Risks 481 - 6 November 2010

Share this page

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 exposes safety inspection crisis

Almost half (49 per cent) of workplaces in the UK have never been visited by a health and safety inspector, new figures from the TUC suggest. The union body says the lack of official oversight is a 'scandal' that leaves workers at risk from rogue employers. It adds that evidence shows inspection and enforcement activity is the most effective way to ensure that employers comply with health and safety laws. TUC's biennial survey of safety reps found nearly half of safety reps reported their workplace has never been inspected, almost one in 10 reps (nine per cent) reported the last inspection at their workplace was more than three years ago, while a further 15 per cent say it was between one and three years ago. Only around a quarter (27 per cent) say their workplace has received a visit within the last 12 months. In small companies who employ fewer than 50 people only 16 per cent have had an inspection in the last year. Even among large workplaces with over 1,000 workers, only one third (33 per cent) have been inspected within the last 12 months. Despite the low level of inspection, the TUC believes the threat of enforcement has encouraged some employers to make improvements. The proportion of employers who make some improvements because of the possibility of an inspection jumped to 61 per cent from 52 per cent in the TUC's last survey, and two-thirds of employers do more than the minimum to comply with a legal enforcement notice. These figures suggest that the law, the threat of enforcement and actual prosecution remain key drivers of change, says the TUC. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Knowing that an inspector is likely to visit is one of the key drivers to changing employers' behaviour and making the workplace safer and healthier. It is a scandal that nearly half of workplaces in the UK have never been visited by a health and safety inspector.' He added that a cut of at least 35 per cent in the Health and Safety Executive's budget 'will have a very damaging impact on safety in UK workplaces.'

HSE cuts are the real 'safety madness'

Drastic cuts in the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) budget are a sure sign the government's approach to safety has 'gone mad', the union Prospect has said. Prospect deputy general secretary Mike Clancy, whose union represents 1,650 inspectors, scientists and other specialists employed by HSE, said: 'Despite earlier misgivings, we greeted the government's recent report into health and safety with some relief after Lord Young's conclusions clearly recognised the strengths, sensitivity and professionalism of HSE's approach and strategy [Risks 478]. But our relief was short-lived. It cannot be in the national interest to reduce investment in a body whose mission is to prevent death, injury and ill-health - saving lives and costs - just days after lauding it as pivotal to the restoration of the UK's occupational health and safety reputation and practice.' He added: 'Lord Young's report was supposed to tackle the madness of the health and safety culture, but surely the cuts to HSE's budget are the clearest example of safety gone mad!' David Cameron's health and safety adviser, Lord Young, has been given a second hat by the prime minister, as the government's new enterprise tsar. His October safety report recommended relaxing safety controls on small business. The peer has now indicated he wants to see this double standard also apply to employment protection in small firms, a move TUC's Brendan Barber said warned would be 'giving them permission to become second-rate employers.'

Site deaths show folly of HSE cuts

Six construction deaths were killed in the week the government announced the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) budget was to be slashed. Construction union UCATT said the rash of fatalities should be seen as a warning that drastic cuts in HSE's funding could leave workers entering the industry at additional risk as the sector recovers from the recession. UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said: 'Every one of these deaths was an individual tragedy. Each death underlines the dangers faced by construction workers. Sadly these risks will increase if the already low levels of inspections and enforcement activities are reduced.' The union says the impact of the 35 per cent cut in HSE's budget could be compounded as the government introduces measures recommended in Lord Young's report into health and safety. It says a series of six private member's bills introduced by Tory MP Chris Chope designed to push through the changes are a 'major concern', particularly provisions to relax reporting requirements under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). The union points to Liverpool University research that found just 32 per cent of reportable injuries to employees and 12 per cent of those suffered by the self-employed were actually reported. Mr Ritchie added: 'At a time when it is clear that increased vigilance is necessary to ensure safety, the Conservatives are proposing to weaken the existing laws. The problem is that accidents are not being reported. Weakening the rules will make the problem worse and will further increase the danger faced by workers.' HSE's new fatality figures showed the number of construction workers killed on site fell to 42 in 2009/10, down from 52 in 2008/09 and continuing a downward trend in fatalities from the recent high of 105 in 2000/01.

Unite takes asbestos fight to Supreme Court

Unite has confirmed it will go to the Supreme Court to challenge a Court of Appeal ruling it says threatens to deprive thousands of asbestos cancer victims and their families of their rightful compensation. The appeal court ruled last month that in some asbestos cases employers' liability insurance is triggered not at the time of the exposure to asbestos in the workplace, but when symptoms of asbestos related disease emerged (Risks 478). Unite says because asbestos cancers like mesothelioma can take decades to develop, the ruling means thousands of British workers who develop the disease could be deprived of compensation. Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley said: 'The way the insurers refused to pay out in these cases is a kick in the guts to every family that's watched a loved one suffer a painful and degrading death from mesothelioma. Insurers sold their policies knowing that employers and workers' families would rely on them. Now they're trying to weasel out of paying based on fancy legal argument and policy small print.' He added: 'Unite will put its full weight behind this appeal. We will pursue it because we want to see justice done to innocent victims and their families.' UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie commented: 'The Supreme Court must now move quickly to ensure that the Court of Appeal's decision is overturned and that asbestos victims who were exposed through no fault of their own are able to claim compensation.' Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive last month revealed a record 2,249 people died of mesothelioma in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available. This is up 46 per cent in the decade from 1998, when 1,541 mesothelioma deaths were recorded.

'Shocking violence' against striking firefighters

Two arrests were made after separate incidents last week when striking firefighters were struck by vehicles outside stations that were being picketed in south London. One man was arrested after a striker was hit by a car driven by a non-union manager trying to enter Croydon fire station, while a second arrest was made when an executive member of the firefighters' union FBU was hit by a fire engine returning to Southwark fire station. In the first incident, Tamer Ozdemir was airlifted to hospital with pelvic injuries. In the second, Ian Leahair, FBU executive member for the London region, was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs after being hit by a fire engine the union says was 'deliberately driven at the pickets'. A police officer was also hit. FBU reports a third incident where a member was hit on the hand by a returning fire engine. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'This has been a day of shocking violence directed at London's firefighters. An incredible pattern seems to be emerging. It looks as though the private company hired to do our work has instructed its drivers to drive fast through picket lines. We ended the day in the extraordinary situation where the police had to protect striking firefighters from recklessly speeding vehicles, which were driven by those paid to break the strike.' He added that London Fire Brigade had 'brought hired thugs into London who have driven around at speed with their faces hidden by balaclavas in an attempt to menace and intimidate our members. Tragically three of our members have been injured as a result. I wonder whether the prime minister, Boris Johnson and the others who have spent the past week condemning the FBU for our industrial action will now condemn this violence against us.'

Safety probe into fire strike contractor

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is examining a complaint about the competency of contract staff brought in by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to replace striking firefighters in London. Private firm AssetCo was given a multi-million pound contract as part of LFB's contingency plans to deal with the walkouts by FBU members. An HSE spokesperson confirmed: 'We are looking into a complaint which alleges that AssetCo staff have not been trained to do the work they have been asked to do and might therefore be putting themselves at risk.' The private contractors responded to 20 call-outs, including eight fires, during the eight hour walk out on 1 November, LFB said. LFB added it was assisting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in its investigation. AssetCo signed a £9m seven-year deal with LFB last year. FBU has questioned the competency of the replacement service. More than 5,500 London firefighters have completed two eight-hour strikes in a dispute over new contracts.

Tube safety strikes continue

Thousands of union members have continued a programme of strikes after Tube bosses refused to suspend their 'dangerous and unnecessary' plan to axe 800 safety critical station staff. The engineering and operational staff walked out on 2 November, with further 24-hour stoppages scheduled for 28 and 29 November. Ahead of the latest action, rail unions RMT and TSSA urged London Underground to suspend cuts it says are also opposed by the London Assembly and which have raised 'severe concerns' from London TravelWatch. Photos released this week by the union exposed damaged brakes on a District Line train while in service last week. The unions say the damage, which it says could have led to a derailment, underlines their case that maintenance cuts are already having a devastating effect on the fabric of the Tube network. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said London mayor Boris Johnson 'can either be remembered for devastating Tube safety and the fabric of the network or he can work with us to defend it.' TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: 'Boris has broken his word to Londoners on delivering a world class Tube in time for the Olympics in 20 months time. He has also broken his word on keeping full staffed ticket offices open. Instead of trying to impress the Tory shires with his anti-trade union rhetoric, he should be sitting down with us to work out a fair solution to this dispute which no one wants.'

Shopworkers face age old problem

Two-thirds of shopworkers have faced abuse when asking for proof of age ID from customers, a survey by retail union Usdaw has found. Usdaw says a 'shocking' 65 per cent of shopworkers have been subjected to verbal abuse as a result of asking for ID, while over 16 per cent have been threatened with violence and more than 2 per cent have been physically assaulted. Usdaw's annual abuse survey found over 70 per cent of shopworkers are worried about facing criminal prosecution if they get a decision wrong with over 60 per cent concerned about being disciplined by their employer. John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary, said: 'These figures are a matter of grave concern and show that age restricted sales are a real minefield for our members to negotiate. If they make a mistake and sell alcohol to a customer under-18 they risk being prosecuted and receiving a £80 on-the-spot fine for a first offence with repeated breaches incurring a court appearance and a fine of up to £5,000. If they fail to ask for age identification from somebody under-25, they run the risk of being disciplined for not following company policy.' He added: 'On the other hand, asking for age identification often leads to abuse from frustrated and angry customers and a refusal of a sale can be a real flashpoint for threats or even violence. As one anonymous member said in the survey, 'we're damned if we ask for ID, damned if we don't'.' The union leader said Usdaw wants the government to launch an awareness campaign about age-restricted sales. It also wants to see the introduction of 'a single and voluntary national entitlement card for young people that would show proof of age. This would make it much easier for workers to check a person's age when needed.' Usdaw's Respect for Shopworkers week starts on Monday 8 November.

Prison officers hurt in youth centre riots

Several prison officers were injured when inmates at two young offenders institutions went on the rampage this week, the Prison Officers Association (POA) has said. One female prison officer suffered a fractured jaw and two others were assaulted when inmates at Moorland Young Offenders Institute in Hatfield Woodhouse, Doncaster, started rioting. Several other officers were injured and two inmates were taken to hospital following a separate incident at Warren Hill Young Offenders Institution in Woodbridge, Suffolk. POA acting national chair Tom Robson said: 'The level of violence in our prisons is totally unacceptable and this incident is not uncommon in our juvenile and young offender establishments. Warren Hill consistently sits within the top 20 of the table recording the level of assaults on staff.' He added: 'We are seeking an urgent meeting with the regional custodial manager to look at resolving these issues and preventing further violence and damage to prison property, which will all result in significant costs to the taxpayer.'

Union targets not for profit stress

Voluntary sector union reps are being armed with campaign strategies to challenge funding-driven changes that could heap additional stress on their members. Unite organised a stress at work conference this week, saying its 60,000 members in the sector are feeling the increasing pressure of central and local government spending cuts and the pursuit, by some managers, of a 'more for less' contract culture. Rachael Maskell, Unite national officer for the not for profit sector, said: 'Unite believes that it is essential that we equip managers and organisations with the tools to ensure that your workplace is a safe place to work and that strategies, policies and practices are developed to ensure that you are not put under stress at work.' She added: 'When Unite surveyed its members in the sector last year, 92 per cent said that they were experiencing stress at work, so there is an urgency to tackling these issues. The coalition's vision that the voluntary sector will pick up the services that have been axed by government - without any regard to the financial squeeze many charities are grappling with, and the pressures of long hours, unreasonable workloads, and job insecurity that our members are facing - is misguided.' According to the Unite officer: 'The big society is a Tory marketing slogan to get something for nothing, which won't help those in need of charities' assistance and expertise.'

Injury after firm ignoring safety concerns

Yorkshire Water Ltd has agreed to compensate a former employee for causing the injuries that forced him out of his job of nearly 30 years. The 60-year-old, whose name has not been released, sustained serious neck, back and shoulder injuries in December 2007 when his work vehicle hit a series of potholes he and his workmates had repeatedly asked management to fix. When he hit one particularly deep pothole on the track leading to the Bolsover Sewage Treatment Works, his entire body jolted and he realised his back had been injured. Over the next few days the pain spread through his neck and shoulders. The pain became unmanageable and was a key reason behind his decision to take voluntary redundancy. Faced with a compensation claim backed by his union, GMB, Yorkshire Water admitted liability and agreed an undisclosed compensation settlement. GMB Yorkshire regional secretary, Tim Roache commented: 'Yorkshire Water was warned repeatedly by its employees that the track was a health and safety risk but the company did nothing. This kind of negligence is inexcusable and it's only fair our member has been compensated.'

Other news

Teacher gets record voice loss payout

An adult education teacher has received a six figure payout for occupational voice loss, after management tried to dismiss her concerns as 'an occupational hazard for all teachers'. The problems experienced by Joyce Walters, 50, first started with a sore throat and hoarseness in October 2005, when she was working as an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher for Hillingdon Adult Education, employed by Hillingdon Borough Council. Joyce was assigned to a classroom in Harlington Community School adjacent to a roofed courtyard used by schoolchildren during the morning and lunchtime breaks. She had too many ESOL beginners in her class and, frequently, far too many noisy schoolchildren outside it. 'As a result of the noise and disruption I often had to repeat myself and raise my voice very significantly whilst teaching,' she recalls, in a special report in Hazards magazine. Despite being diagnosed with bilateral vocal chord nodules and the school's own investigation establishing a teacher would have to 'shout' to be heard in the classroom assigned to Joyce, two separate managers dismissed her formal grievances and gave the same word-for-word response: 'Vocal chord nodules are considered an occupational hazard for all teachers.' The failure to deal constructively with her concerns led first to a disability discrimination tribunal case, where Hillingdon Council agreed to an £11,000 payout, and then a compensation case in which the council agreed an out-of-court settlement of £145,000. Joyce said she is 'angry at the stance of my former employer who refused to treat the problem of an excessively noisy working environment with any degree of seriousness.' She added she was speaking out because she doesn't want others to go through the same 'devastating' experiences. 'The teacher should never accept the response that 'there is not a lot that can be done about it'. In reality there is probably a great deal that management can do about it - an alternative classroom or soundproofing of walls, for example.' And she warns: 'Voice loss is a serious occupational disease and must be treated as one.'

Work stress hits people in and out of work

The global economic downturn led levels of work-related stress in the UK to soar, a British Academy report has concluded. Author Tarani Chandola, a University of Manchester sociologist, says those who kept jobs during the recession are affected as much as those left jobless. Speaking at the launch of the report on 29 October, Professor Chandola said: 'Since 2009, there has been a sharp rise in job strain and job insecurity, both determinants of work-related stress. Conflict at work, in the form of poor support and bullying, has also increased, as has work-life balance as an issue.' He added that although the Health and Safety Executive's management standards for stress have been around for six years now, 'there has been little change in stress levels, or the scale of the problem'. He said that in each of the last two years, work stress levels rose by more than 4 per cent, compared to annual rises between 0.1 per cent and 1 per cent from 1992 to 2009. The report states that severe stress could trigger depression, anxiety, workplace injuries and suicide, and lead to a greater risk of heart disease. Professor Chandola compiled existing evidence from peer-reviewed journals and major UK surveys to obtain a comprehensive view of work-related stress. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, which released survey findings last week that identified stress as the top workplace health and safety concern (Risks 480), said the reason why a preventable problem like stress is not being prevented is because too many employers are consigning it to the 'too difficult' box. It isn't he said, adding: 'It's the same as any other hazard: risk assess. We can identify the likely stressors in the workplace, so deal with them.' Mr Barber concluded: 'We are facing a ticking timebomb that will potentially have devastating effects on us all. But it doesn't have to pan out like this - as Prof Chandola's report says, there is a need for specific legislation and enough people to enforce it.'

Austere times means more working wounded

Bosses must beware of the signs of 'presenteeism' among workers as austerity measures begin to bite across the public and private sectors, safety professionals' organisation IOSH has warned. It says cost-cutting across government departments, public bodies and suppliers could lead to more working wounded, worried about the implications of taking time off sick. It points to a survey this year that found nine out of every 10 public sector workers had been to work when they were too ill to go. One in three of those did so because they did not want to let people down or give colleagues extra work. IOSH's research head, Dr Luise Vassie, said: 'Presenteeism can become more common during times of economic struggle and job cuts. At the moment we are seeing a situation where some people who may be in fear of losing their jobs are taking on extra work - this could cause them to experience symptoms of stress and when they get ill they feel as though they cannot take time off. What we want to avoid is this dangerous catch 22 where a downward spiral develops.' Dr Vassie added that organisations that helped to tackle stress in the workplace could reap benefits, including reduced sickness absence costs. The Health and Safety Executive's latest statistics, released last week, revealed 435,000 reported suffering stress, anxiety and depression attributed to work (Risks 480). TUC's latest biennial safety reps' survey identified stress as the number one workplace health and safety concern (Risks 480).

Fitter dies in loading shovel incident

A Durham company has received a six figure fine after its criminal safety failings led to the death of a worker at its coal processing plant in Immingham. Hargreaves (UK) Services Ltd, a major energy support services company, pleaded guilty at Grimsby Crown Court and was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £35,000 costs. The prosecution followed the death of Alan Noddle, who suffered fatal injuries when he was run over by a loading shovel on 20 July 2007. Mr Noddle, 48, worked as a maintenance fitter for Hargreaves' sister company, Norec Ltd, and was working at the Hargreaves' Astra Site at Immingham Docks on the day of the fatal incident. He died when he was struck by a large loading shovel being used to transfer coal from one area of the plant to another. The driver of the vehicle could not see Mr Noddle as he walked across the stockyard because the large bucket on the loading shovel blocked his view. After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Geoffrey Clark said: 'This is a tragic case where a man died as a result of dangerous practices at the site. The loading shovel severely obscured the driver's view, yet despite this it was common practice for employees to be allowed to walk in the area where these machines were being operated.'

Wrist snapped as glove was tangled in drill

A Cardiff manufacturing firm has been fined after a worker broke his wrist when his glove became entangled in an unguarded drill. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Elmatic (Cardiff) Ltd following the incident at its factory on 11 March 2009.

Cardiff Magistrates' Court heard that 21-year-old employee Lee Baker had been asked to drill holes in metal boxes despite not usually working with the drill and having no formal training on how to use it. The pillar drill Mr Baker was using did not have an appropriate guard fitted and when positioning one of the components for drilling his glove became caught. He fractured his wrist in two places and needed to have plates inserted. HSE had previously taken formal action against the company, issuing prohibition notices in 2002 and 2009 requiring the firm to ensure the drills were not used until they were adequately guarded. Elmatic (Cardiff) Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the work equipment regulations and was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £6,691.45 costs. HSE inspector Hugh Emment said: 'HSE has warned this company before about not providing suitable guards on drills of this type, and while they did initially heed these warnings, the safety standards were not maintained. Mr Baker had not been trained to use this drill, nor had he been told about the dangers of wearing gloves while using drills. This is a well known risk in the manufacturing industry, and it resulted in a serious injury to Mr Baker.'

Printing firm injured workers' hands

An Essex company has been fined after two employees had their hands crushed by printing presses within months of each other. The workers at printing and binding firm Wyndeham Heron Ltd had been working with machines, when their hands became trapped. On 27 March 2009, press assistant Paul Howard, 49, fractured his thumb when he tried to clear a paper jam in the stacker unit of a press at the company's site. On 18 November 2009, Mark Frost, 46, was working on another press when a problem was experienced with the drive belts of a conveyor. The moving parts were unguarded and it had become common practice for employees to use objects, or their hands, to deal with conveyor belt problems. While attempting to remedy the problem, Mr Frost hand became caught in the belts and was forced against a roller crushing his fingers. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a lack of training, supervision and appropriate equipment, and that there had been no assessment on how to carry out the work safely in either case. Wyndeham Heron admitted criminal safety breaches and was fined £15,000 with £2,490 costs for the charge relating to Mr Frost's injury and a further £10,000 with £3,171 costs in relation to Mr Howard's injury. HSE inspector, Paul Grover, said: 'Printing presses are a potentially very dangerous piece of equipment, which require adequate guards and safe working procedures for dealing with every kind of operational occurrence. It is not good enough to rely on ad hoc practices to clear paper jams and to deal with other mechanical failures.'

International News

Australia: Unions want public to back injured jockeys

Jockeys have the most dangerous land-based job in Australia, national union federation ACTU has said. Commenting ahead of last week's Melbourne Cup, Australia's top horse race, the union body said fatality statistics over the last 25 years confirm jockeys are the group of workers most likely to be killed at work. ACTU is asking all Australian workers to back the call for state governments to contribute to a fund to support injured jockeys. 'Australia's $5 billion (£3.1bn) racing industry depends entirely on 840 jockeys who take extreme personal risks every time they race,' said ACTU president Ged Kearney. 'Of those 840 jockeys, we can expect one or two to be killed on the track each year. The fatality rate is the highest per head of employees of any land-based job in Australia. Every year at least half a dozen jockeys are injured so badly they can't return to racing and several of those are permanently disabling injuries like quadriplegia or brain injury. Yet jockeys don't have many of the conditions and protections enjoyed by other Australian workers.' ACTU said state governments, which take in more than $600 million direct from racing in tax revenue, contribute nothing to the National Jockeys Trust, established to support injured jockeys and the bereaved families of jockeys killed on the track. 'I support jockeys' call on state governments to bring the Trust's balance up to $5 million (£3.1m) so injured jockeys can be properly looked after,' said Ms Kearney.

Australia: This is why I'm coming home safe

Tasmania's state government is using the Facebook social networking site as a tool to make Tasmanian workplaces safer. A new 'Homecomings' campaign is using Facebook and television advertising to encourage people to post a picture of who they want to go home safely to each night. Workplace relations minister David O'Byrne said the campaign aimed to ensure occupational health and safety was in everyone's mind. Official safety agency WorkSafe Tasmania wants workers to log onto its new Facebook group and post a comment or a picture about why they want to make it home safely. Mr O'Byrne has posted a picture of his young daughters Lily and Ava, and wrote they were 'two very important reasons why it's important to me that I get home safe.' The minister was joined by nurse manager Rachuel Manning, who injured a shoulder lifting a heavy tray of medical instruments in February and is now on restricted duties. 'We have undergone many changes in the workplace to ensure the injury is not repeated, including new trolleys, manual handling procedures, an independent safety assessment and weight limits on sterilised instrument trays,' she said. 'It's had an impact on my home life as well. Things you take for granted, like putting the washing out and pushing a shopping trolley, they're all impacted when you've got an injured shoulder.'

USA: Deadly mine bosses plead the Fifth

At least six officials at Massey Energy have pleaded the Fifth - asserting their constitutional right against self-incrimination - and have declined to testify in a joint state and US federal investigation into a coal mine explosion in April in which 29 miners died (Risks 455). The US national union federation AFL-CIO reports there is mounting evidence to support the preliminary finding by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) that poorly controlled coal dust sparked the blast in the Upper Big Branch mine, killing 29 coal miners. Yet Massey chief executive officer (CEO) Don Blankenship told an investors conference call: 'We don't feel like that we contributed in any way to the accident. We do not believe that coal dust was a meaningful factor.' Davitt McAteer, who is leading an independent investigative team appointed by West Virginia governor Joe Manchin, told reporters: 'The primary driving force of this investigation is to learn what happened so we can prevent more disasters from occurring.' He added that the refusal to testify by Massey officials 'is a disservice to these 29 miners and to finding out what went wrong.' MSHA records show the Upper Big Branch mine had a significant history of safety issues. Massey hopes of resuming operations at the mine were dashed by the mine safety agency. 'The area Massey wants to mine is in the same seam where the explosion occurred,' MSHA spokesperson Amy Louviere said. 'Given the events surrounding this disaster, our first concern must be the safety of the miners. Massey needs to address these concerns in their plan before MSHA will grant approval.'

USA: BP and Halliburton knew of dangers

The US presidential commission investigating the BP oil spill has reached a stark conclusion about a factor that contributed to the deadly 20 April drilling explosion: The cement used to seal the bottom of the well was faulty. Moreover, cement contractor Halliburton and BP both knew it. Commission investigator Fred Bartlit did not identify the cement failure as the sole or even the main cause of the disaster, according to The New York Times. But he made clear that the accident would have been avoided had the cement done its job. In a letter to the commission, Bartlit said the cement mixture used on the well did not meet industry standards, and failed three out of four laboratory tests before the Deepwater Horizon explosion on 20 April. Halliburton, which was hired by BP to cement the well, learned of those failures in February, and informed BP on 8 March. But both firms chose to go ahead with the nitrogen foam cement mixture, that was supposed to secure the bottom of the well. A fourth test, performed in April, did indicate the cement would hold. But Bartlit said BP did not have the results of that test before 19 April, when it ordered work crews to begin pumping cement into the well. 'Halliburton (and perhaps BP) should have considered redesigning the foam slurry,' the letter said. The subsequent failure of the cement allowed highly pressured oil and gas to enter the drill hole and spew upward from the 18,000-foot-deep well. The blowout preventer that sits on top of the well also failed. Eleven workers were killed, and close to 200 million gallons of oil gushed in the Gulf of Mexico in the ensuing weeks. In an internal investigation, BP found that faulty cement was one of the major contributors to the disaster, though they ultimately pointed the finger at Halliburton. In public testimony, Halliburton has said 'BP's flawed well design and poor operations' caused the disaster.

Events and Courses

TUC courses for safety reps


Useful Links

  • Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
  • Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
  • HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Share this Page