Risks 327 - 13 October 2007

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Number 327 - 13 October 2007

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hazard 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 15,000 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 .

Mum wants action not compensation

The daughter and girlfriend of a steeplejack killed by a fireball as he worked demolishing a 60-metre high chimney have received £335,000 compensation in a union-backed case. Father-of-one Craig Whelan was just 23 when he died while working on the chimney at Carnaud Metal Box Plc's Bolton factory in May 2002 (Risks 308). He and another steeplejack, Paul Wakefield, were attempting to burn off a black tarry residue from the inside of the chimney when catastrophe struck. The two men were working for steeplejack firm Churchills at the time. Barrister, Mr Anthony Berrisford, told London's High Court the fumes suddenly ignited, causing a fireball of such intensity that it burned through the metal cables holding up the hoist on which the two men were standing. The family sued Metal Box Ltd who this week agreed to a £335,000 settlement. Approving the deal after a brief hearing, Mr Justice Griffith Williams said: 'I am pleased there's been a settlement, for the sake of the family.' The case was backed by construction union, UCATT. Since the disaster Mr Whelan's mother, Linda Whelan, has campaigned publicly for tougher laws and penalties in workplace death cases. The founder member of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) said: 'Craig's brothers and I have never sought any money and we have had no part in the civil case and the compensation payment to Craig's daughter and his girlfriend. My case has always been for justice for Craig and for action to stop workers' lives being treated so cheaply. Millions of pounds would not compensate me for my son's smile or his presence at my table.' She said she would continue the FACK campaign for workplace safety and added: 'I will also fight for much more funding for the HSE - not the cuts it currently faces and I want this in order to deter and catch employers before they kill people not afterwards. Join us and help us make work safer and save lives, better safe than a broken heart.'

Global link up to improve shipbreaking

A delegation of Indian trade union officials arrived in Tyneside this week to meet with union leaders and visit A&P Tyne, a union organised shipbuilding and shipbreaking yard. The fact finding visit, arranged by the GMB's northern region, is part of an international campaign to improve shipbreaking standards in India (Risks 279). It is common practice in India's shipbreaking yards for men, women and children to dismantle ships by hand as they are moored on the beach (Risks 278). The visitors include Rane Vidyadhar Vasudeo, president of the Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers Federation; Apraj Sudhakar Ramchandra, secretary of the All India Port and Dock Workers' Federation and Ram Murat Ram, vice president of the Alang Sosiya Ship Recycling and General Workers' Association. Tom Brennan, regional secretary for the GMB, said: 'A&P Tyne has decades of experience working in the shipbuilding industry and with input from GMB safety representatives its health and safety record is outstanding. The yard provides the perfect showcase for our Indian colleagues to see best practice.' He added: 'We hope this visit will help improve health and safety standards and working conditions in India where some ships are broken up on beaches and workers are not given any protection from exposure to dangerous substances. This visit will equip our Indian colleagues with useful knowledge to go back to the Indian Government and employers to fight for better working conditions.'

Attacked healthcare assistant gets payout

A healthcare assistant injured trying to assist a colleague who was being attacked by a patient, has received almost £5,000 in compensation. The unnamed UNISON member, aged 53, received the payout from Dorset Healthcare NHS Trust as a result of the thumb injury sustained in the incident at Kings Park Community Hospital. The hospital cares for people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's disease or similar conditions. At a trial at Bournemouth County Court, the court found that his employer should have made sure he was aware that it was best to leave the patient alone if he became violent. UNISON south-west regional secretary Ian Ducat commented: 'This case goes to show how important it is that all frontline staff are kept fully up to date with patients' care plans. Carers such as our member are putting themselves in the firing line on a daily basis to try to assist patients and the least they should be able to expect is that they are not put in additional danger by the failures of their employers. We are happy to have been able to help our member pursue his case to trial and obtain the compensation he fully deserves.'

Golf clubbed worker get crime payout

A council driver has received an £8,575 criminal injuries payout after being attacked with a golf club. The award made to Calderdale council worker William Roberts was almost seven times the amount originally offered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). Unite member Mr Roberts was driving a graffiti team in January 2004 when he was subject to what had all the hallmarks of an entirely unprovoked road rage attack. The driver of a car behind his van first beeped the horn, then almost immediately three men appeared at the side of the council van. One of the men put his face right up to Mr Roberts' and shouted obscenities and began spitting in his face. One of the three then collected a golf club from the car. Two of the men tried to drag Mr Roberts out of the van, but his colleague kept a firm grip on him. Meanwhile one of the men repeatedly hit Mr Roberts with a golf club. Injuries included a cut on the left side of his hand that required 14 butterfly stitches. The attack led to sleeping difficulties and distressing flashbacks, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. After receiving legal advice from Unite solicitors John Pickering and Partners, Mr Roberts rejected a £1,250 compensation offer from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). An appeal hearing subsequently upped the offer to £8,575.00. Solicitor Ruth Davis, who acted for Mr Roberts, expressed alarm that it had taken over three years for CICA to agree a realistic payout. 'I am getting increasingly concerned about the way that the CICA handle these claims. The delays are getting ridiculous and this contributes to people who have proper claims settling for less than their claims are worth,' she said. She added that almost half of all appeals in 2005/06 were successful, a statistic that 'gives me real cause for concern. People will not even bother appealing and some will withdraw their appeal because they are tired of waiting.'

Losing the workplace cancer fight

Britain is seriously underestimating the risk of contracting cancer at work, according to new research. A report on the BBC's flagship File on Four radio documentary programme says in the last 25 years the government's occupational health watchdog, the Health and Safety Executive, has estimated that only four per cent of cancers are linked to work - resulting in about 6,000 deaths a year. But a new study by Stirling University has found the figure could be four times higher than the official estimate. The researchers argue Britain is facing an epidemic of work-related cancers costing the economy at least £29bn a year and the HSE's recommendations for action range 'from complacent to non-existent.' Study co-author Professor Andrew Watterson estimates between 18,000 to 24,000 people a year die in the UK die of work-related cancers. 'The HSE has ignored work-related risks that have produced work-caused and work-related cancers over several decades and workers are still exposed now to many carcinogens in the workplace,' he said. 'Many of these exposures are not from yesteryear but from yesterday. Some of these carcinogens can cause cancers with relatively short exposure times and short latency periods. HSE has neglected whole sections of the workforce, especially women, exposed to many cancer-causing substances and processes.' The professor added: 'The result is that thousands are dying each year without being warned they are at risk from carcinogens, without adequate information about the risks and with inadequate or no help to improve workplace conditions, or gain compensation. Often victims don't even become official statistics, so we get a cycle of neglect that is likely to guarantee a new generation will be needlessly exposed.' Association of British Insurers figures obtained by the Stirling team suggest only about 15 people last year made common law compensation claims for non-asbestos occupational cancers. Even HSE's figures suggest there are thousands of these non-asbestos work cancers each year.

Mobile phones linked to brain cancer

New research suggests mobile phone usage for more than a decade greatly increases the risk of cancer. The study found that long-term users - and the phones have become a required tool for many workers - had double the chance of getting a malignant tumour on the side of the brain where they held the handset. The researchers said the international standard employed to protect users from radiation emissions was not safe and needed updating. Professor Lennart Hardell of the University Hospital in Orebro and Professor Kjell Hansson Mild of Umea University, analysed the results of 11 studies carried out around the world. Their findings, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, conclude those who have used their phones for at least a decade are 20 per cent more likely to contract acoustic neuromas and 30 per cent more likely to get malignant gliomas. The Health Protection Agency said the new study 'may be indicative' of a risk but that "such analyses cannot be conclusive.'

  • Lennart Hardell and others. Long-term use of cellular phones and brain tumours: increased risk associated with use for equal to or greater than 10 years, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 64, pages 626-632, 2007 [abstract].
  • The Independent. Daily Mail. Personal Computer World.
Work stress linked to heart risk

People who go back to a stressful job after a heart attack are more prone to a second attack than those whose work is not stressful. Canadian researchers followed over 1,000 patients returning to work. In six years, over 200 suffered heart problems again. Those with job strain were twice as likely to fall ill. The Journal of the American Medical Association study defined job strain as having a high pressure workload but few decision-making powers. Studies have also shown a link between job strain and a first heart attack, but researchers at Laval University in Quebec said little was known about the association with subsequent heart problems. They concluded 'information about the results of this study should be disseminated in cardiac practice and in occupational health services with the aim of reducing job strain for workers returning to work after a heart attack'. In a related editorial in the same issue, Kristina Orth-Gomér of Sweden's Karolinska Institutet commented: 'Job strain and other related psychosocial risk factors are associated with worse prognosis in patients with coronary heart disease.' She added: 'Patients and physicians may benefit from widening the medical framework to include job strain evaluation. If physicians have difficulty finding adequate time to discuss job experiences with patients, this role may be adopted by other health care professionals, such as experienced cardiac rehabilitation nurses.'

Stonemason develops deadly silica disease

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned quarrying companies and stonemasons of the risk from the potentially fatal disease silicosis, if adequate measures to monitor and prevent exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are not in place. The alert came this week after Robert Thomas Charlton, trading as Border Stone Quarries, was fined £6,000 plus £7,602 costs at Tynedale Magistrates' Court, Hexham. Mr Charlton pleaded guilty to breaches of the COSHH chemical control regulations and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) - he had failed to notify the HSE of a reportable work disease, silicosis. An HSE inspector discovered the case during a routine inspection. HSE's Andrea Robbins said: 'It is vital employers monitor dust levels to assess the risk of exposure of employees to RCS, and that they put control measures in place to reduce the levels to which employees are exposed, and consequently reduce their risk of developing silicosis.' She added: 'It is an offence to not report a case of silicosis to the enforcing authority. This case only became apparent after an unannounced routine inspection was carried out at this site. This prosecution serves to publicise the need for employers to be vigilant in identifying substances in their business which can affect workers' health. In particular, companies who generate stone dust, which contains silica, should take precautions to protect their employees' health. Trades most at risk include stonemasons and quarry workers.' Silica exposure is also linked to cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Director gets small fine after fall death

A company director has escaped with a small fine after admitting safety offences linked to the death of worker. RTAL Ltd was fined £25,000 with £5,000 costs and managing director Terry Green was fined £2,500 and costs of £500, at Basildon Crown Court this week. Andrew George Taylor, 29, was fatally injured in a January 2003 fall of about eight metres at the RTAL factory premises in Tilbury. A protective guardrail had been removed temporarily from a fixed platform, while a kiln installation was underway. Terry Green admitted an offence under section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, in that due to his neglect as director, the company failed to take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent persons falling, as required by the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996. HSE inspector Sandy Carmichael said: 'This was a serious breach of obligation to both its own staff and visiting workers, indicative of failure by the company to appreciate the risks from such complex work. Andrew Taylor's tragic and wasteful death could and should have been avoided by straightforward safety precautions.' The inspector added: 'This case illustrates how things can go tragically wrong when plans are not thought through and risks are not properly controlled. HSE will not hesitate to take action against those who fall short of the law in such a way.'

Research proves health and safety pays

A positive approach to health and safety not only helps businesses attract quality employees, but also boosts sales and workforce commitment. Research by the Institute for Employment Studies and The Work Foundation for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) looked into UK business attitudes, intentions and performance and their health and safety strategies. A telephone survey of 3,000 UK businesses found a clear link between higher expenditure on health and safety and three key areas - a greater capacity to attract quality employees, higher employee commitment and faster sales growth. Health and safety was generally seen as either 'important' or 'very important' by firms - although smaller companies were less likely to have a positive attitude or regard it as a key strategic area. According to the researchers: 'Taken overall, our performance models, across a wide range of indicators, suggest that a strategic commitment to good health and safety practice does businesses no harm, and a spending commitment is strongly associated with tangible improvements in employee related aspects of the business.' Others have raised concerns about the priority given by small firms to health and safety. The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) criticised claims in a Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) report this month that said health and safety legislation 'is stifling the UK economy.'

Hospitality staff get flak from smokers

One in 10 hospitality workers has suffered violence or verbal abuse from customers flouting the smoking ban. A survey of more than 5,000 hospitality workers, by recruitment website Caterer.com, revealed workers had been hit, spat at, strangled and sexually abused. The survey included responses from all areas of the hospitality industry, including chefs, restaurant managers, hotel managers and waiting staff across the UK. It found that more than 40 per cent of respondents reported asking customers to stop smoking after the ban came into effect - and many have suffered abuse as a result. A report in Personnel Today magazine cites one worker who said: 'When I told him to put his cigarette out, he pulled down his pants and started masturbating in front of me.' Another added: 'I was told by a female customer that she'd make a sexual complaint against me if she was not allowed to smoke.' Nearly 80 per cent of hospitality staff said they were happier at work now smoking had been banned and a similar proportion (79 per cent) said they felt healthier. Studies in both England (Risks 326) and Scotland (Risks 323) have confirmed the workplace health benefits of the smoking bans.

Gas terminal worker death inquiry

An inquiry is under way into the death of a worker after a maintenance barge collapsed at a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal site in Pembrokeshire. Seven men were rescued in the incident at Milford Haven on 6 October. A South Hook LNG spokesperson expressed 'deep regret' as he confirmed the death of a Dutch man, Adrianus Van Ham, employed by the sub-contractor Jack-Up Barge. Five men were rescued by boat and two were pulled from the water. One had minor injuries. Two cranes weighing a combined 280 tonnes and a temporary portakabin were on the barge as it tilted. Initial reports suggest the barge became unstable during a jacking operation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched an investigation at the terminal construction site. South Hook LNG said the worker lost his life following an incident on the jack-up barge, working alongside the jetty. A company statement said from 7.30am on Monday 8 October 'the site observed two minutes silence as a mark of respect. Following this the site was closed for all production work until the morning of Tuesday 9 October 2007.' It added that employees were asked to use this time 'to reflect on what has occurred and reconfirm all of our commitments to safety.' GMB organiser Allan Rappeal, who represents members on the site, commented: 'GMB is very shocked that this tragedy occurred.' He added that 'GMB and the other trade unions, and Chicago Bridge and Iron, the main contractor, have put in place the highest safety standards that should apply on the site.'

Seafarer's overalls caused wife's cancer

A former seafarer whose wife died as a result of washing his asbestos covered work overalls has received an out-of-court settlement of £62,500 from British Rail. David Parker took home asbestos fibres on his clothing. His wife, Sylvia, subsequently washed the clothing. Mr Parker, 66, was employed by British Rail Ferries on the SS Sarnia ship in 1966, working for two months as a greaser in the boiler rooms and engine room. During his time on the ship, Mr Parker was asked to repair the pipes and remove the asbestos lagging. He was given no protective clothing. His wife was 68 when she died at home in September 2003 from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. 'It's a mixture of relief as this has been going on for so long now and a feeling of stress and anger as they are not accepting liability,' Mr Parker said. 'Having said that it shows they have taken some responsibility with the money I have received. It gives me some sort of closure and I can now get on with my life.' His solicitor, Brigitte Chandler of Charles Lucas and Marshall, said: 'To date, all defended cases have failed where wives died from washing their husband's contaminated clothing. The courts have felt there was no knowledge in the public domain about the danger of asbestos to families before 1965.' She said she had, however, been successful in settling several similar 'paraoccupational' cases out-of-court and believes more cases are now emerging. 'As there is no legal precedent, these cases will continue to be resisted by insurers,' she said. 'However, any wife who was exposed to asbestos dust after 1965 has a strong case to pursue against their husband's employer.'

Global: Garment giant signs global union deal

A groundbreaking international framework agreement designed to promote decent work in the textiles, garments and footwear industries has been signed in Inditex SA., the world's second largest clothing retailer and the sector's global trade union, ITGLWF. The agreement requires both sides to collaborate to ensure the sustainable and long-term observance of all international labour standards throughout the Inditex supply chain, including guaranteeing satisfactory safety, health, working hours and environmental standards. The terms of the agreement apply equally to direct suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors, including homeworkers. Under the terms of the agreement, no subcontracting will be allowed without the prior written consent of Inditex and suppliers allowed to subcontract will be responsible for subcontractor compliance. ITGLWF general secretary Neil Kearney commended Inditex on being trail-blazers in promoting compliance with international labour standards throughout their supply chain and in innovative ways. 'In this agreement, Inditex and the ITGLWF today signal a new approach to ensuring decent work in the textile, garment and footwear supply chains', he said after the document was signed on 4 October. 'Irregular policing through snap-shot audits is replaced by constant internal factory monitoring by those who know the enterprise best - management and workers - aided by the commitment of Inditex to build a totally socially compliant supply chain through support and training rather than sanction.'

USA: Senate passes asbestos ban

After seven years of stalling the 'Ban Asbestos in America Act' has been passed by the US Senate, bring a formal ban on asbestos a major step closer. The bill's author, Senator Patty Murray, said: 'When I heard about Americans and people who were dying from asbestos, I thought to myself, my gosh, I thought asbestos was banned many years ago. How can this be? Well, the fact is asbestos has never been banned, today 2,500 metric tonnes of asbestos are being imported every year. It is in products such as hair dryers, ceiling tiles, it is in brake pads, and over 3,000 other products Americans are using and being exposed to every day.' The bill, which must still be approved by the House, would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act. Campaign group the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) welcomed the latest steps. 'Senator Patty Murray is a hero for all asbestos victims and their families, and a future protector of generations to come, helping to ensure a safer environment for us all,' said Linda Reinstein, ADAO's executive director. 'We praise the Senate for passing Senator Murray's monumental Ban Asbestos in America Act and now encourage the House to follow this important bi-partisan lead for a full ban on asbestos.'

USA: Work linked to deadly autoimmune diseases

Occupational exposures in farming and industry may be linked to higher death rates from systemic autoimmune diseases, a new study has found. The conditions involve the immune system attacking the body's own tissues, damaging organs. The study in the October issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism examined the possible associations between occupation and the risk of dying from systemic autoimmune diseases and found that occupational exposures in farming and industry may be linked to higher death rates. The researchers examined death certificate data from 26 US states from 1984 to 1998. They established each person's longest-held occupation from the 'usual occupation' listed on the death certificate. In addition, they examined specific exposures based on occupation and industry. These included asbestos, solvents, benzene, pesticides and other substances. Occupations involving significant exposure to the public, such as teachers and waiting staff, or work with animals were also tracked. The results showed that some occupations involving exposure to the public, such as nurses and teachers, were associated with an increased risk of dying from a systemic autoimmune disease. The researchers suggest this may be due to exposure to multiple infectious agents leading to an autoimmune response. Farmers showed increased risk of death from systemic autoimmune disease, particularly for those who worked with crops versus livestock. In addition, several industrial occupations such as mining and textile machine operators, as well as timber cutting and logging had an increased risk of death from this group of diseases. Some occupational exposures, including silica, have previously been linked to autoimmune diseases including schleroderma. Mineral oil exposures have been linked to rheumatoid arthritis (Risks 227).

USA: Five die in tunnel blaze

Five workers who died after becoming trapped by a tunnel fire at a hydroelectric power plant tried to fight the blaze, but the fire extinguishers were the wrong type, one of the widows has said. The workers died last week in an Xcel Energy plant in Georgetown, Colorado. S urvivors described to Carolynn Dejaynes, the wife of 43-year-old victim Donnie Dejaynes, what happened. He was yelling for the other men to get fire extinguishers, she said. Although they found a few, the extinguishers were useless because they did not have the type of foam that puts chemical fires out. The foreman with contractor RPI Coating patted a fire out that was burning his clothes and retreated with the four other victims up the tunnel, his wife said. They were trapped at a debris trap, where the tunnel takes a steep rise. The fire was caused when a chemical thinner, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), ignited. Eric Thomas, one of the four workers who escaped from the tunnel, said: ' When it flashed, it was just lucky if you were on the right side of the fire .' Donnie Dejaynes' father, Donald Dejaynes, said his son called days before the fire and told him he had safety concerns. He cautioned his son to keep a log of all his concerns. Now the log is missing, Carolynn Dejaynes said. Other relatives of fire victims say the workers were told the day before the fire that it wasn't safe, yet they went to work Tuesday anyway. ' It shouldn't have happened. There were things that could have been done to prevent it ,' Carolynn Dejaynes said. ' He was my whole life. I'm only 31, and I'm a widow. ' The four other victims, all maintenance workers with Californian contractor RPI Coatings, were Anthony Aguirre, 18, Gary Foster, 48, Dupree Holt, 37 and James St. Peters, 52. This latest tragedy has again focused attention on the performance of US safety watchdog OSHA. The Crandall and Sago mines tragedies and the Texas City BP refinery blast all involved multiple deaths. Incidents of this type appear to be much rarer in other wealthy industrial nations.

Hazards at work - brand new edition

The completely revised and updated second edition of 'Hazards at Work', the TUC's best-selling guide to workplace health and safety, is now available. The new 352-page one-stop-source for safety reps includes fully rewritten chapters on smoking and asbestos, and updates on relevant laws, including the new Corporate Manslaughter Act. The guide includes extensive checklists, case studies and web resources. TUC says the emphasis is on organising for health and safety, to get workplace reps, union members and employers more involved in good practice. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'The changing nature of work presents us with new dangers and new challenges. Good health and safety practice is about organisation as much as regulation, and this book will be a huge weapon in safety reps' fight for higher standards.'

  • Hazards at Work: organising for safe and healthy workplaces , second edition. Member price: £18.00. Educational price: £30.00. Non-member price: £45.00. Safety reps on approved courses can obtain copies at a special greatly reduced price. Bulk orders qualify for reduced rates. Online order form. TUC health and safety organisation webpages.

Bullying at work guide for safety reps

The TUC has published online guidance for safety representatives on dealing with bullying at work. The new resource includes background on the issue, an outline of the law covering bullying, advice for safety reps on negotiating a policy and a sample survey form.

Euroweek resources for safety reps

The Health and Safety Executive has produced a new Euroweek resources webpage aimed specifically at safety reps. The Europe-wide event will run from 22-26 October and this year is on the theme of musculoskeletal disorders. The HSE webpage includes a serious of checklists and related tools adapted to be more relevant to safety reps. These include checklists on upper limb disorder risk factors, display screen assessments, manual handling guidance and assessment charts, bodymapping and other related topics. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'The enthusiasm, experience and expertise of union safety representatives is vital to the success of such campaigns, and we thank them for their immense contribution.'

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