Risks 468 - 7 August 2010

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Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 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

Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

Union News

Reps stand up for the right to sit down

Union reps at the BBC may have won a sit down victory for retail and catering workers after a health and safety investigation at Television Centre. The two reps, members of the broadcast unions NUJ and BECTU, had raised concerns about the removal of stools provided to workers operating the tills in a studio canteen. Contract catering company, Aramark, runs the BBC teabar in its main broadcast studios in White City. In 2008 the company had ordered the removal of chairs from some of their catering outlets, obliging staff using the tills to stand for hours without a break. After BBC management refused to intervene, NUJ rep David Campanale, the union's father-of-chapel for BBC World News, and BECTU activist Brian Dale reported the matter to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). At the conclusion of an eight month investigation HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers said chairs must to be restored to catering staff in the BBC. Together with the HSE special inspector for ergonomics, Ed Milne, he established that caterers Aramark could not evade their legal duty to provide chairs for their staff, because of workplace regulations from 1992, which state: 'If work can or must be done sitting, seats which are suitable for the people using them and for the work they do should be provided.' Brian Dale of the BBC BECTU branch explained 'we were angry at the injustice, especially as some till-staff were standing for eight hour double-shifts.' HSE's Andrew Verrall-Withers said: 'In the end, I had to take action against Aramark and to his credit, chief executive Andrew May resolved this the moment it reached his level. I took the line that to get a result - when push came to shove - I was prepared to take this to court even if it risked £50,000 in court costs.' He congratulated the union reps on their stance. 'Would this outcome have happened without you? No,' he said. A petition organised by the reps and submitted to BBC management at the start of the campaign was signed by canteen regulars including newsreaders George Alagiah and Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and security correspondent Frank Gardner.

RMT condemns Tube 'attack on safety'

A threat by London Underground (LU) to rip up an existing agreement on job protection is 'an attack on safety,' rail union RMT had said. The union described the move by Tube management as 'blatant intimidation and provocation of members who are currently balloting for action over tube safety and the threat to 800 station-based staff posts.' RMT says Gerry Duffy, LU's director of employee relations, has written to both RMT and TSSA, calling for the ballot to be halted or he will tear up negotiated agreements and procedures. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said it was clear to the union 'that the senior Tube management have seized the opportunity to threaten existing agreements which would allow them to unleash a jobs and safety massacre right across London Underground.' He added: 'This is a cynical attempt to bully tube staff who are involved in a democratic vote over the important issue of safety critical jobs and the drive towards unstaffed stations. Threatening and intimidating workers who are rightly concerned about staff and passenger safety is outrageous.' He said management were now 'openly admitting' that cutbacks would 'condemn passengers to travel on ancient, under-staffed and unsafe infrastructure,' concluding: 'This attack on the workforce is an attack on safety and it must stop right now.'

Stansted strike warning over abuse

Swissport employees at London Stansted may resort to industrial action in response to the 'downgrading' of the company's 'non-abuse' policy. Their union, GMB, says workers have been facing additional problems which have made the protection of staff from irate passengers an even more pressing concern. It says one 'flashpoint' is Ryanair's £35 charge for passengers with more than one piece of hand luggage. Under Swissport's relaxed abuse policy, GMB says, 'passengers who take out their anger and frustration on the Swissport ground staff by verbally abusing them are now according to a Swissport memo allowed to travel.' The union says posters at Stansted which stated assault or any form of abuse verbal or physical will not be tolerated and could lead to a passenger being prevented from boarding a flight or being escorted from the airport have been removed by Swissport managers. Gary Pearce, GMB organiser at Stansted, said: 'While other employers are moving increasingly to zero tolerance policy on the abuse of their staff, Swissport is moving away from zero tolerance and saying to angry or frustrated passengers, annoyed by Ryanair's 'gate bags' policy, that it is OK to verbally abuse the staff.' He said the union believes passengers who verbally abuse a member of staff 'should not be allowed to fly. GMB members will not put up with this and they want the decision reversed. Failing that I will arrange a meeting off all GMB members to find out how they want to proceed to reinstate their right not to be abused at work.'

Virgin shamed by assault victim firing

Rail union RMT could ballot staff for industrial action following the dismissal of a member who took a period of absence after an 'horrific' on-train assault. RMT officials are preparing the ground for an 'urgent ballot' of all on-train catering and train manager members [guards] at Liverpool Lime Street following the dismissal of Jackie Catterson. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'In over 30 years in the trade union movement I have rarely come across a dismissal as callous and brutal as the way that Virgin West Coast have treated our member Jackie Catterson. The company, right up to and including Sir Richard Branson, should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.' He added: 'It is a fact that Jackie Catterson has taken two personal injury claims against Virgin West Coast for on-board accidents both of which the company has admitted liability for.' He indicated her periods of absence from work were in part 'due to on-board assaults including one particularly horrific attack.' The union leader said: 'Virgin West Coast management are behaving disgracefully as they have not used any disciplinary, management of absence or ill health procedures or any supporting medical evidence in reaching this dismissal decision... We will be calling for a massive 'yes' vote for action in this ballot and will also make sure that the wider public are fully aware of the callous way that Virgin West Coast have treated a member of staff still recovering from a vicious assault while on duty.'

Prison officers press for stab vests

Prison officers are keeping up their campaign for stab vests after a series of violent attacks. Colin Moses, chair of the Prison Officer Association (POA), the union for prison staff, said: 'Violent action can erupt at any time, and the severity of the violence and subsequent injuries to our officers is increasing.' He added: 'We fully appreciate that prisoners should be treated fairly and we are more than happy to ensure that all of our actions comply with human rights, but we are also determined to ensure the personal safety of our members. Would anyone expect their partner, child or friend to come home from work with a horrific injury?' The union says stab vests and similar types of body protection should be made available to prison officers. It has been working with body armour suppliers to press for suitable protective gear. Robert Kaiser, CEO of UK based knife protection consultancy PPSS, said it was 'astonishing' that 81 per cent of prisons have Playstations worth £249 listed as one of the facilities available for prisoners, however prison officers dealing with these potentially hostile individuals on a daily basis have got no access to stab vests or body protection, also worth £249.'

Assault on care worker ends her career

A care assistant has had to take medical retirement after being attacked by a resident at an old people's home in Middlesbrough. The UNISON member, who was employed by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, has now received over £57,000 compensation after an eight year legal battle. Her job was looking after elderly male residents with difficult backgrounds, including alcoholism and sexual offences. The worker, whose name has not been released, was hit and kicked repeatedly by the man as she tried to attend to him in his room. She was unable to reach an alarm but eventually escaped into the dining room, during which time the attack continued. She suffered bruising and swelling to her legs and shoulder. But the care worker was so traumatised by the attack in 2002, she was unable to return to work and eventually accepted medical retirement. She remains on anti-depressant medication and is limited in her ability to find employment, as she can no longer cope with frontline contact with the public. UNISON backed the woman's claim for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). The union says a civil personal injury claim against Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council was not possible because her attacker had no history of violence and the attack could not have been foreseen. CICA initially offered £26,000. However, the appeals panel increased the award to £57,000, after accepting evidence that the injured woman would have been promoted to a managerial role, if the assault had not happened. Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, said: 'Our member's career has been ended by this attack and it was only right that we persisted with her case and secured the maximum amount of compensation possible to reflect her loss of earnings and pension.'

Lorry driver gets crushed thumb payout

A lorry driver from Grimbsy, whose thumb was crushed as he tried to unload a trailer at work, has received a £5,500 compensation payout. GMB member Ian Castle worked for general haulage firm PA Dunwell Transport Limited. He was lowering the roof door of the lorry when it crashed down suddenly, hitting him in the shoulder and trapping his thumb against a lever. 'It ripped my thumb nail right off, broke the bone and ended up giving me nine stitches,' said Mr Castle, 'and to add insult to injury I had to go back to work before it was properly healed.' He explained: 'I couldn't afford any more sick leave and the boss was completely unsympathetic. From his attitude I knew that if I didn't take up a case these kinds of injuries would just keep on happening.' More than a year later, he continues to feel pain in his thumb, his nail has been permanently deformed and he has a scar across the nail that is likely to be permanent. GMB regional secretary Tim Roache commented: 'There are thousands of laws about employers making sure their workers are safe at work. But every year GMB funds personal injury claims that enforce those laws and get justice for GMB members injured at work.' I am delighted that Mr Castle's foresight in belonging to GMB enabled the union to get justice for him.' Laura Hadfield from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to handle the case, said: 'Employers have a legal responsibility to provide safe work systems and to ensure their employees are properly trained. This settlement recognises that PA Dunwell Transport failed Ian on both counts.'

Joinery job led to asbestos cancer

A former joiner has received a payout for an asbestos cancer, despite one of his employers having ceased trading. Bernard Dean, 61, received a 'substantial' payout after developing mesothelioma. The Unite member had been exposed to asbestos while working for Erewash Borough Council from 1977 to 1981, carrying out refurbishment work at council properties. He used power tools to cut and fix asbestos panels, including 'Asbestolux' sheets. He says he received no warnings about the dangers of this work. He was also exposed to asbestos when he was an apprentice joiner in the 1960s with Rice and Beck, a Nottinghamshire firm that has ceased trading. Mr Dean met with Jack Straw and Gordon Brown in November 2009 as part of the campaign calling for an Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) to compensate victims whose former employers no longer exist and their insurers cannot be traced. 'It was only because he also came into contact with asbestos due to the fault of Erewash Council that his claim was successful,' said David Fisher of Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by Unite to act in the case. This was because Rice and Beck has folded and its insurers could not be traced. 'As many as 1 in 10 mesothelioma sufferers lose out on compensation entirely because the employer is no longer in business and the insurer cannot be traced,' David Fisher said. 'The previous government consulted on setting up an ELIB and we are waiting on the new government to confirm what it intends to do. Without an ELIB, thousands of asbestos victims will be left without compensation.'

Other news

Firms fail to control cancer risks

Workers producing rubber goods are not being provided the minimum legally-required protection from cancer risks, a survey by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found. Almost all the firms visited in the small study had 'significant deficiencies' in their engineering controls and their risk assessments under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations, the survey found, were 'not suitable and sufficient'. Dermal exposures at rubber compounding 'are not adequately controlled', the report added. The survey discovered six of 75 rubber fume exposures measured were in excess of the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL). The HSE survey report concluded 'although exposures are typically below the WEL, exposures are not being controlled as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), as is the requirement for carcinogens under the COSHH regulations. Almost all sites visited had significant deficiencies related to the engineering controls used to control rubber fume exposures. Moulding presses without local exhaust ventilation (LEV) fitted were frequently encountered. Where LEV was installed, deficiencies linked to design, use and maintenance were observed. The use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to control fume exposures was uncommon.' The report adds to earlier concerns about poor control of occupational cancer risks in the chemical sector. A 2007 report from HSE revealed a disastrous failure by chemical firms to control one of the best known workplace carcinogens (Risks 334). HSE assessed occupational exposures to the industrial chemical MbOCA, which can cause bladder cancer and which has been linked to other cancers, and found controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) were inadequate, training was poor and exposure levels were unacceptable.

Companies should come clean on safety

Firms should be required by law to report their health and safety performance and any related enforcement action, the TUC has said. The union body was commenting as the government announced a consultation on 'narrative reporting' requirements on business. Launching the consultation, business minister Edward Davey said: 'We have a good track record in this area, but there are still some important issues we need to address - to empower shareholders, without adding to the burden of regulation.' He added: 'I want corporate narrative reporting to tell the company's story in a balanced and coherent way. It should give shareholders the information they need, so they can hold directors to account and be effective stewards for the business. It's also a way of encouraging companies to focus on the issues which really matter to their long-term success.' The government says the consultation has three objectives: driving up the quality of narrative reporting, including on social and environmental issues, to the standard of the best; empowering shareholders; and achieving greater coherence in company reporting requirements without increasing the regulatory burden on business. It says it will consider 'non-regulatory as well as regulatory' options to achieve these objectives. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'It is clear that the current voluntary requirements are inadequate and that we need far more information about what companies are doing in respect of their duty to promote health and safety.' He added: 'At the very least we would hope for a requirement to report on their health and safety performance as well as any enforcement action taken against them by regulators.'

Rail dangers persist, warns coroner

The coroner at the inquest into the deaths of seven people at Potters Bar eight years ago has warned of ongoing concerns about safety on the country's rail network. An inquest jury last week blamed points failure for the disaster. After a seven-week hearing, the jury said the points were in an unsafe condition and there had been failures to either inspect or maintain them. The coroner Michael Findlay Baker QC said he would file a report warning of a continuing risk of deaths on the rail network. He said the report, under Rule 43 of the 1984 Coroners Rules, would be sent to parties who may be able to act on his concerns, adding the rule 'provides, among other things, that, where the evidence in an inquest gives rise to a concern that circumstances creating a risk of other deaths will continue to exist, and in the coroner's opinion action should be taken to prevent the continuation of such circumstances, that the coroner has power to report those circumstances...' He said it 'indefensible' that the inquest was concluded eight years after the incident. 'The families are due a public apology, and as the current representative of the system whose abuse has led to this delay, I offer that apology,' he said. The Office of Rail Regulation, the independent safety watchdog, confirmed after the inquest that it was looking again at the possibility of criminal proceedings in relation to the crash in May 2002. In addition to the seven deaths, more than 70 people were injured when the 12.45pm King's Cross to King's Lynn train crashed as it approached Potters Bar station, where it was not due to stop, at around 1pm.

Unions call for urgent rail safety moves

Unions have called for sweeping improvements in railway safety, with one warning of possible industrial action if problems are not remedied. The comments came after an inquest into the Potters Bar rail disaster warned of ongoing safety concerns. Rail union RMT said it had written to transport secretary Philip Hammond, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and the Health and Safety Executive. The union's general secretary, Bob Crow, said: 'We now want urgent assurances from the government and the authorities that the death trap situation on Britain's railways is being addressed and that working and travelling conditions are safe. If we don't get those assurances we will consider a ballot for action involving all rail staff.' He added: 'The Judge's reference to a continuing risk of fatalities makes a nonsense of Network Rail's claims that they have learnt the lessons of Potters Bar and have got their house in order. They are still cutting maintenance jobs and cancelling renewals programmes that RMT believe compromise safety and make another tragedy inevitable. The government should instruct Network Rail to halt their safety-critical job cuts plans right now and they should be told to reinstate their shelved renewals programme as a matter of urgency.' ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman commented: 'This terrible incident makes it imperative that we continuously examine the relationship between cuts to maintenance routines that jeopardise safety standards and the vast sums of money taken out of our industry by privatisation. ASLEF members rely on proper maintenance not only for our livelihoods, but for our lives.' And Gerry Doherty, TSSA general secretary, said: 'It is an absolute disgrace that the families of the victims have had to wait eight long years to find out who was responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.' He added the tragedy 'proves once again the folly of rail privatisation whereby the pursuit of profit was placed as a higher goal than passenger safety.'

Brothers fined over skull crush horror

Two brothers have been fined a total of £13,000 after a worker was left with a caved-in head and permanent brain damage when he fell through an industrial roof in Carlisle. Alan Hind was helping to demolish the building when he fell six metres to the concrete floor below. The 28-year-old's sight, hearing and personality have been permanently affected. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Robert and Eric Murray following the incident on 27 February 2008. Carlisle Crown Court heard that Robert Murray was in overall control of the project, and that his brother, Eric, was in charge of dismantling the building. In the fall, Alan Hind suffered 16 skull fractures, broke his jaw in three places, fractured his wrist and damaged a kidney. He is now deaf in his right ear and blind in his left eye. Parts of his brain were so badly damaged that they had to be removed. Mr Hind has been unable to return to work since the incident, and had to wait six months for a titanium plate to be inserted into his damaged skull. He said: 'It was a frightening time. There was nothing to protect my brain - just skin. I was worried to go out. I didn't like to be around lots of people in case I bumped my head.' Eric Murray, trading as EJ Murray (Steel Structures), was found guilty of a breach of working at height regulations following a trial at Carlisle Crown Court in June. He was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,000. Robert Murray, trading as Murray Structures, pleaded guilty to a work at height offence by not hiring trained workers, and of a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 by failing to ensure the work was planned and carried out safely. He was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs at Carlisle Crown Court on 29 July 2010.

Architects and site firm fined for death

An architects' practice and a construction company involved in a Somerset development have been fined a total of £195,000 following a site fatality. Express Park Construction Company Limited (EPCC), of Harley Street, London, pleaded guilty to failing to safely manage subcontractors working for it. Oxford Architects Partnership pleaded guilty to breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994, which require designers to take safety considerations into account. EPCC was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay costs of £68,000 and Oxford Architects Partnership was fined £120,000 and costs of £60,000 at Bristol Crown Court. The court heard that on 26 January 2005 David Cairns, 64, was working for EPCC subcontractor H&F Air Conditioning Limited. He was working on the air conditioning plant, which was built on a platform accessed via a ladder at the edge of a flat roof. The roof only had a low parapet, which was not high enough to prevent Mr Cairns falling nine metres to the ground. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Sue Adsett, said: 'While it is rare for designers to be charged with breaching health and safety legislation, they must be aware they can be held responsible where bad design is an important contributory factor to a workplace fatality. Designers must ensure that plant and equipment can be accessed safely, and that safety harnesses are only used as a last resort.'

Pleural plaques payouts scheme kicks off

A controversial government compensation scheme to provide lump sum payouts to some people with asbestos-related pleural plaques is now accepting applications. Thousands will be able to apply for a £5,000 payment, the Ministry of Justice has said. The previous government was accused of 'abandoning' victims after it announced earlier this year that it would not change a 2007 Law Lords ruling that prevents sufferers of pleural plaques - a scarring of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos - from claiming compensation (Risks 445). But people who had already started a legal claim for compensation will be able to apply for a £5,000 one-off payment. About 6,000 people in England and Wales are thought to be eligible. They have until 1 August 2011 to lodge a claim, the Ministry of Justice said. Northern TUC warned claimants against using 'claims firms seeking to capitalise on other people's misfortune.' Regional secretary at Kevin Rowan advised claimants to contact their union or asbestos support groups instead, adding: 'Any claims firms or solicitors preying on these claims by taking a cut are just ripping off victims in the most despicable and vile way.'

International News

China: Work death payouts increased

China's basic work-related death compensation award is to nearly double next year to 343,500 yuan (£31,800), state authorities have announced. The State Administration of Work Safety says when funeral expenses and monthly pension payments to the relatives of the deceased are included, the total payment will average around 618,000 yuan (£57,350). Spokesperson Huang Yi said the increases were based on average income growth in China over the last five years. However, the move also reflects a renewed 'get tough' approach to mine safety from the central government in the wake of several high profile mine disasters this year. Huang Yi added that mines were being told to ensure at least one manager accompany workers underground for the entire duration of every shift, to act as a shift leader or foreman. This followed a suggestion from Premier Wen Jiabao in July that mine bosses should be forced to work alongside their employees. A manager failing to undertake their underground shift would be considered to be 'absent without leave.' Huang Yi added that mine managers found to be responsible for major accidents would be barred from management jobs for the following five years. Press reports this week indicated 19 coal miners died in two separate incidents on 3 August. The previous weekend, 24 workers were trapped in a flooded mine in northeast China's Heilongjiang province, while a blast at a workers' dormitory at another mine in Linfen city in the northern province of Shanxi killed at least 17.

USA: Oil industry 'malfeasance' kills hundreds

The US oil and gas industry has been responsible for thousands of fires, explosions and leaks over the last decade, causing hundreds of deaths and widespread habitat and wildlife destruction, a new report has concluded. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says its findings underscore 'petroleum company malfeasance.' It says its study, based on official data from 2000 to 2010, demonstrates the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster 'is not merely an accident but an industry pattern that places profit ahead of communities, local economies, and the environment.' Using statistics from government agencies, NWF identified 1,440 offshore leaks, blowouts, and other accidents reported between 2001-2007. In addition to environmental damage, these caused 41 deaths and 302 injuries. The safety record for onshore activities was even more dismal. Some 2,554 pipeline accidents occurred between 2000 and 2009, killing 161 people and injuring 576. 'The oil and gas industry's careless business approach does a clear injustice to the American people. The total cost of the status quo in lives lost and environmental damage is far too high,' said Tim Warman, executive director of the NWF's global warming solutions programme. The NWF report indicates the oil industry is well represented in the corridors of power, so is well-placed to resist calls for stronger regulation. It notes: 'The American Petroleum Institute, the trade association that represents oil and gas industries, spent $7.3 million in 2009 and $3.6 million so far in 2010 in lobbying expenditures. Direct political contributions from the oil and gas industry to members of Congress have accounted for another $13.9 million already this year.'

USA: BP safety boss 'rather offensive'

A top safety official at BP last month faltered in an attempt to defend the company's safety record before a US Senate committee. BP's vice president of health and safety, Steve Flynn, vowed profit does not supersede safety at the oil multinational, a claim that failed to mollify members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's employment panel. Senator Patty Murray, the panel chair, opened the 22 July hearing with a recap of BP's safety record, including the fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11, and the 2005 fire and explosion at BP's Texas City refinery, that killed 15. Murray pointed out that four more workers have died at Texas City since the 2005 explosion. She added that there have been 'countless reports' of unsafe practices at BP pipelines in Alaska and elsewhere. 'We have management saying one thing and workers experiencing a different reality,' Murray said. 'Either management isn't being truthful, or BP's culture of safety is non-existent.' Flynn assured the senators: 'At BP, safety is our top priority.' But Senator Jeff Merkley told Flynn BP's claims to put safety first were 'rather offensive' given its record. The company had declined to participate in an earlier hearing on safety. But on 22 July, over three months after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, Flynn showed up to field questions. Senator Al Franken rapped BP for an apparent failure to contact any of the families of the 11 workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon. Flynn deflected Franken's initial attempt to secure a promise of a personal apology to those families, but he later relented.


What's coming up at TUC?

Campaigning against the cuts, defending public services, helping young people through the recession and protecting pensions are just some of the issues contained in the preliminary agenda for this year's TUC Congress, published this week. There's also a slew of health and safety motions, with opposition to the government's plans for health and safety taking centrestage. The coalition's moves to slash health and safety regulation and enforcement is the subject of three critical motions in the draft agenda, from unions NASUWT, Prospect and BFAWU. Other health and safety related motions cover topics including rest breaks and working hours and the campaign for a global asbestos ban. This year's congress will be held in Manchester, on 13-16 September.

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