Risks 589 - 19 January 2013

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

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

Union News

CWU gives bad footwear the boot

The union CWU has won a legal test case over slippery boots issued to postal workers. A number of workers were injured wearing the Hi-Tec Magnum Mk1 boots, which workers maintained had poor grip and durability. Royal Mail argued the boots met the minimum legal standards, although tests indicated there were concerns about poorer performance on some surfaces. The boot and a similar shoe were subsequently phased out, to be replaced by a Mk2 version. Royal Mail however refused to settle compensation cases submitted by the union on behalf of 15 CWU members who believed the old boots led to them suffering injuries on their delivery rounds. Hampshire delivery worker Patrick Bitton was the first to take Royal Mail to court, in a CWU backed test case. He slipped and fractured his ankle in February 2008 while wearing the Magnum boots. After a four-day trial last summer, a judge at Winchester Crown Court ruled in his favour and he was awarded £3,600. This precedent has now led to Royal Mail settling the other cases out of court. Among the successful claimants was Clive Davey, 47, who was awarded £2,228 after he slipped and fell on a manhole cover 45 minutes after he put on the boots for the first time. Helen Stanton of Simpson Millar, the law firm that handled the cases for CWU, said: 'Despite the fact that Royal Mail's own independent assessments showed that the footwear was dangerous, the company still denied liability and dragged these cases out for years. Only after a judge decided in the favour or its employees did Royal Mail agree to settle the remaining 14 cases.' She added: 'It is a positive outcome but the company could have saved itself a lot of time and money, not to mention the goodwill of its staff had it acknowledged its responsibility sooner.'

You can bet your life on unions

With the chances of seeing an official safety inspector now vanishingly small, it has never been more important for union reps to be vigilant and active on workplace safety. Writing in the new issue of Hazards magazine, union health and safety specialist Mick Holder says the escalating attacks on health and safety protections mean union reps need to 'up their game' to defend their members' interests. 'Firstly - use your rights,' he notes. 'Make sure you have enough health and safety reps in all the workplaces where your union is recognised. If you don't have good coverage you are in a weaker position to negotiate improvements and things are less likely to be done. This means ensuring there adequate coverage to cover all the jobs, workers, sites and shifts.' He adds that union reps should 'get trained' and use their rights to inspect the workplace and investigate problems. 'Inspections give reps a real opportunity to find out what's really going on and to talk about issues with members - and any non-members who might sign up,' he says. Involving the membership is crucial, he adds. 'Health and safety representatives should make sure all employees know who they are and what they do - and to make sure they speak to the union about any problems or incidents. Talk to them during your inspections, quiz them about problems ahead of safety committee meetings, and make sure they get feedback - use notice boards, email, websites, face-to-face and toolbox and union meetings. Let members participate in identifying problems and solutions.'

GMB fury at Fresh Start rights attack

The union GMB has warned a manifesto by an anti-Europe Tory grouping could jeopardise essential health and safety and employment rights. Commenting on the launch this week of the Fresh Start Group's manifesto, GMB said 'it is turning the clock back' on workplace safety and other rights and wants to 'flush them away'. The Fresh Start webpage declares 'in areas ranging from policing to employment law, from health and safety to financial regulation, our citizens want more control over their own lives.' The manifesto, which includes a foreword by foreign secretary William Hague, picks up the theme. It notes: 'National parliaments are best placed to decide on the appropriate social, employment, and health and safety regulations for each Member State, and we are confident the UK government will retain appropriate domestic legislation in the UK. If negotiation to repatriate these powers failed, we should consider the unilateral disapplication of EU social and employment law in Britain through an Act of Parliament.' But GMB's European officer, Kathleen Walker Shaw, warned the manifesto was dangerous. She said health and safety protections, including the working time directive, were in the Fresh Start Group's crosshairs, noting these 'key areas of legislation Tories and Fresh Start want to repatriate are employment and social rights, not because they are going to give us spanky new ones at national level, they are just going to flush them away.'

Nautilus welcomes target to cut deaths at sea

Seafarers' union Nautilus has welcomed a call from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for the seafarer death rate to be halved over the next two years. Speaking at the opening of the IMO's first meeting of the year, secretary-general Koji Sekimizu told delegates that his vision to halve the number of lives lost at sea should be a legitimate target for the United Nations agency and for the shipping industry. The IMO leader said that the number of lives lost annually at sea has been over 1,000 for each of the past five years. Despite the difficulty in obtaining reliable data, he said that in 2012 there were approximately 100 lives lost in the fishing sector, 400 in domestic operations, and around 500 in other categories, including international shipping. An 'ambitious, but achievable target', he said, would be to aim for a 50 per cent reduction by 2015. He also proposed that the IMO should set up a mechanism to collect and collate statistics on lives lost to enable formal, official figures to be produced. Nautilus senior national secretary Allan Graveson, who attended the 8 January meeting, commented: 'The secretary-general is to be commended for a very courageous statement. This is a great aspiration, but unless there are fundamental changes in the safety culture of the industry such a target could take more than a generation to attain.'

Sir Robert McAlpine faces High Court on blacklist

Construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine played a central role in a 'conspiracy to blacklist' 3,300 people from working on Britain's major building projects, according to a multimillion-pound high court claim against the firm. The Guardian reports executives at the company, including Cullum McAlpine, a director and member of its founding family, were allegedly 'intimately' involved in the operation of a 'clandestine' organisation holding a list of union and safety reps barred from the industry, frequently after raising health and safety concerns. The UK construction giant was in communication with Ian Kerr, the director of The Consulting Association (TCA), the organisation which held the list on behalf of construction firms, until it was dissolved, it is alleged. It is claimed that Kerr, when he was exposed and prosecuted in 2009, was warned of possible commercial repercussions for Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd if Cullum McAlpine's name emerged in public. The claims, which are disputed, are contained in legal documents lodged at the high court by Sir Hugh Tomlinson QC, the barrister acting for 81 victims of the 'blacklist' run between 1993 and 2009. Workers allege that TCA, funded by around 20 major names in the construction industry, ran a database of names for the industry for more than 30 years. It was seized more than three years ago, but the extraordinary nature of the information held only fully emerged in an employment tribunal against a different construction firm last year. Dave Smith, 46, a former UCATT rep, had a 36-page file against his name and was victimised for highlighting safety hazards on sites (Risk 540).

Other news

Teen death exposes government contempt

A teenage apprentice was killed in a horrific workplace incident just a week after David Cameron had claimed safety protection of young workers was 'very, very bad news'. On 10 January, Cameron Minshull was trapped in an industrial metal lathe at Zaffar Engineering UK in Bury, and suffered serious head injuries. Paramedics rushed to the factory and the 16-year-old was airlifted to hospital where doctors desperately tried to save his life, but was pronounced dead a short time later. Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have launched an investigation into the tragedy. Grieving mother Joanne Hill said: 'We have lost a very precious part of our lives and there are no words to describe how we are feeling.' A week earlier, in a 3 January speech at the Media Factory 'enterprise hub' at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, prime minister David Cameron had said health and safety regulations were one of the reasons behind a lower number of companies offering work experience placements, and told the audience this was 'very, very bad news'. A spokesperson for bereaved relatives group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) commented: 'We suggest that before the prime minister mistakenly labels health and safety rules too burdensome, he looks at the facts: Over the last decade, at least five under 19s have been killed each year and up to 5,000 seriously injured at work. This is not due to too much, but too little health and safety.' She added: 'We must stop the government rolling back the laws and enforcement that prevents our children being killed at work. No-one should die simply for going to work to earn a living, and especially not a 16-year-old with his whole life ahead of him.'

Safety experts slam short consultations

The professional body for UK safety professionals has welcomed a call by a key government committee for adequate time for consultations on government policy. Ministers are looking at slashing the time allowed for organisations to comment on some proposed law changes, from 12 weeks to as little as two. But the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is among prominent organisations to criticise the plan. It would 'counterproductive', said IOSH, because it could stop stakeholders submitting evidence on important proposals on legislation. Now, a parliamentary watchdog has opposed the government proposal. In a report published on 10 January, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said there was a risk that resulting laws would be less robust because they had been rushed through without the views of experts sought externally. The cross-party House of Lords committee said: 'In a comment that was made in similar terms by a number of organisations, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health said that its members led active professional lives, and so required sufficient time to be able to respond to consultation.' IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: 'We welcome the recommendation to take account of the preference for 12-week consultations and the need to avoid clashes with holidays and busy periods. We also support the recommendation that the new government approach to consultation is independently reviewed without delay.' The scrutiny committee also urged the government to reconsider a 'digital by default' approach to consultation that may exclude vulnerable groups and others, and may constrain comments from those who do respond.

Enterprise Bill 'stacks odds against workers'

Government plans to change workplace law are a license for rogue bosses to let safety standards fall, personal injury experts have warned. Not-for-profit group the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) is lobbying against a government amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which would end a right to compensation for an injury following a criminal breach of safety law by an employer without proof of negligence. The call came on 14 January, ahead of a debate on the Bill in the House of Lords. 'The government is trying to overturn 100 years of legal procedure by making the injured worker have to provide all the evidence to prove that the employer who's injured him was at fault,' said APIL president Karl Tonks. 'This is grossly unfair as it tilts the playing field in favour of negligent bosses'. Commenting on the government push to remove this 'strict liability' route to a compensation claim, he added: 'Employers always have the upper hand as they are the ones who control the workplace and the work equipment, and who hold all the information about what systems they have in place. The injured person, who has none of this knowledge at his fingertips will have to gather the evidence himself to prove his case and the odds will be completely stacked against him, where now the law is fair and looks after the vulnerable individual.' He estimated the proposals would affect 70,000 cases in Great Britain.

Firms taking big risks on chemicals

Britain's manufacturers face the prospect of unlimited fines or even prison if they don't do more to 'get to grips' with chemical safety law. EEF, the manufacturers' trade body, was speaking out following publication of a survey showing awareness of the implications of the REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) regulations for manufacturers, especially amongst smaller companies, remains worryingly low. Failure to comply is a criminal offence with the possibility of unlimited fines and up to two years in prison. EEF is calling on the government to do more to raise awareness of the implications of REACH on businesses and wants more user friendly guidance. EEF head of climate and environment, Gareth Stace, said: 'REACH continues to be the 'elephant in the room' for many companies who are either unaware of the implications or, still believe it is a chemicals only issue. In contrast the regulations have serious requirements for all manufacturers who are facing either the restricted use or banning altogether of some substances... if companies don't plan for substance bans, it could prevent production entirely.' He added: 'When armed with the right information manufacturers are doing the right things - substituting substances that are of concern with safer alternatives. But we need to see government and European regulators and legislators to do all they can to raise awareness and make it easier for companies to understand the implications of it on their business. '

Wrecked health led to job loss and tiny fines

A Cambridge instrument company and a health and safety consultant have received small fines after a worker's life was 'wrecked' by chemical exposures. Paint sprayer Adam Coventon, 36, suffered irritation to his eyes, breathing difficulties, headaches and lost the ability to concentrate after working with harmful substances at Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd in Fulbourn. He is now no longer able to work. Cambridge Magistrates' Court heard that his job was to prepare and paint small components for scientific instruments, which involved working with chemicals including trichloroethylene, a powerful degreaser used to clean metal before it is painted but which can cause cancer and brain and nervous system damage, and paints containing isocyanates, a potent asthmagen. The court was told that between September 2002 and December 2009 the company employed Keith Whiting, trading as KW Consultants, as a health and safety consultant. However, he did not provide suitable information and advice to enable the company to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees. Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £2,852 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. Keith Whiting, trading as KW Consultants, was fined £1,500 with costs of £1,000 after also pleading guilty. Adam Coventon's partner, who does not wish to be named, said: 'This whole thing has had a huge effect on our lives, as we have to constantly plan around Adam's symptoms. We all just wish that his remaining symptoms go so that he can once again be fit and strong. This case highlights the important job the Health and Safety Executive do, and the need for companies to monitor and control chemicals they use so they do not wreck peoples' lives in the way that ours have been.'

Fines after asbestos plastic bags cover up

Workers were ordered to tie plastic bags around damaged asbestos insulation boards and carry on working for months during a demolition and refurbishment project in Swansea. Neath Magistrates' Court was told that Wall Colmonoy Ltd had contracted Oaktree Construction to renovate a building opposite its premises in Pontardawe, Swansea, in December 2010. The engineering firm had two asbestos management surveys for the site which, although later deemed to be inadequate, identified the presence of asbestos material and highlighted other areas, such as the ceiling voids, which were presumed to contain asbestos. Despite this, work was allowed to begin in the building, even though Oaktree had been advised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that a separate 'Refurbishment and Demolition Survey' was also required before any activity commenced. During the demolition works an asbestos insulation board (AIB) covering a steel column was damaged, and a Wall Colmonoy employee was told to tape plastic bags around it. Work continued in the building for several months with the AIB debris left lying on the floor until an unannounced visit was carried out by an HSE inspector. Wall Colomony, which had failed to appoint a competent Construction, Design and Management co-ordinator and principal contractor, was fined £16,000 and £3,287 costs after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences. Oaktree Construction (Wales) Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and was fined £8,000 plus costs of £2,000. HSE inspector Anne Marie Orrells said the firms 'left workers exposed to asbestos fibres, which can cause potentially fatal lung disease. The health and safety of workers must not be left to chance.'

Suspended jail term after landscaping tragedy

A Staffordshire landscape gardener has been given a suspended prison sentence and 180 hours of unpaid community service, after a man doing him a favour was killed by a falling gate post. Leeson Lavender, 39, was helping Eden Maddocks to install a large oak post at a property in Keele on 20 May 2010. The two men stood on a trailer that had been used to transport the post and had started to manoeuvre it towards a pre-dug hole. As they lifted it the trailer shifted, causing Mr Lavender and the post to fall out. Mr Lavender, who was known locally as Spud, hit his head on the ground before the post struck him on his head. He died in hospital two days later. Stafford Crown Court heard Eden Maddocks, trading as Eden Creative Landscapes, had successfully used this method of work on other occasions. However, this time the oak post was larger and heavier. Mr Maddocks had told Mr Lavender, who was a friend he had employed on a casual basis on a number of occasions, they would try to lift the post once and if it was too heavy they would wait for the more manpower to arrive in the form of the property owner and an electrician who was due at the house. Eden Shane Maddocks was given a six month prison sentence suspended for 12 months, and 180 hours unpaid community service work, after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. His lawyer Stuart Clarkson had told the court that Mr Maddocks was now unemployed and reliant on benefits so was in no position to pay a fine or compensation.

Farmer fined following teen's quad bike death

A farmer on Dartmoor failed to properly maintain a quad bike which was later involved in a collision that caused the death of a teenage apprentice. Plymouth Crown Court heard that 17-year-old Phillip Nyhan was riding the quad given him to use at Runnage Farm, on Dartmoor when he was in collision with a car on a minor road near Postbridge on 7 June 2007. The teen, who was not wearing a helmet, died of his injuries in hospital. Farmer Philip Coaker pleaded guilty to not maintaining the quad bike in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Phillip Nyhan was an apprentice for Moorskills Farming Project Ltd when he was sent to work at Runnage Farm, where he was given instruction on using the quad. The police investigation found that about three weeks before the tragedy, the rear brakes of the vehicle broke, but Mr Coaker decided the quad was still safe to use with caution. The court heard that the defects with the quad bike did not have a direct bearing on Philip's death, which was caused by the head on collision between the quad bike and the car. After the hearing, HSE inspector Simon Jones said: 'It is essential that quad bikes are properly maintained. If a quad is not in full working order it should not be used. In this case Mr Coaker should have taken the vehicle out of use until the back brake was fully repaired.' Philip Coaker, of Runnage Farm, Postbridge pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £250 and ordered to pay £2,000 in costs.

Parkies suffer debilitating hand injuries

A council has been sentenced after 29 employees were diagnosed with a debilitating condition that has left them with ongoing problems with their hands. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council after workers in the Parks and Leisure Department were affected by hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). One of the workers, Nick Bower, began noticing problems with his hands after several years working as head green keeper at Hoylake Golf Course, where he regularly worked with strimmers and mowers. The 47-year-old was diagnosed with the syndrome in 2009, and now suffers dexterity problems and intense pain in his hands during cold weather. Mr Bower has since changed jobs and is now undertaking other duties for the authority that do not involve working with vibrating machinery. He is on permanent medication to help with blood flow to his hands and nerve damage. Wirral Magistrates' Court heard that Mr Bower was one of 29 employees at the council to have developed the condition between July 2005 and December 2009. The council workers' duties included grass, hedge and tree cutting, often using vibrating equipment. An HSE investigation showed the council did not properly assess the risks they faced using such equipment or implement suitable control measures, such as limiting exposure to the tools or providing alternatives. Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £9,417 in costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. Christina Goddard, the investigating inspector for HSE, said: 'The council should have limited the amount of time workers spent using vibrating equipment or provided alternative tools. If appropriate action had been taken then the workers' condition could have been prevented.' HSE estimates almost two million people in the UK work in conditions where they are at risk of developing HAVS.

Hospital asbestos killed nurse

The family of a former nurse who suffered a 'heartbreaking' death from an asbestos-related cancer is appealing for her former colleagues to come forward with information about her working conditions. Joyce Smith died from mesothelioma in March 2012 aged 86 after a nine month battle with the incurable condition. Her family is appealing for Joyce's former colleagues at hospitals in Manchester, Yorkshire and Wales to come forward with information about the possible presence of asbestos-lagged pipework that may have been damaged during maintenance work. David Jessop, Joyce's nephew, said: 'It is heartbreaking to think that my auntie was killed by exposure to something during the career that she was so fiercely dedicated to and successful in. She was a truly remarkable woman and a fantastic nurse and we want to make sure we achieve justice on her behalf and in her memory.' Joyce began her career in September 1942 when she enrolled at Manchester Royal Infirmary on a nursing studies course. She was later accepted onto a training course at Scarborough Hospital in 1945 and went on to spend three and half years working there. After qualifying as a midwife in 1950, Joyce took up a post at Salford Royal Hospital before moving to the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry between 1959 and 1963. She then took up a role as principal sister tutor at Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital, Nottingham in 1964. Later that year, Joyce worked as a tutor in the United Sheffield Hospitals School of Nursing. She was principal sister tutor at the Orthopaedic Nurse Training School for Huddersfield Royal Infirmary until her retirement in 1979.

Insurance firms oppose NHS asbestos refund law

Legislation to refund the NHS in Wales for the cost of treating asbestos sufferers is unnecessary and impractical, insurance firms have said. Proposals going through the Welsh assembly would force businesses to pay the medical costs of workers who develop asbestos related diseases as a result of exposures at work (Risks 585). But, reports the BBC, insurers say the assembly lacks the power to change the law. The proposal is contained in a private member's bill by Labour assembly member (AM) Mick Antoniw, who wants companies to reimburse the NHS for treating employees who fall ill after working with asbestos. In evidence to AMs, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) says the bill would impose new costs for asbestos-related claims. Although it recognised the assembly's power over health policy, 'we do not believe that such modification of insurance policies falls within its competency,' it said. Pontypridd AM Mr Antoniw believes the cost of treating sufferers is a huge financial burden for the NHS. About 90 deaths a year in Wales are thought to be caused by mesothelioma. The care provided by the NHS in Wales for victims is estimated to be more than £2m per year. The Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases Bill would mean the Welsh government could recover the cost of treatment from an employer or an insurer after a judgement or settlement in civil claims. It would also apply to employers outside Wales if the victim was treated by the Welsh NHS. The charity Marie Curie, which provides palliative care for terminally-ill cancer patients, supports the legislation. 'What it does have the potential to achieve is to release not insignificant funds back into the healthcare system in Wales,' it says. The NHS already recovers the cost of treating the victims of occupational injuries.

International News

Bahrain: Site death blaze building owner arrested

The Bahraini owner of the building where an 11 January blaze killed 13 migrant labourers and injured seven more has been arrested. His elder brother, reportedly responsible for the downtown building and believed to be out of the country, will also be summoned for police questioning. Officials said an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the fire, which broke out in the illegal labour accommodation in the crowded Makharka district of central Manama, the country's capital. They added 135 labourers, mostly from Bangladesh, lived in the 27 rooms of the three-storey building where no maintenance work has been carried out for 35 years. Officials, diplomats and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worked to secure shelter, clothes and food for the survivors left homeless after the flames gutted the building. Several MPs and commentators have called for stringent action against those responsible for the tragedy. The cabinet said that laws would be toughened to ensure better compliance with rules and safety standards. Media reports say more than half of Bahrain's 1.2m population are foreigners, mainly unskilled labourers working in the construction sector.

Bangladesh: Call for justice for Tazreen victims

The victims of the Tazreen garment factory fire must get justice and safety lessons of the tragedy must be learned, groups in Bangladesh have said. The conclusion came from a 7 January dialogue session hosted by the Bangladesh Occupational Safety Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE), Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), and the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV). Repon Chowdhury, executive director of OSHE, said: 'History will not forgive us if we fail to ensure justice for the Tazreen accident victims' (Risks 587). He added 'upholding the dignity and guaranteeing safe and decent work for all workers' in the country's garment sector was 'an immediate necessity.' A detailed investigation by OSHE's Omar Faruq highlighted 'the dire situation at the ground of the workers, gross negligence of the employer, the physical condition of the factory that led to the deaths of 111 workers and injured more than 300 workers.' Israfil Alam, chair of the Bangladesh parliament's standing committee on labour and employment, criticised the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) claim that the 22 November 2012 fire was the result of 'sabotage'. OSHE's investigation concluded the Tazreen factory had only one exit, had flammable materials on the ground floor that were the source of the fire, ignored building codes and did not employ proper fire safety precautions.

Greece: Austerity protest fears for journalists

Journalists' unions worldwide have called for strong action from the Greek authorities to protect media staff following a series of violent attacks on journalists. The homes of five journalists and members of the Journalists' Union of Athens Daily Newspapers were subjected to arson attacks by anarchist groups. According to press reports, these and other acts of violence were a protest against the media coverage of the economic crisis in the country, which these groups considered pro-government. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have called for a full investigation to bring to justice those who committed the attacks. Arne König, EFJ president, said: 'It is important that in time of crisis everybody respects press freedom. This concerns the authorities but also citizens who, for whatever reason, may feel resentment towards the establishment.' Jim Boumelha, IFJ president, said: 'The authorities should oppose the spread of violence, discrimination and poverty in the country and take action to stop all sorts of provocation.' Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of UK journalists' union NUJ, said: 'It is vital that journalists are free to do their jobs without fear of violence and intimidation. We will be backing the IFJ's efforts to ensure that the Greek authorities investigate the attacks on media workers.'

USA: Firm railroaded in to anti-victimisation deal

A major US rail firm that retaliated against workers who reported occupational injuries has been forced to sign a good behaviour deal with OSHA, the nation's official health and safety enforcer. The accord signed this week with BNSF Railway Co details the voluntary revision of several BNSF personnel policies. OSHA alleged these violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. FRSA protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries. 'Protecting America's railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA's mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,' said OSHA head David Michaels. 'It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the US to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.' Among other policies changed by the agreement is one that extended the probationary period for workers reporting injuries. Probation periods for 136 workers were reduced as result of the accord. The firm also agreed to stop allocating penalty points to or requiring safety counselling and performance testing for workers suffering workplace injuries. Approximately 400 workers were removed from the counselling and testing programme. A total of 36 workplace whistleblowers were offered compensation settlements after suffering victimisation for raising safety concerns. 'Ensuring that employees can report injuries or illnesses without fear of retaliation is crucial to protecting worker safety and health,' said Michaels. 'If employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer's entire workforce is put at risk because employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries.'


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