers died, up from 60 the previous year, an increase of over 28 per cent. The number of deaths also increased in the service sector. Fatalities increased in both England and Wales, but fell slightly in Scotland. Commenting on the shocking figures, TUC urged the government to get tough with safety criminals. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'These figures are dreadful. Each one of these tragic deaths was preventable and shows that employers are not doing enough to make their workplaces safe. Among the worst offenders are employers in construction, the waste industry, and agriculture, where there are high concentrations of migrant workers. This requires urgent attention.' Mr Barber added: 'The UK needs a massive change in its workplace safety culture. Making employers more accountable when things go wrong and increasing the likelihood of a visit from a safety inspector would make a real difference. But ministers have refused to place a specific legal duty for health and safety on company directors, and with less money than ever at its disposal, the HSE has had to cut its staff, including the number of its safety inspectors. Employers must be encouraged to work more closely with union safety reps. Where there is a union presence at work, employees are at much less risk of fatal accident or injury.' Mr Barber said ministers, HSE and local authorities all had to take a harder line against criminal employers, adding 'with employers only likely to get a visit from a safety inspector once every 11- 20 years, it's still far too easy for them to risk the safety of their workers without fear of getting caught. Unless the government gives the HSE more resources to do their job properly, today's increase could very well become a trend.' HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger indicated the safety watchdog had started to reverse the dramatic downward trend in enforcement. 'In the past year we have approved 25 per cent more prosecutions than the year before and our inspectors have served 1,000 more enforcement notices,' he said. 'No one should believe that they can get away with serious breaches of health and safety.'
- HSE news release and 2006/07 statistics report [pdf]. TUC news release. STUC news release. Daily Mirror.
DWP pushes for construction deaths action
The union representing inspectors and specialists in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has welcomed the creation of an industry-wide forum to target rising deaths in the construction industry. Prospect said the announcement from Peter Hain, secretary of state for work and pensions, follows calls from Prospect, construction union UCATT and Michael Clapham MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on occupational health and safety, for urgent action on construction deaths. Prospect negotiator Mike Macdonald said: 'Peter Hain's unambiguous condemnation of a rise in accident rates is welcome. Prospect fully supports this initiative to pool experience, skills and ideas to reduce an utterly unacceptable death rate in construction. Our members who devise construction policy, advise employers, inspect sites and enforce the law are appalled by the rise in fatal accidents and we will do what is required to protect construction workers.' Prospect is also calling for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to address four points previously raised by Michael Clapham. 'In particular,' said Macdonald, 'the department needs to increase the number of staff in HSE so it can meet its aspiration to increase the level of enforcement. In a civilised society, we should not be cutting the number of professional staff at HSE promoting construction safety when death rates are rising.' Announcing the new forum, minister Peter Hain said: 'We have a seen a significant rise in deaths within the housing and refurbishment sectors and I am calling together clients, contractors, trade unions, designers, suppliers and others for a special forum in September to try and crack the problems in these areas. I have also asked the Health and Safety Commission and Executive to redouble their efforts in driving improvements within the construction industry.' He added: 'With the prime minister's commitment to build 3 million new homes over the next few years and large scale developments such as the Olympics the industry and government must work together to do all we can to ensure the health and safety of construction workers is put first.'
Corporate killing law finally passed
The long awaited corporate killing law is to take effect next year. An impasse which saw the law threatened by a standoff between the Lords and MPs was overcome after MPs conceded the law should also cover prisoners killed in custody. Ministers had previously insisted that the prison service should be exempt, but the Lords refused to approve the law unless the exemption was removed. The government agreed this week to introduce new protection for prisoners at some point after the act comes into force. Most of the laws provisions will now take effect in April 2008. Discussions are ongoing about when publicity orders will be introduced, but it will be some time after the other provisions. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber gave the law a qualified welcome. 'Even though unions wanted the bill to make individual directors personally liable for safety breaches and penalties against employers committing safety crimes to be tougher, we hope it will mean the start of a change in the safety culture at the top of the UK's companies and organisations,' he said. 'The catalogue of avoidable workplace deaths in recent years has highlighted in stark terms the need for a change of attitude over safety in UK boardrooms. To make a real difference, we now need to ensure that this law is accompanied by a new legal health and safety duty on directors and a requirement on companies to report annually on their workplace safety culture.'
- Ministry of Justice news release. TUC news release. The Guardian. The Times.
- Details of the new Act.
Let-off for directors takes shine off new law
Unions and campaign groups have given a lukewarm welcome to the new corporate killing law, saying the omission of explicit legal duties on and penalties for company directors is a major flaw. Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union UCATT, said it was 'a hollow victory.' He added: 'The issue of directors' duties will not go away because without them the construction industry will not become an appreciably safer industry.' Bud Hudspith, national safety officer with Unite's Amicus section, welcomed the law, but added 'we will still press for individual duties for directors found guilty of serious breaches of health and safety to be included. All the evidence shows that this is a key determinant in companies making improvements to their health and safety provisions.' GMB national safety officer John McClean said 'it does not go far enough in that individual directors and employers may still be able to evade prosecution for their negligence which results in serious injuries and deaths. GMB sees this bill as a starting point in the ongoing campaign to make senior managers liable as individuals for negligent behaviour.' ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman said: 'If train drivers cause an accident they can go to prison - yet the bosses who provide them with equipment which may be faulty and cause an accident will get off scot-free.' Hilda Palmer of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) said the failure to make directors more responsible 'means there will be relatively little deterrent effect. This is very much a business as usual Bill and comes at a time when deaths at work are rising, when enforcement action is dropping and when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is being decimated [Risks 315]. The fight for justice and prevention of unnecessary deaths at work will have to go on.'
- UCATT news release. Unite-Amicus news release. GMB news release. ASLEF news release. Usdaw news release. FACK news release. CCA news release.
BP boss survives safety scandals unscathed
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has said it will fine London-based multinational BP $92,000 (£44,700) for new safety breaches at its Texas City refinery. The company's recently unseated global boss whose cost cutting programme was blamed for some of the company's poor safety performance, meanwhile, has been given a plumb post by Gordon Brown. OSHA says the new offences are similar to those responsible for the fatal blast which killed 15 and injured over 170 in March 2005. The citations, including one for a violation OSHA said may have led to another major accident, come from its post-blast monitoring of the plant. BP has two weeks to contest the citations and penalties. The citations include four 'serious' violations and one 'wilful' violation. The latter was for failure to ensure that a pressure-relief system on a large pressure vessel, called a fractionator, conformed to industry codes, OSHA said. 'The citations issued today are based on the identification of hazardous conditions similar to those that led to the tragic March 2005 explosion,' said Dean McDaniel, OSHA's regional administrator, in a prepared statement. BP is being investigated by the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and US Justice Department over the original blast. An internal BP report in May said that BP executives should be sacked for failing to prevent a fatal blast, and traced blame back to the London-based board ( Risks 310 ). Last month, the author of the report admitted company bosses has 'toned down' this report. Lord John Browne, the former top boss responsible for BP's global management at the time of all these safety breaches, has just been given by prime minister Gordon Brown a prestigious role as a Tate Gallery trustee. Lord Browne resigned from his job as BP's global chief executive in May, after admitting he lied to a court on matters relating to his private life.
- OSHA news release. Galveston County Daily News. The Eagle. BBC News Online on the BP fine and on Lord Browne's new trustee role. More news on BP's safety record.
Firm fined over slurry pit death
An animal rendering firm has been fined £650,000 after an employee died when he fell into a pit of offal. John Pointon and Sons of Cheddleton, Staffordshire, was convicted at Stafford Crown Court on four counts of breaching health and safety laws. Director Carl Pointon was cleared of manslaughter charges in May. Glynn Thompson, 45, died in August 2004 trying to help a colleague in the slurry pit, when he slipped and fell. Judge Simon Tonking said the company's safety structure was 'flimsy and ineffective.' He said: 'The system to clear blockage of equipment had obvious and inherent dangers in a slippery environment. Also inherent in this system was another deadly danger - the gases given off from animal waste. There was serious dereliction of duty which fell short of what should have been done.' After the hearing, Det Con Chris Short of Staffordshire Police said it had all been avoidable. 'If the company had put in place the adequate health and safety measures that were required then this would not have happened,' he said. John Pointon and Sons was fined £650,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 costs. The case was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Firm fined after forklift accidents
A Lancashire firm has been fined £20,000 after two people were injured in separate forklift truck accidents in just 18 days. Norlec Engineering Ltd pleaded guilty to four charges at South Ribble Magistrates Court, Leyland, and was fined a total of £20,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £3,311. The company had been charged with two offences under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, in that they failed to carry out suitable risk assessments, and two further offences of failing to conduct their business in such a way as not to expose people to risk under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The court heard that Norlec, a precision sheet metal manufacturer employing 120 people, were prosecuted following two incidents involving forklift trucks on 10 February and 28 February last year, the worst resulting in the worker breaking a leg, resulting in several months off work. HSE inspector Joanne Nicholls said: 'Better planning, training and awareness, and the appropriate use of vehicles, can avoid most of these accidents.'
Work death leads to £75,000 fine
A steel company has been fined £75,000 after the death of an employee who was crushed between two wagons. Manchester firm Arcelor Avis SSC Ltd, previously known as Avis Steel Services Ltd, was also ordered to pay full costs of £7,282 at Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester after being found guilty of safety offences relating to the death of despatch loader Paul Howell. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Charles Cottle said: 'Prior to the incident, the despatch team was not aware of the possibility that a wagon might move away if started in gear. The company failed to provide and maintain a system of work - for starting of wagons by members of the night shift despatch team - which was safe. They company further failed to provide the despatch team with such information, instruction, training and supervision as was necessary to ensure safety.' It was the despatch team's practice that if vehicles needed to be moved they would reach into the vehicle to turn on the ignition while standing on the ground. Once all the wagons to be moved had been started up, they would then be manoeuvred in turn to their required positions. HSE said on this occasion it is believed that the wagon was parked in gear without the brakes on and when Paul Howell reached in to start the wagon it set off. Mr Howell pulled the driver's door back open and tried to stop the wagon, but it collided with another wagon and he was crushed.
Workers living in fear under 'brutal' Amazon
Amazon workers are living in fear of heavy-handed bosses, a Scottish employment expert has warned. Jim McCourt has spoken out about the random body searches and ongoing drug tests he says are commonplace in the factory which ships out books, CDs and DVDs across Scotland. He believes the situation is spiralling out of control, as his office has received in the region of 50 calls for help from under-fire employees who work for the internet giant. Mr McCourt, of the Inverclyde Employment Rights Office, is calling on the 300-strong workforce to unite and join a trade union. He told the Greenock Telegraph: 'Amazon is unnecessarily heavy-handed with a workforce that is delivering for them. They are harsh and over zealous. I have concerns about the contract of employment which is just within the law.' He said the situation was 'particularly brutal' at Amazon, adding: 'There is no representation for employees. They feel drug tests are used as a punishment by the company. I have had numerous calls from people working there about body searches of both male and female employees.' Clauses in workers' employment contracts include ruling out 'idling and chatting' in the workplace. Mr McCourt is also concerned about the grants handed out by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Enterprise to secure Amazon's relocation to the area. He said: 'I am writing to Scottish Enterprise, because where taxpayers' money has been used there should be conditions written in that workers have to be treated fairly.' Paul Grieve, an official with the trade union GMB, said the union was ready to help. He added: 'The company is playing on the fact that people in Inverclyde are desperate for jobs because it is a deprived area. When people sign the contract, they are agreeing to things like body searches.'
- Greenock Telegraph.
- Hazards news and resources on workplace drug tests and other work privacy issues.
Asbestos victim gets £160,000 payout
A roofer who worked with asbestos for over 20 years has been awarded over £160,000 in compensation. Jim Kingshott of Shoreham-by-Sea received the settlement after he developed the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Jim, 57, was diagnosed with the cancer of the lining of the lung in December 2006 and has been told by doctors he has just months to live. He was exposed to asbestos while fitting roofs and ceilings for Doric Co Ltd. He started out as a labourer for the family firm in 1968 before being employed as a roofer until he was made redundant in 1991. Doric later went into liquidation. Compensation was secured after just seven months. Jim said: 'Now I know my children will be looked after in the future and I can now pay to have the things done that I can no longer do.' He added: 'Just getting up in the morning and putting my clothes on leaves me breathless. I can no longer do the garden or wash my car.' Head of asbestos policy at Thompsons Solicitors, Ian McFall, who represented Mr Kingshott, said: 'We are pleased to have finalised this case quickly so Mr Kingshott can have the benefit of his compensation. It was important that Mr Kingshott knew his family would be financially secure.'
Canada: Smoke, fire and Lou Gehrig's disease
At least seven out of 10,500 full-time firefighters in the Canadian province of Ontario have recently developed Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable and fatal neurodegenerative condition, investigations have found. There's no medical consensus on what causes ALS. But the fact that so many firefighters have contracted it - and that their relationships overlap - is a contravention of incredible odds: Statistically, only one or two people in 100,000 get the disease. 'The fact that this has happened in seven firefighters is a concern,' said Lorne Zinman, director of the ALS clinic at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. 'It certainly bears further investigating.' Complicating the issue is the fact that occupational health and safety statistics are not tracked in Canada. Some firefighters feel their workmates wouldn't be perishing from this cruel disease if they'd worked in jobs that spared their lungs from toxic chemicals. Occupational disease representatives at the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, the provincial firefighters' union, already had their concerns. 'I would be very surprised at the end of the day if there is not a relationship,' said Paul Atkinson, a former Toronto firefighter and one of the association's reps. 'I think we'll see, just like cancer... that it cuts across the board of firefighters. It wasn't too many years ago that there wasn't science out there on cancer and firefighting. Now, it's becoming blatantly obvious.' That's in part due to the detective tactics Mr Atkinson and another representative, firefighter Colin Grieve, used in their efforts to force the province to recognise the link between a collection of cancers and firefighting (Risks 305). For seven years, the pair have been collecting cancer claims from firefighters across Ontario and flooding the provincial compensation board's system with them to try to establish a pattern of sickness on record. ALS has since entered the running for the next frontier. Workplace exposures including lead and organic solvents (Risks 53) have been linked to ALS.
Brazil: Factory protest against deadly speed-up
Trade unionists in Brazil are calling for an official inquiry into safety standards at a multinational food giant after the death of a worker. Representatives of the national foodworkers' union CONTAC, the national union centre CUT and global union federation IUF's Latin America office joined workers at a rally this week outside Cargill's poultry processing plant in Sidrolândia. The protesters are demanding justice for 29-year-old Marcos Antônio Pedro, who was killed on 28 March. SINDAVES, the union representing workers at the plant, has filed charges against the company. Following the demonstration a union delegation headed for the state capital Campo Grande to demand a full inquiry by the federal prosecutor. Pedro, a maintenance worker, was sliced in half after he fell into a tank in the chilling unit. Management has called his death a 'suicide' and refused compensation. Unions say maintenance workers at Cargill Sidrolândia are provided no safety or protective equipment whatsoever, despite the hazardous work. They have exactly one hour to clean the entire plant between slaughter cycles. A rescue operation was botched because management rushed the effort in a bid to restart the production cycle on time. CONTAC and IUF Latin America are campaigning in Brazil for fundamental regulatory action to combat the horrendous line speeds which are driving Brazil's poultry export boom. Workers at the Sidrolândia plant process over 150,000 chickens daily, all exported to Europe and the United States.
France: Renault could face courts over suicides
Car maker Renault could face prosecution for the suicides of three workers at its technical centre in Paris, after the French Work Inspectorate submitted the findings of its investigation to the public prosecutor. Three employees at the company's state-of-the-art Technocentre killed themselves between October 2006 and February 2007 (Risks 309). In linking the three suicides, the inspectorate has added weight to union claims that Renault, as employer, should be held responsible and the deaths treated as workplace 'accidents'. The firm is also under pressure from France's state health insurance agency, which performed a u-turn and declared that the first of the three suicides should be considered an accident at work, having previously said it shouldn't. The company has lodged an appeal contesting the agency's decision. An employee support plan was drawn up following the deaths, aimed at improving working conditions. There has also been another suicide at rival Peugeot's Mulhouse plant, where an assembly worker was found hanged. This was the sixth suicide at the company since the start of the year, a trend that unions have again linked to work pressures (Risks 312). Police are said to have found a computer disk belonging to one of the victims, containing details of his working conditions. The latest suicide came a fortnight after Peugeot set up a free telephone helpline for staff seeking psychological help. Last year in Japan, authorities made 65 compensation payouts for overwork-related suicides, and one for attempted suicide (Risks 307). A TUC-backed report in Hazards magazine in 2003 warned that in the UK, heart disease, suicide and stroke would be major workplace killers in the high paced, high stress 21st century workplace (Risks 118).
USA: Industrial brakes caused steelworker cancers
The families of three former Bethlehem Steel workers have been awarded $3.97 million (£1.93m) in an asbestos settlement. The former steelworkers had sued General Electric in Baltimore Circuit Court over exposures from asbestos-lined industrial brakes used in cranes and other equipment at the mill. The three steelworkers, Henry Copland, Dennis Ellison and Elihu Alford, died of lung cancer that their families argued was caused by the brakes on cranes and the mill motor used to transport steel. Brake supplier GE argued that its brakes did not give off dangerous fibres and that the men's lung cancer was caused by other materials at the Sparrows Point steel mill. Seven plaintiffs originally filed suit, but four were dismissed on summary judgment. The case had between 15 and 20 defendants at first, but all were either dismissed or settled with the plaintiffs, lawyer Mike Edmonds said. Copland's family received $1.205 million (£582,000), Ellison's family $760,000 (£368,600) and Alford's family $1.96 million (£950,000). Edmonds had asked for between $3.5 million (£1.7m) and $5 million (£2.42m) per family, based on government figures for computing the value of a human life.
The Health and Safety Executive has published some of its more popular free leaflets as audio files. The first publications in the new format cover electrical safety, first aid, gas safety, general safety law, homeworking, office work, occupational health and sickness, risk assessment, slips and trips and stress prevention. All are available as mp3 files.
EVENTS AND COURSES
TUC courses for safety reps
COURSES FOR JULY TO OCTOBER 2007
- Visit the TUC http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/ website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
- Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
- What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
- HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
Issued: 27 July, 2007