Risks 479 - 23 October 2010

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

Union News

A bad seven days for health and safety

Cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and to local authority budgets announced in the spending review will make it easier for rogue employers to take unacceptable risks with the health and safety of their workforce, the TUC has warned. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'In the last seven days health and safety has been hit by a triple whammy. The Young Review, which last week seemed to rule out any commitment from the government to the occupational health agenda (Risks 478), was followed this week by deep cuts to spending which will make it much easier for employers to avoid their obligations under the law to keep their staff safe and well at work. This week the HSE saw its budget cut by 35 per cent and that, combined with a 28 per cent cut in local government funding, will have a damaging impact on safety in workplaces up and down the UK.' Mr Barber added: 'Workers need their safety and health protecting now more than ever. More than a million workers are currently suffering from an illness or injury caused by their work, and last year over 30 million days were lost due to work-related sickness absence. This time off work cost employers £3.7 billion last year, yet much of this could have been prevented if they took better care of their staff. Cuts of this magnitude cannot be achieved through 'efficiency savings' but will mean job losses for large numbers of frontline staff. That will mean fewer visits to workplaces, less enforcement of safety law, and reduced health and safety guidance for employers. As a result, more people are likely to be made ill by their jobs, and killed or injured at work. All in all it's been a bad seven days for health and safety.'

HSE cuts make more deaths 'inevitable'

Cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) budget will put workers' lives at risk, UCATT has warned. Commenting after HSE's parent ministry, DWP, confirmed government cash for HSE will drop by 35 per cent by 2015, Alan Ritchie, the construction union's general secretary, said: 'Any cuts in frontline services will inevitably lead to a greater number of workers being killed or injured at work. Sadly, the risks are greatest in safety critical industries such as construction.' He added: 'UCATT will be seeking assurances from the HSE that there will be no cuts in the level of frontline construction inspectors and that there will not be changes in the manner that safety laws are applied to construction.' According to Mr Ritchie, construction workers could face 'extreme dangers' when the industry emerges from recession. 'Inexperienced employers could place them in danger,' he said. 'Now there is the genuine possibility that the HSE whose role it is to ensure workers' safety, will be denied the resources to perform their role properly.'

Sick being forced to job hunt

The government is cutting costs by forcing many disabled and sick people on to jobseekers' allowance (JSA) despite evidence that they are unfit to work, the TUC has warned. The union body has evidence that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is moving unfit workers from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) purely to save money (Risks 478). It has identified a number of case studies where claimants have been awarded '0 points' by Atos Origin Ltd - a company contracted by the DWP to carry out ESA assessment reviews - and declared fit to work when they had all previously been declared too ill to do so (Risks 477). When they met with Atos Origin Ltd, Sue Hutchings had breast cancer and was awaiting surgery, while lorry driver John Watkins had his arm in plaster from his shoulder to his fingertips following an operation for a work-related repetitive strain injury. They were moved from ESA at £96.85 a week on to JSA at £65.45 a week, losing them each £1,632.80 a year in benefit support, and forcing them to start looking for work. The TUC is concerned that the government is moving many disabled and sick people from ESA on to JSA to save money even though they are too ill to work. Statistics from the Tribunals Service reveal there has been a 128 per cent increase in ESA appeals for the first quarter of 2010 compared to the first quarter of last year. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Ministers keep telling us that the cuts will be fair and that everyone has to play a part in reducing the deficit, but this is a clear example of how some of the most vulnerable are being made to suffer in the new age of austerity. The DWP decides how benefits assessments are carried out, and must ensure this process is responsible, transparent and - above all - fair.'

Tube maintenance staff fight for safety

London Underground fleet maintenance staff will take industrial action from next week in defence of safety-critical jobs. The RMT members, who last week returned a massive vote in favour of industrial action short of a strike (Risks 478), will from 26 October refuse to carry out higher grade working and will not to cooperate with staff movements away from home locations. RMT said safety on the Tube system has been undermined as London Underground has 'ripped up tube maintenance schedules leaving brakes and other equipment in a lethal state of disrepair.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the union had 'repeatedly warned' London Underground and Transport for London (TfL) they 'are playing fast and loose with safety and will turn the tube into a death trap. It is a scandal that the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and his transport officials have chosen to ignore those warnings. The anger of our members who carry out the safety-critical function of maintaining the Tube fleet as the cuts being imposed from above is reflected in this massive vote for action.' He added: 'We remain available for talks but the current cuts to Tube safety must be halted before we have a tragedy on our hands. RMT members have been forced into a position where they have no choice but to take action on behalf of Londoners who depend daily on a safe transport system.'

Other news

HSE to 'actively pursue' Lord Young's plan

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has 'warmly welcomed' the recommendations of Lord Young's health and safety review. His report, which was commissioned by David Cameron and which is now the government blueprint for health and safety reform, comes as the safety watchdog faces swingeing cuts as part of the government's spending review. HSE chair Judith Hackitt commented: 'Lord Young's report is an important milestone on the road to recovery for the reputation of real health and safety. HSE welcomes it and will be actively pursuing those recommendations within our remit.' The watchdog said it had already been working with others to develop responses to two of the recommendations. It has launched a new 20 minute online risk assessment for offices and said other web tools 'for similarly low-risk workplaces' were to follow. A new Occupational Safety Consultants Register (OSCR) will be set up in January 2011, a measure that addresses Lord Young's concern about rogue consultants offering unnecessary or irresponsible advice. Judith Hackitt said: 'Publication of the report is a tremendous opportunity to refocus health and safety on what it is really about - managing workplace risks. Getting this right is good for employers, employees and Britain as a whole.' She added: 'HSE will continue to champion a sensible and proportionate approach to dealing with serious risks in the workplace - not eliminating every minor risk from everyday life.' Mike Clancy, deputy general secretary of HSE inspectors' union Prospect, said HSE needed adequate resources to do the job right. He said HSE figures show that some larger employers can, at best, expect a workplace inspection every 14 years while many smaller workplaces will never be visited. 'Lord Young offers some creative regulatory proposals which we welcome, subject to adequate resourcing,' said Clancy. 'In the long run safety isn't expensive - danger is!'

Unions slam official safety blueprint

Unions have reacted angrily to the government-adopted safety report they say will undermine hard-won safety standards. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said 'the moment Lord Young was given the brief to review Britain's health and safety regime he began ridiculing it, criticising the mythical 'compensation culture' and wheeling out 'health-and-safety-gone-mad' stories.' He added: 'RMT members have faced avoidable disasters including Piper Alpha, King's Cross, Zeebrugge, Tebay and far too many rail crashes, as well as the risk of chronic ill-health and assault, and they are keenly aware of the need for robust health and safety protection.' UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie, said accident under-reporting was rife, a problem that would made considerably worse by the report's call for relaxed reporting standards. He added: 'This report was a waste of time and money. Lord Young has failed to grasp why safety legislation is so vital in dangerous industries such as construction. If he had he would be demanding greater resources to protect workers and to tighten existing legislation.' John McClean, GMB national health and safety officer, said: 'We have arrived at the current regulatory regime along a road built on the blood, broken bones and deaths of workers and the public and attempts to undermine or trivialise this is not just a mistake it is also insulting.' CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said: 'This deregulation assault is the start of a pernicious attack on law that in fact protects all of us. All workers and their families depend on health and safety to keep them safe and well. There's not a single proposal in the report that will reduce the high levels of workplace deaths, injuries and illness in the UK.' Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary said: 'This is clearly a missed opportunity for our health and safety system to be reviewed to help trade unions and employers face the challenges facing workers in the future'.

Business glee at the safety reforms

While the unions representing the workers on the rough end of Lord Young's safety reforms have been dismayed by the new government-approved plan, the business lobby by contrast has been united in its praise for the measures to pare back safety protections. Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory affairs at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: 'Lord Young's sensible recommendations are long overdue. Low risk businesses have been over-regulated on health and safety for too long.' He added the proposals 'go a long way to lightening the load on offices and businesses across the country. The IoD is encouraged by Lord Young's approach and calls on the government to look at deregulation in that other critical area of over-regulation - general employment law.' John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: 'Lord Young is right. We need a can-do, not a can-sue culture.' He added: 'Lord Young's report should put common sense back into the system, reduce bureaucracy, and improve our approach to managing risk.' Steve Pointer, from the manufacturers' organisation EEF, said: 'Manufacturers will welcome this report. Practical action to protect employees from harm is important but, health and safety has become too focussed on completing paperwork and protecting the public from every possible risk.' Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: 'Lord Young's recommendations are both sensible and overdue. Businesses have long said that health and safety rules cannot be applied to hazardous environments and offices in the same way - and that there are too many burdens involved in allowing employees to work from home. These recommendations have the potential to reduce business costs and time-consuming bureaucratic burdens by managing risk in a far more sensible way. They will also give companies greater confidence to create jobs.' He added: 'Lord Young's recommendations must be implemented swiftly and in full so that businesses, and the UK economy as a whole, can begin to benefit.' And Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation with the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said the 'review is a win for common sense. Not all workplaces are the same and this report recognises that the precautions needed in an industrial setting are different from those in a low-risk environment like a shop.'

UK must learn safety lessons, says Unite

The coalition government must not to back slide on essential health and safety at work measures, Unite has warned. The union was commenting after the publication last week of Lord Young's review into health and safety, which 'astonishingly' does not contain a single proposal to reduce workplace deaths, injuries and illness, said Unite. The union said it fears cuts in spending planned by the coalition government, along with what it called the 'missed opportunity' to improve safety culture with the Young report, could undermine essential protections further. Unite health and safety officer, Rob Miguel, said: 'The visit this week by the Chilean prime minister is a stark reminder of the importance of safety at work. It is galling then that only hours after the 33 were freed, Lord Young takes on his role as warm up act for the health and safety cutters in this country.' He added: 'Lord Young appears to have no awareness of the problems of occupational disease, and seems to have ignored all the evidence received from experts and unions. Everyone has the right to work in a healthy, safe environment. Sadly, this report is a missed opportunity to improve safety at work but we certainly cannot let it usher in an era of even poorer standards.'

Dangerous double standard for 'low risk' work

The government risks introducing a dangerous double standard on safety if it implements reforms proposed by Lord Young, unions and campaigners have warned. Hope Daley, UNISON's head of health and safety, said: 'Despite the review, Lord Young shows no awareness of the problems caused by occupational ill-health and no real understanding of the level of injury or ill-health in schools, classrooms or offices. Schools and offices have very high levels of stress-related illness, and many people suffer from arm, back and neck injuries. Between them these are responsible for around threequarters of work related sickness absence.' She added: 'This report is really only interested in freeing business from bureaucratic burdens and disregards the value of workers' health and safety.' John Hannett, general secretary of retail union Usdaw, said: 'Shops are not the most dangerous of workplaces but there are over a million shopworkers who can tell Lord Young they are certainly not 'non-hazardous'.' Preliminary findings of an Usdaw survey show over 1m shopworkers were victims of violence or abuse last year (Risks 478). Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) facilitator Hilda Palmer accused Lord Young of 'aiming to divide workers by some arbitrary hazardous/non-hazardous line and so destroy the universality of health, safety and welfare law which protects all workers in all workplaces from injury and ill-health.' She also rubbished Lord Young's figures on the numbers affected by work-related injuries and ill-health, pointing out that every year up to 1,500 workers are killed in work-related incidents and up to 50,000 die every year due to illnesses they had developed because of their work.

School trips could get riskier, unions warn

Government plans to ease the risk assessment requirement on school trips could remove a common sense safety measure and increase risks to pupils, teaching unions have warned. Former Cabinet minister Lord Young, whose report findings have been accepted in their entirety by the government, said the regulation surrounding school trips was now so onerous that many teachers no longer bothered to organise them - leading millions of children to miss out on a vital part of their education. He said: 'The simple truth is that filling in a form doesn't make a trip more safe. Children are potentially missing out on vital education because schools just do not have the time and resource to carry out the process. If they do, they are too concerned about the threat of legal action should an accident happen.' ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said school trips were an 'invaluable' part of children's education, but added 'we are concerned about Lord Young's proposals because carrying out health and safety risk assessments is a crucial part of ensuring that both pupils and staff remain safe while engaged in school activities. And we are worried that simplifying the work before schools engage in activities could lead to corners being cut and health and safety compromised.' Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'It will be Lord Young's proposals, not the current health and safety rules, that will discourage school trips. It is just not true to say risk assessments prevent trips taking place. To say that teachers shouldn't consider risks before taking children and young people out on trips just seems absurd.'

BP links bonuses to safety performance

Bonuses for the fourth quarter for BP staff will be based solely on how employees perform in terms of safety and risk management, Bob Dudley, the UK oil multinational's new chief executive, has told its 80,000 employees worldwide. Mr Dudley said in an email that payments would be linked to 'reducing operational risks' and 'excellent safety and compliance standards.' Existing bonus arrangements would be honoured for the first nine months of the year, he added. 'We are taking this step in order to be absolutely clear that safety, compliance and operational risk management is BP's number one priority, well ahead of all other priorities,' the email said. 'In particular, we are committed to ensure that a low-probability, high-impact incident such as the Deepwater Horizon tragedy never happens again.' Mr Dudley took up his new post at the start of October after his predecessor Tony Hayward stepped down amid heavy criticism of his handling of the oil spill. The bonus strategy is certain to come in for close scrutiny. Similar schemes have been found to encourage managers to suppress injury reports and discourage sick leave in a bid to secure larger payouts. Network Rail this month said it had broken the link between reported numbers of injuries and director bonuses after unions and the rail regulator revealed injuries were systematically under-reported across the company (Risks 477). Last year, Network Rail directors pocketed almost £2.4m in bonuses, with injury rates one of the factors considered by the remuneration committee.

Bus firm fined for over-working drivers

A bus firm boss has had to pay out almost £100,000 after an investigation found his drivers were working exhausting shifts without adequate breaks for weeks at a time. Edward John Martin Bellamy, the director and transport manager of Bellamy Coaches, was also failed to keep records of work, an investigation by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) found. Nottingham Magistrates' Court heard VOSA inspected the firm over a six-week period last year. The court heard that some drivers had taken less than four hours rest between finishing driving one day and starting work for the following shift. Drivers had worked up to 27 consecutive days without taking legally required breaks. Bellamy had also failed to keep adequate records and systems to properly monitor his drivers' working hours. He pleaded guilty to 77 offences relating to breaches of drivers' hours rules and failing to keep records of work. Magistrates fined him £17,000 and ordered him to pay £80,000 in costs. Nine of the company's drivers previously pleaded guilty to driving hours offences, including failing to take adequate breaks, and received fines. VOSA operations director Alex Fiddes said: 'I am very pleased with the level of fines the court has handed out - it shows how serious these offences are. Bus and coach operators must keep records of the hours that their drivers are completing. Drivers who do not take the required amount of rest run the risk of causing a serious or fatal accident because of tiredness.'

Government fails bereaved families

A government decision to scrap a review of the inquest system and abolish the position of chief coroner before it is even established is a betrayal of bereaved families, campaigners have said. The creation of the position and a review of the system as a whole were hard won by campaigners. Inquest co-director Deborah Coles said it was 'dishonest' of the government to claim that tweaking the existing rules would deliver the fundamental changes need. 'The dysfunctional and flawed inquest system is in need of complete reform,' she said. 'Not only does this decision fail bereaved families but also society, which should have an inquest system fit for purpose in the 21st century. The inquest is usually the only public forum in which contentious deaths such as accidents, deaths at work, deaths in custody or deaths of military personnel are subjected to public scrutiny. The current system is failing to perform its preventative function.' She said the government backtracking 'will frustrate the opportunity to create a system which saves lives. This is a false economy if there ever was one.' Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) spokesperson Hilda Palmer said it was 'equivalent to the government standing safely on the banks watching vulnerable families drown in a sea of apathy and unaccountability.'

Hose firm injures three in two months

A Chichester rubber hose manufacturer has been fined after three workers were injured on its premises in a two month period. Oldham Seals Limited was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,151.25 at Chichester Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of safety law. The court heard that on 6 May 2009 a worker lost a thumb and part of his finger while operating a machine with rotating parts. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation showed that a further two workers had been injured on the machine in the two months prior to this incident. One worker had his glove entangled in the machine and was pulled towards the rotating parts. He suffered bruising and cuts to his torso. Another worker was winding a rope around a hose he was building on a lathe when his leg was caught and he was pulled towards the machine. The rope snapped but he suffered severe lacerations to his left leg. The HSE investigation found suitable guarding round the moving parts would have removed the entanglement risk. HSE inspector Michelle Taylor said: 'These three incidents are terrible and all because the company did not have simple guards to cover the moving parts of the machine and prevent entanglement. Also, the company should have made an assessment of the practical measures which could have controlled the risks. Had they done so, then these dreadful incidents would have been prevented.'

Plastics firm seriously injured teen worker

A Lancashire plastics company has appeared in court after a teenage apprentice suffered serious injuries when his arm was dragged into a machine. The worker, who asked not be named, dislocated his left shoulder and broke his arm on 6 May 2008 while working at General All Purpose (GAP) Plastic's Blackburn factory. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the company following an investigation, which found that the company did not take adequate steps to prevent access to the most dangerous parts of the machine. The apprentice, who was just 17 at the time, was helping to assemble decorative panels for doors when he was dragged between two rollers while trying to clear a jam. More than two years after the incident, he has still not regained full use of his hand. Carlisle Magistrates' Court heard that GAP Plastics should have provided fixed guards covering dangerous parts of the machine. The additional risk posed by the worker's lack of experience had also not been assessed. Michael Griffiths, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'This was a particularly nasty incident which left a young man with long-term and potentially debilitating injuries. It is essential that companies assess the safety of the machinery they use. In this case the way in which the machinery was configured meant that it had become dangerous.' The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £4,500 towards the cost of the prosecution.

Recycling firm broke worker's ribs

A recycling company has been fined after one of its workers suffered broken ribs when he was forced onto a metal conveyor belt in Preston. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Smurfit Kappa UK Ltd following the injury on 4 September 2009. The 60-year-old warehouse employee, who declined to be named, was pushing waste cardboard onto the conveyor belt when he was forced onto the conveyor by a reversing van. Smurfit Kappa was fined £5,000 after pleading guilty at Preston Magistrates' Court to a health and safety offence. It was also ordered to pay £4,204 costs. The court heard that the company should have made sure pedestrians were kept away from moving vehicles by providing barriers or marked areas. The firm was charged with a criminal breach of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 by failing to allow pedestrians and vehicles to work or move safely. Imran Siddiqui, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'One of Smurfit's employees suffered broken ribs as a result of the company's failings. But if he had been hit harder by the vehicle, or forced into the machine which baled the cardboard, then his injuries may have been a lot more severe.' He added: 'The company failed to control the movement of vehicles in the warehouse, despite waste materials regularly being delivered to the site. There should also have been a segregated area for pedestrians so there was no chance of anyone being injured by reversing vans.'

International News

Australia: Fight back on to preserve safety rights

After looking like a done deal for months, the door has been propped ajar for a second look at Australia's national harmonisation of workplace health and safety laws. Kristina Keneally, the state premier in New South Wales (NSW), gave new hope for a rethink about the proposed laws when she announced last week that her state would not pass legislation that allowed occupational health and safety (OHS) standards to be cut. The stance from NSW is in line with the union argument that protections for workers should not be diminished by this once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a nationally harmonised OHS system. In a move which has angered Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard, who has threatened to withhold Aus$144m (£90m) in federal grants if NSW doesn't fall into line, Keneally pledged to retain two important standards that are currently in the NSW state laws: the right for third parties to prosecute over serious accidents, and an onus on employers to provide a safe workplace. From the outset of the OHS harmonisation process, unions sought to have these NSW provisions extended to all states and territories, so that all workers, no matter where they are in Australia, had the same rights and protections. They were however omitted from the draft laws which were circulated late last year. The Keneally state government says it won't implement the national system unless it includes these two standards. The stance has been welcomed by unions. 'Unions have always maintained it was a major oversight for the proposed national laws not to include these rights from the outset,' said Jeff Lawrence, secretary of the national union federation ACTU. 'As they stand, the draft national laws would reduce rights and protections for workers in a number of states. This is unacceptable. Workplace health and safety laws must put the interests of employees first, not those of business.'

Chile: Mine rescue exposes safety shortfall

The release of 33 trapped miners in Chile has been celebrated worldwide, but has also raised troubling questions about the circumstances that led to the workers being entombed for 69 days at Campañia Minera San Esteban Primera's San José copper mine (Risks 478). Chile president Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire businessman at the head of a right-wing, pro-business, anti-regulation government, has pledged there will be no impunity for mine owners and has commissioned an enquiry that will report findings by 22 November. But the move comes after decades of neglect of workplace safety and is not without its critics. According to global mining unions' federation ICEM 'the very make-up of that commission explains just one of the structural deficiencies inherent in Chilean mine safety: no trade union representatives will be involved. Chile's mining unions say the government for decades has been unwilling to engage in tripartite dialogue to improve mine safety, telling workers' representatives their job is to negotiate over economic issues, not to participate on health and safety matters.' According to ICEM: 'The unions say government officials and mine industrial representatives have consistently refused initiatives to discuss ratification of ILO Convention 176, the Safety and Health in Mines Convention, because it would dislodge strict industry-government control.' ICEM concludes: 'The 33 miners in Chile are now safe and together with their families. But exactly how they came to be at death's door, and whether or not the Chilean government will make corrective structural changes in mine safety, remains an open question.'

USA: Deadly firms get federal business

A report from the US Government Accountability Office says contractors are routinely receiving lucrative government business even after they had been cited for violating laws designed to protect workers. The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hit a large petroleum company with $55 million in fines for labour law violations between fiscal 2005 and 2009. A big chunk of the fines followed health and safety inspections 'after a massive refinery explosion where there were 15 deaths and almost 200 injuries,' GAO reported. That firm, BP, was awarded more than $2 billion worth of federal work in 2009. Upon finding violations in a sugar refinery in 2008, OSHA said the company should pay $8.7 million in fines. Of the total, $5 million was related to a refinery factory explosion that killed 14 people and injured many more. This firm, Imperial Sugar, benefited from 'about $6.5 million on federal contracts' in 2009, said the report. Seven companies hit with the largest OSHA fines, $3.7 million worth, in the 2009 financial year also received $180 million in contracts. GAO notes: 'None of the seven federal contractors had been debarred or suspended from federal contracts.' Colleen M Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the report 'underscores a danger in federal contracting... namely, the willingness of some private companies to shortchange the wages and benefits of their employees, to risk their health and safety, and through environmental violations the health of the public at large, in pursuit of federal work.'

  • Federal contracting: Assessments and Citations of Federal Labor Law Violations by Selected Federal Contractors, GAO report [pdf]. Washington Post.

Zambia: Outrage after bosses shoot miners

Police in Zambia have charged two Chinese mine managers with attempted murder after they allegedly opened fire on a group of miners. At least 11 workers were injured, two critically, in the incident at the Collum coal mine in the southern town of Sinazongwe. The case has brought an angry reaction in Zambia, where Chinese businesses have invested heavily. Police say the miners had been protesting against poor working conditions at the Collum mine on 15 October, when the managers opened fire at random. Sinazongwe district commissioner Oliver Pelete told reporters the Chinese managers were being held in prison until their court appearance. They have been named as Xiao Li Shan, 48, and Wu Jiu Hua, 46. Zambian officials have welcomed Chinese companies and their foreign currency. But local miners have for years protested what they say are insufficient wages and unsafe working conditions at Chinese-run mines. Rayford Mbulu, the president of the Miners Union of Zambia, said that the managers flouted Zambian law by carrying firearms to the mine. 'We don't care what investments the Chinese are bringing into the country,' he said. 'We cannot allow them to shoot miners like that.' According to union officials, workers at Collum Coal Mine are among the lowest-paid miners in Zambia, with some getting as little as $70 (£44) a month. Since last year, the workers have been pressing management for a pay raise and for improved working conditions.


Europe and nanotechnology rules

A new guide from the European Trade Union Institute's (ETUI) health and safety research arm (HESA) spells out Europe's need for better nanotechnology regulation. HESA is critical of the European Union's nanotechnology strategy, which it says is concerned primarily with 'catching up' with the US and Asia on nano production. It says the health risks posed by the commercial use of nanomaterials have only recently come onto the European Commission's agenda - but adds the Commission has not so far seen a need for specific legislation to govern nanotechnologies. This is a view not shared by either the European Parliament or the European trade union movement. The report's author, ETUI researcher Aída Ponce, combines a detailed survey of European policy in the area with an exploration of the ethical and social issues surrounding nanotechnologies.

  • ETUI publication notice. The EU approach to regulating nanotechnology, Aída María Ponce Del Castillo, ETUI, 2010. ISSN 1994-4446. 10 euros.

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