Risks 477 - 9 October 2010

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards Magazine
Hazards at Work

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

TUC pans Tory attack on safety

The TUC has warned that a David Cameron-commissioned report into workplace safety is likely to be 'seriously unbalanced'. The overdue report has been trailed repeatedly by its author, former Tory cabinet minister Lord Young, who gave his latest preview to last week's Conservative Party conference. He told delegates the review 'deals with non-hazardous activities where the risks are very low but the bureaucracy unbelievably high.' He revealed a major bugbear was advertising by 'no-win, no-fee' lawyers. He said: 'What a temptation this provides to someone watching afternoon television. This is not access to justice; this is incitement to litigate - and it must stop!' Also attracting Lord Young's ire was risk assessments, with the Tory peer commenting: 'How did we manage before we had all these Risk Assessment forms?' He said: 'This is really about getting the economy going. This is about getting rid of unnecessary restrictions - the red tape that harms enterprise and protects no one. It is about restoring an enterprise economy so we can pay our way in the world again.' He added that the report's recommendations would become government policy. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson warned: 'The signs are that Lord Young's report will be seriously unbalanced. For sure silly things are sometimes done in the name of health and safety and the behaviour of some claims firms can be reprehensible. But the real health and safety scandal in the UK is the 20,000 people who die each year due to injury or diseases linked to their work.' Robertson added: 'A serious review of health and safety would put far more emphasis on dealing with this avoidable death and suffering. Losing a loved one to an occupational disease is rather more serious than losing out on the chance to join a pancake race.' Critics say Lord Young is more interested in soundbites than facts. Workplace personal injury claims have fallen dramatically in recent years, as have workplace fatalities, something credited to the current regulatory system. And stopping risk assessments required by UK and European law is not within the peer's gift. The TUC has called upon Trades Councils and union branches to lobby their MPs in defence of health and safety during European Health and Safety Week (25th-29th October).

Near miss success for Unite safety rep

A Unite safety representative has been named runner-up at the National Food and Drink Health and Safety Awards. Keith Smith, Unite senior steward and safety rep at the Unilever factory at Burton-on-Trent came second with his idea to boost the number of workplace safety representatives and improve safety on site. Keith developed a hazards spotting programme and a safety rep recruitment drive at the plant, which makes Marmite and Bovril and employs about 100 people. Unite says since the introduction of the new 'blame-free' safety rep-driven system in December 2008, there has been a five-fold increase in near miss reporting on site and 75 per cent of the issues raised have been resolved through the ongoing hazard spotting programme. Keith said: 'I am honoured to have received this recognition of the importance of health and safety from such a prestigious body, but much of the credit must go to my fellow workplace reps who have made this award possible.' Jennie Formby, Unite's national officer for the sector, said: 'I am absolutely delighted that Keith's achievement has been recognised in this way and congratulate him and his team of safety representatives. This is an excellent example of how trade union safety representatives and Unite union education can make a huge difference in the workplace. An open, blame-free workplace health and safety culture saves lives.' She added: 'This award is also a tribute to the other, often unrecognised, contribution of union safety representatives whose tireless voluntary activity halves the incidence of injuries and ill-health at work across Britain.'

RMT calls for action after worker's death

Rail union RMT union has said Network Rail should be prosecuted in the light of a coroner's call for new safety checks after in inquest heard how an Essex rail worker was fatally injured when a 'poorly welded' basket fell on to him. Chelmsford Coroner's Court ruled the horrific death of RMT member Malcolm Slater in June 2008 was 'accidental'. Coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray said she would write to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) asking inspectors to ensure new welds on lifting gear had been fully tested. RMT, which provided representation for Mr Slater's widow at the inquest, had sought a ruling of 'unlawful killing', arguing that company's serious breaches of health and safety were a direct cause of Mr Slater's death. It said it will now look to the ORR to prosecute Network Rail. The 64-year-old died as a result of serious injuries to his head and spine which he sustained after falling 15 feet to the ground when the metal basket of a Unimog hoist fell away from its hydraulic arm during work on an overhead line. Mr Slater endured three weeks of agony in hospital before finally succumbing to his injuries. Network Rail had previously admitted liability for the accident in union-backed civil claims arising from the incident. RMT general secretary Bob Crow commented: 'Malcolm was a loyal and hardworking member and he had his life taken in the most miserable way as a direct result of Network Rail's negligence. This is an accident that should never have happened, not least because concerns about the adequacy of the weld attaching the basket to its arm had already been raised with Network Rail. The RMT wants to see Network Rail held accountable for its negligence so that our members are not put in harm's way like this again.' ORR said it was considering whether to prosecute. A spokesperson said: 'We will now conclude our investigation to determine whether any action needs to be taken against any person or company for health and safety offences arising from the incident.'

Unite forces Network Rail safety review

Network Rail has agreed to an independent review of how it reports workplace accidents following an intervention by Unite. Bob Rixham, Unite's national officer for railways, last month exposed the under-reporting of 'over three day' injuries sustained by Network Rail workers (Risks 473). Now the company's chair, Rick Haythornthwaite, has said he is inviting the Railway Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) to review the company's system for meeting legal requirements to report dangerous incidents. Unite health and safety officers will participate in the review. Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), all injuries to workers connected with work that result in them being 'unable to do their full range of normal duties for more than three days' must be reported. But the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) charged last month that figures reported by Network Rail were not credible, and its reporting system was 'obscure and wrong'. Now new data provided to Unite by Rick Haythornthwaite indicates around 700 RIDDOR incidents are not reported by contractors every year, on top of the under-reporting by Network Rail managers. Last year seven directors earned £2.36 million in bonuses. Network Rail's safety record is taken into consideration when the remuneration committee awards these bonuses. Unite national officer Bob Rixham said: 'It's still outrageous that senior directors can walk away with huge bonuses when Network Rail wrongly boosted its safety record. Network Rail's chairman must ensure that part of the bonuses paid to directors are recouped and donated to the transport benevolent fund.' Company chair Rick Haythornthwaite said the link between RIDDOR reporting and safety league tables had now been broken and managers no longer gained points for low RIDDOR reporting.

Tube bosses 'put passengers at risk'

RMT general secretary Bob Crow has accused London Underground (LU) bosses of putting passengers' safety at risk by using untrained staff to cover for thousands of Tube workers during a 24-hour strike. Members of RMT and TSSA unions walked out at 7pm last Sunday in a long-running dispute over 800 job cuts which the unions say could have a serious detrimental effect on safety. Mr Crow told the Morning Star the union had received leaked information suggesting that managers were using a 'Dad's Army' of volunteers who had undertaken just two days of safety training instead of the six weeks required under LU's own safety and training schedule. 'Instead of playing dangerous games down the deep Tube tunnels the managers responsible for this lethal gamble with safety should be engaging in proper talks with the unions to resolve the issues at the heart of this dispute,' he added. The union has warned that maintenance cuts are already leading to serious safety risks. Ahead of the strike action, RMT released pictures of worn-away brake blocks on trains. It warned that 'finance-driven' maintenance changes would mean these trains would be forced into service and 'demonstrate that financial cuts are ripping to shreds safety and maintenance schedules with lethal consequences for passengers and staff alike.' RMT leader Bob Crow said: 'These pictures are a damning indictment of London Underground's cuts plans and will send shivers down the spine of tube users.'

Benefit assessments 'too rushed' say medics

Sick workers are falling foul of rushed medicals to determine eligibility for benefits, the union Prospect has warned. It says the medical personnel responsible for assessing benefit claimants' capability to work, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, are not allocated sufficient time to assess complex cases such as those coping with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease. The concern is raised in evidence to Professor Malcolm Harrington's review of the Work Capability Assessment submitted by Prospect. The union represents medical advisers and healthcare professionals employed by Atos Healthcare, the company tasked with undertaking the assessments. Prospect is also calling for measures to allow exemption from examination for people with severe disabilities. On behalf of 135 members in Atos Healthcare, Prospect national secretary Geraldine O'Connell said these medical assessors 'know more than most that each case is about an individual and their needs, not just a checklist exercise to be undertaken in a standard set time. Yet the 10 or more claimants they are expected to see in a day is wholly unrealistic. And there is little flexibility to increase the time for more complex cases such as stroke victims with combined physical and cognitive sequelae or claimants with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.' The union is also calling for official definitions of mental health and upper limb disorders to be overhauled, to provide greater clarity on the eligibility thresholds for benefits, and for the opinion of medical personnel to be sought in any appeal adjudication. At present, while each appeal tribunal panel contains a member of a medical profession, they are only allowed to voice an opinion if invited to do so by the chairperson.

Other news

Chancellor hits injury and disease victims

A 'benefits cap' announced by the Chancellor will target workers suffering work-related ill-health and injuries. The benefits limit will include consideration of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) payment, a Treasury news release confirmed this week, despite the benefit being created as a non-means tested payment intended to compensate workers for industrial diseases and injuries. According to TUC's Richard Exell, who sits on the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, 'it seems likely that significant numbers will be affected. There were 324,000 people claiming under the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit scheme in December 2009 and the current maximum weekly rate is £145.80.' He said 'it is easy to see' how claimants in receipt of other benefits could exceed the £26,000 cap and lose out. 'By definition, the people who would be affected would be people who had had a serious injury or disease caused by their work and who were suffering serious hardship,' he said. IIDB 'is a no-fault compensation scheme. It provides some measure of justice for workers who have suffered a disease or injury that is probably due to their job, but which is hard to prove on an individual basis,' Exell added, noting 'is about recognising that employees take risks when they work and the whole of society has a duty to compensate them when one of those risks comes through.' He warned that 'the principles that will be reversed are even more important. The Industrial Injuries Scheme is a way in which society says that we all have an interest in making sure that workers can look to recompense for loss as well as help when you're hard up and that is a concrete way of committing ourselves to the notion that 'we're all in this together.'' While the Chancellor has been hard on benefit claimants as he tries to drive down the deficit, he has been criticised for his failure to rein in excesses in the City. So while the £700 million plus IIDB budget is to be cut, bankers in the City will be allowed to reward themselves with an estimated £7 billion in bonuses this year.

Don't let cost-cutting cost lives

Safety experts are warning government budget cuts could cost lives and place its own staff at risk, while business groups continue to mount an attack on existing safety rules. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) this week voiced fears the recognised workplace dangers of organisations cutting costs - including excessive working hours, extended use of ageing equipment and lack of training - are the 'hidden dangers' of the government's deficit reduction drive. It says it wants the government to heed its own advice and make 'cast-iron assurances' that the safety and well-being of police, social workers and civil servants - and the people they serve - remain top priorities as its departments look to make savings. IOSH chief executive Rob Strange said: 'What worries us is that hard-pressed managers looking to meet targets on savings will cut corners when safeguarding the health and safety of their staff. The dangers posed by cost-cutting to people involved in delivering or using public services are hidden behind all the talk of how fast and by how much our country's Budget deficit is reduced.' He added: 'We want the government to think about the implications of impending cutbacks on the safety, health and well-being not only of the people it employs, but of the people who use its services.' The Forum of Private Business, by contrast, is urging the government to 'focus on cutting the social protection budget'. Early this month, FSB claimed: 'According to the Forum's 'cost of compliance' research, employment law is the costliest bureaucratic burden, costing small businesses £2.4 billion per year. Health and safety administration costs £2.1 billion and tax £1.8 billion per year, according to the FPB's research.' FSB has previously called for a dramatic scaling back of official safety enforcement, and an end to unannounced inspections (Risks 427). The business lobby's costs calculations have been criticised repeatedly for inflating costs and discounting the benefits of properly enforced regulations.

Pre-employment screening bites the dust

Changes to discrimination law that include measures to make pre-employment medicals and questionnaires illegal have taken effect. New provisions of the Equality Act 2010, which came into effect on 1 October, mean prospective employers cannot ask health questions of applicants 'until the applicant has been able to successfully pass an interview, or some other assessment, to show that they meet some of the non-health requirements of the job,' says a TUC briefing. There are some limited exceptions, TUC adds, including questions designed to assess whether an applicant 'would be able to carry out a core function of the job, with reasonable adjustments having been made as appropriate' and positive efforts to employ workers with disabilities. Helen Hughes, interim chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), commenting on the new law that brings together nine different pieces of equalities legislation, including replacing the Disability Discrimination Act, commented: 'Simplifying equality legislation and extending protection to a wide range of groups that face discrimination will help Britain become a fairer society, improve public services, and help business perform well. For example, banning the use of pre-employment questionnaires under the new Equality Act could make it easier for veterans who have been recently disabled in the line of duty to get work... It is also a reminder that treating people fairly protects organisations from costly discrimination claims.' TUC has said union representatives should make sure that their employer's recruitment policies take account of the new legal duties.

BP safety talk is all about shareholders

The creation by BP of a new global safety unit with 'sweeping powers' has the safety of shareholders' money as its 'ultimate goal', the company's top boss has admitted. In a 1 October news release from the oil giant's London HQ announcing the 'powerful new organisation', BP chair Carl-Henric Svanberg said there were 'difficult challenges ahead' but added 'we have assembled a strong and able new team and are developing a robust strategy to deal with them and to deliver our ultimate goal - the restoration of shareholder value.' Mark Bly, who headed BP's internal investigation into the hugely damaging US Deepwater Horizon oil spill, will run the new unit (Risks 473). His report has been criticised for overlooking the role of BP's top management, including its London-based board, in decisions contributing to the disaster, which killed 11 workers and unleashed an environmental catastrophe. Commenting on the new safety unit, Bob Dudley, who took over from Tony Hayward as BP chief executive on 1 October, said it will have authority to intervene in all aspects of BP's technical activities. He added that the company will also conduct 'a fundamental review' of its business performance incentives, including its 'reward strategy'. Dudley said: 'These are the first and most urgent steps in a programme I am putting in place to rebuild trust in BP - the trust of our customers, of governments, of our employees and of the world at large. That trust is vital to the restoration of shareholder value which has been so adversely affected by recent events. The changes are in areas where I believe we most clearly need to act, with safety and risk management our most urgent priority.' BP was fined $15 million last week for pollution offences related to fires at its troubled Texas City refinery, which released highly toxic plumes including carcinogenic benzene into the air. Fifteen workers died in an explosion at the plant in 2005.

Call for UK equity fines law

A member of the Scottish parliament has said the UK government should introduce a new safety fines system, after the Scottish parliament's Justice Committee said it did not have the power to implement the measure. The committee said the Criminal Sentencing (Equity Fines) Bill, introduced by SNP's Dr Bill Wilson MSP, impinged on legislation reserved to Westminster. Dr Wilson commented: 'I am a little bit disappointed because the idea of giving judges the option of obliging public companies convicted of criminal offences to issue new shares was widely supported. As I have said on many occasions, monetary fines appear to be inadequate, to judge by the levels imposed by judges fearful of putting companies out of business.' He added: 'Equity fines, unlike monetary fines, would not directly affect working capital, however, and so it would be easier to impose them at a punitive - or, more importantly, deterrent - level.' He said under the existing ineffective penal regime, companies skimping on environmental protection and health and safety measures had an unfair advantage. He said the onus was now on David Cameron's administration to act. 'If it could be taken up by Westminster, I would be delighted, and I would be happy to discuss the idea with Westminster colleagues,' he said.

Multiple killers face lower penalties

The more people harmed by a corporation's negligence, the lower the court penalty is likely to be, US researchers have found. Loran Nordgren and Mary McDonnell, writing in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science found the phenomenon held up in both theoretical and real life cases. Their examination of the sentences in real world US court cases, where people were found guilty but where the numbers of victims varied, gave clear cut results echoing those of the laboratory studies. The researchers examined 136 representative cases between 2000-2009 in which individuals from corporations had been found guilty by juries of negligently exposing members of the public to asbestos, lead paint or toxic mould, and where their victims had all suffered significantly. They confirmed those who harm larger numbers of people get significantly lower punitive damages than those who harm a smaller number. Commenting on the findings in his Bad Science column in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre concluded factors that may play a contributory role include 'cases where lots of people were harmed may involve larger companies, with more expensive and competent lawyers, for example, or larger and more deniable lines of responsibility. But in the light of their earlier experiment, it's hard to discount the contributory effect of empathy, and this is a phenomenon we all recognise.' Dr Irving Selikoff, probably the most celebrated occupational health doctor of the last century, once commented: 'Statistics are people with the tears wiped away.' But when you only see the numbers and not the victims, in what the study authors term 'the scope-severity paradox', the human cost is disguised and the penalty reduced.

Cancer sufferer gets unfair dismissal payout

A Welsh breast cancer patient has been awarded more than £100,000 compensation after she was unfairly dismissed when her performance dipped. Sally-Ann Burke, 54, was treated unfairly because of her disability from the illness which left her 'tired and forgetful', an Abergele Employment Tribunal found. Former employer Clinton Cards plc was not supportive enough and did not allocate some of her workload to colleagues, ruled the tribunal. It had earlier heard that when Mrs Burke returned to work after chemotherapy and radiotherapy, a manager claimed she was only working at '50 per cent capacity'. She said he'd reduced her to tears and 'frightened' her. In the end, he gave her a choice of resigning or disciplinary action, which was tantamount to an 'ultimatum', said tribunal chair Judge Wayne Beard. Mrs Burke, who was headhunted by Clinton Cards, joined the chain in September 2004. She was diagnosed with cancer in July 2005. In his judgment, Judge Beard said an employer 'cannot turn a blind eye' to an employee's disability. He said Clinton Cards knew about her cancer but failed to make 'reasonable adjustments' in allocating her workload to others. Mrs Burke's claim of direct disability discrimination was dismissed. But the claimant successfully claimed constructive dismissal. The tribunal awarded Mrs Burke £100,414 compensation plus interest.

Veolia fined after another death

National waste and recycling company Veolia ES (UK) Ltd has been fined £225,000 after a worker was killed in a vehicle collision while collecting litter from a busy road. The fine comes less than eight months after it was prosecuted for another workplace death. The latest prosecution followed an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an incident on 2 March 2007 in East Peckham, Kent. Damian Griffiths, 20, an agency worker for Veolia, was litter-picking on a grass verge of the A228 with a colleague, who was driving a caged vehicle used to collect the litter alongside him. A large goods lorry travelling in the same direction collided with the caged vehicle, shunting it into Mr Griffiths. The LGV driver escaped serious injury but Mr Griffiths died at the scene. Veolia ES (UK) Ltd was found guilty on 11 August of two criminal safety breaches. It was sentenced this week and fined £225,000 and ordered to pay costs of £95,239. In February, Hazards magazine criticised Veolia for 'parading' its environmental and safety credentials despite being a serial safety offender over the last five years (Risks 445). The condemnation came after Veolia was fined £130,000 for safety breaches linked to the death of employee David Ives, 56, who was killed when a 1,100-litre recycling bin fell on his head (Risks 444).

Site firm fined after telehandler tragedy

A Scottish construction firm has been fined after one of its workers died four weeks after being struck by a telehandler driven by a co-worker. Charles Wilkinson, 51, from Berwick, was struck by the telehandler as it was being reversed the wrong way along a one-way residential street in Tweedmouth. Newcastle Crown Court heard the company, James Swinton Co Ltd, was carrying out refurbishment work in the street on 10 November 2008. The company had not requested a road closure from Berwick District Council and there were still residents' cars parked in the street. The telehandler driver was reversing his vehicle up the street the wrong way when it mounted the pavement and struck Mr Wilkinson, who was taken to hospital with injuries to his pelvis, spine and ribs but later released. However, Mr Wilkinson died four weeks later as a result of a blood clot. A Home Office pathologist later determined the clot was caused by the incident. The company had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a criminal safety breach and this week was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £4,063 costs. Commenting on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) action, Health and Safety Executive inspector Dr Dave Shallow, said: 'The company could have asked Berwick District Council for a road closure which, along with these measures and the removal of residents' vehicles, would have allowed safer movement of construction plant and vehicles.'

Couple in court after couple of crimes

The owners of a pine furniture workshop in Bacup have been prosecuted after an employee was seriously injured twice in less than two months. Simon Davies was cutting a small groove into a pine door on 13 July 2009 when it shot out of the machine, forcing his left hand onto a rotating blade. The 21-year-old's index finger was badly cut, most of his nail was removed and the bone was broken. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Kenneth Bramhall and Gill Brown, who run Village Pine. Reedley Magistrates' Court in Burnley heard that, just three weeks before the July incident, HSE had issued seven enforcement notices after Mr Davies suffered similar injuries from a circular saw. The notices required specific improvements to be made at the workshop, and work on the unguarded and unsafe saw to be stopped completely. Michael Mullen, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'It is regrettable that a worker was badly injured twice in less than two months because basic health and safety measures were not in place. Mr Davies has now left the joinery profession as a result of the injuries he suffered.' He added: 'If the measures required by health and safety law had been taken then Mr Davies would not have been injured in this way.' Kenneth Bramhall, 51, and Gill Brown, 65, both pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. They were each fined £6,000 and both ordered to pay £1,000 in compensation to Mr Davies. Both were told to contribute £2,000 towards prosecution costs.

Noisy work doubles heart disease risk

A persistently noisy workplace more than doubles an employee's risk of serious heart disease, a new study has found. The findings of the research were published online this week in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The researchers looked at a representative sample of more than 6,000 US employees, aged from 20 upwards, who had been part of the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2004. This involved detailed household interviews, to include lifestyle and occupational health, medical examinations, and blood tests. Participants were grouped into those who for at least three months endured persistent loud noise at work, to the extent that it was difficult to talk at normal volume, and those who did not. Workers in persistently noisy workplaces were between two to three times as likely to have serious heart problems as their peers in quiet workplaces. This association was particularly strong among workers under 50, who made up more than 4,500 of the total sample. They were between three and four times as likely to have angina or coronary artery disease or to have had a heart attack. The blood tests of these workers did not indicate particularly high levels of cholesterol or inflammatory proteins, both of which are associated with heart disease. But diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure of the artery walls when the heart relaxes between heartbeats, was higher than normal, a condition known as isolated diastolic hypertension, or IDH. This is an independent predictor of serious heart problems. The authors speculate that loud noise day after day may be as strong an external stressor as sudden strong emotion or physical exertion. They conclude: 'This study suggests that excess noise exposure in the workplace is an important occupational health issue and deserves special attention.'

  • Wen Qi Gan, Hugh W Davies and Paul A Demers. Exposure to occupational noise and cardiovascular disease in the United States: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Online First 5 October 2010; doi 10.1136/oem.055269 [abstract].

International News

Chile: Unions issue safety manifesto

Unions have called on the Chilean government to introduce effective health and safety legislation. The unions, from the mining, metals, and energy sectors, have produced a manifesto holding the government responsible for safety lapses inside the San José mine, where an explosion has left 33 miners trapped deep underground since 5 August (Risks 471). The manifesto says flaws in the existing safety laws include excluding workers and their trade unions from participating in safety matters. Unions also accuse the government of being unwilling to engage in tripartite dialogue to improve mine safety conditions, including refusing to discuss ratification of ILO's safety in mines convention. The initiative has the support if ICEM, the global union federation for the sector. A 4 October letter from ICEM to Chile's government calls for a revamp of its preventive safety practices. Latest reports say the 33 trapped Chilean miners could be released within days. Relatives of 27 of the 33 miners filed compensation lawsuits last week against both the government and the firm, Campañia Minera San Esteban Primera, seeking a total of US$12 million.

Europe: Economic incentives pay dividends

Incentive schemes to encourage companies to invest in safety 'pay dividends', a report has concluded. The research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) suggests the schemes are a cost-effective option for governments looking to cut the numbers of work-related accidents and illnesses. Rewards range from lower insurance premiums, state subsidies and grants, through to tax breaks, and preferential terms for bank loans for the best-performing businesses. The Bilbao-based agency says three out of 14 case studies highlighted in the project provided sufficient data to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. All three resulted in a positive payout ratio, ranging from 1.01 - 4.81 Euros return for every Euro invested. The research examined the impact on accident rates, sick leave and general working conditions. EU-OSHA director Jukka Takala commented that the 'economic incentives project has already encouraged different EU member states to learn from each other, and exchange good practice in designing incentive schemes. All in all, the report shows that economic incentives can be effective in all member states, regardless of wide differences in terms of their social security and accident insurance systems.' It says used in tandem with regulation and enforcement, the incentives could make it more likely that the EU reaches its workplace accident reduction target.

India: Death exposes tea worker exploitation

Poisonings and shootings are among the labour and human rights abuses at a tea plantation linked to the multinational Tata group, a new report has claimed. The report, commissioned by the global foodworkers' union federation IUF, says the Tata-controlled Powai Tea Estate in Assam, India, was responsible for the death in May this year of 25 year-old worker Gopal Tanti, who collapsed at work while spraying pesticides. He was denied medical treatment and left to die in the field. 'In cold blood: Death by poison, death by bullets' reveals that workers on this estate habitually spray and handle highly toxic chemicals without minimal protective clothing and other essential precautionary measures. The investigation shows that even after Gopal Tanti's death, these practices continued. When workers on the plantation gathered on 28 May to protest Tanti's death, police opened fire without warning, killing Ranjit Paharia and Deep Sona, both the sons of Powai Tea Estate workers, and seriously injuring at least 15. The Powai estate has one of the world's largest tea-processing factories and employs some 1,800 permanent and 1,200 temporary workers. It is owned by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL) a company IUF says is controlled by Tata Global Beverages. Tata owns the Tetley brand, one of the world's highest selling teas and a market leader in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and North America. It was revealed this week that the head of the Tata Group, Ratan Tata, had been selected by David Cameron to sit on the newly formed Business Advisory Group. The group will advise on 'critical business and economic issues facing the country,' Downing Street said.

USA: Sick leave off the menu for serving staff

Restaurant staff in the US are being forced to work when sick and are under so much pressure they regularly put their own health and that of customers at risk, a study has found. Almost two-thirds of restaurant employees have cooked or served food while sick, largely because 87.8 per cent of those workers have no paid sick days, according to 'Serving while sick'. The report, from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), is the largest survey of restaurant employees and owners ever conducted, the organisation says. ROC surveyed 4,323 employees and interviewed 240 employers and 240 employees in eight states. ROC found 36.1 per cent restaurant workers said it was 'unsafely hot' in the kitchen and 25.2 per cent said there were fire hazards in the restaurant. Two-thirds of workers (66.6 per cent) said they didn't know worker compensation laws and a third (33 per cent) said they were never provided health and safety training by their employer. Among injuries sustained on the job, 45.8 per cent of workers had been burned, 49 per cent had suffered cuts and 24.5 per cent had contact with toxic chemicals. As for workplace practices, 38.1 per cent said time pressures caused them to do something that put their own safety and health at risk, and 42.5 per cent said that time constraints caused them do so something that may have harmed the health and safety of customers. Saru Jayaraman, co-director and co-founder of ROC United, says its work, which includes campaigning for better laws on sick leave and health insurance, may be the first step away from an 'industry that perpetuates illness.'

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