Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 23,000 subscribers. You can receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. This edition contains:
- Union News
- Report slams the 'tyranny' of performance management
- Work Your Proper Hours Day is on 1 March 2013
- Don't let the PM repatriate workers' rights
- Tube bosses 'lying' over safety action, says RMT
- Do you want your kid kept in a warehouse?
- GMB calls on councils to boycott blacklisters
- Union helping hand for worker's broken hand
- JCB vehicle fluids caused dermatitis
- Other news
- International News
- Events and Courses
- Useful Links
The 'relentless pressure' of punitive performance management systems intended to push up productivity is instead creating a stressed, sick and insecure workforce, a new study has found. 'Performance management and the new workplace tyranny' written by Professor Phil Taylor of the University of Strathclyde, is the culmination of a three year study examining the impact new forms of performance management. The report, commissioned by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), found the 'unrelenting intensity' of work generated under new forms of performance management is having a significantly negative impact on employees. It was being used as a cut-price way to push 'under-performers' out the door, the report found.
Professor Taylor said 'the widespread experience of employees is of top-down, highly-pressurised and intensified work, with most facing an array of often unachievable targets. Workers are being increasingly tightly monitored and measured and then placed into performance appraisal categories. Frequently, these are in pre-determined distributions - sometimes known as the Bell curve - with a certain percentage deemed to be underperformers, irrespective of the level of actual performance.' He added: 'This is when the problems really begin for employees, because 'underperformers' are then put on improvement plans, sometimes known as PIPs, which can cause huge anxiety and stress because they can be almost impossible to get out of.
The evidence is that these PIPs most often are not about providing the coaching and support needed to help employees improve but are for 'performance managing' people out of the door. The speed of these 'managed exits' is astonishing - in two case study organisations it was only 12 weeks between being put on an improvement plan and then being exited.' Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, commented: 'The sad truth is that far too many people in Scotland encounter fear and intimidation in the workplace on a daily basis; rising incidence of stress and other mental health problems is the inevitable result.'
- STUC Press Release: New STUC report exposes widespread punitive management practices.
- Report: 'Performance Management and the New Workplace Tyranny' (PDF), Professor Phil Taylor, January 2013.
- Executive Summary: 'Performance Management and the New Workplace Tyranny' (PDF).
- The Herald Scotland: The new work place 'tyranny'.
If staff who regularly work unpaid overtime did all their extra hours from the start of the year they wouldn't get paid until 1 March 2013. The TUC has named this day Work Your Proper Hours Day to celebrate their hard work. Now in its ninth year, Work Your Proper Hours Day is a campaign that celebrates the unsung - and unrewarded - hours that staff put in to help their employer and boost the UK economy. On Friday 1 March the TUC will be urging bosses to let their staff take a proper lunch hour and leave work on time, and to lead by example by working their proper hours too.
Last year, the TUC found that employees across the UK worked nearly two billion unpaid hours, worth over £29bn to the economy. This year Work Your Proper Hours Day will look at whether the amount of unpaid hours worked has risen or fallen in recent years, as well as which jobs and regions of the UK do the most unpaid overtime. British Heart Foundation survey findings, published last week, revealed one in five workers did not take a single lunch break during the working week. The survey of 1,200 workers found 'more than a quarter of people believe that being healthy at work is important, but that the economy means their health is simply not a priority for their boss.'
- TUC news release: TUC's Work Your Proper Hours Day is on 1 March 2013.
- Work Your Proper Hours Day website.
- British Heart Foundation news release: One in five workers fail to take lunch break during working week.
- Morning Star: One in five 'don't take lunch breaks'.
The UK government's 'sinister' plans for Europe could leave workers without essential workplace rights, the TUC has warned. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady this week called for help from unions across Europe in persuading their governments to resist David Cameron's attempt to 'repatriate' workers' rights. The new head of the TUC told the 28 January Madrid event, marking 40 years of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), that if the prime minister gets his way over Europe, British workers - and possibly workers across the continent - will lose out.
She said: 'What David Cameron is doing - if putting internal party management above the national and European interest wasn't bad enough - is even more sinister. As well bringing the prospect of an unprecedented triple-dip recession even closer, the UK government is making the most vulnerable pay for a crisis they didn't cause, and is set on a wholesale scrapping of workers' rights.' But she added 'there's one set of workers' rights David Cameron can't touch. Those are the rights provided for by social Europe - paid holidays, health and safety, equal treatment for part-time workers and women, protection when a business is sold off, and a voice at work. The prime minister wants to 'repatriate' those rights, and not because he thinks he can improve them!
David Cameron wants to make it easier for bad employers to undercut good ones, drive down wages, and make people who already work some of the longest hours in Europe work even longer. To do that, he needs agreement from the rest of Europe.' Urging unions to help resist the UK government push to undermine EU-wide standards, she said: 'For a generation, Europe prospered by balancing the interests of business and those of workers. It's time to rediscover that bargain - and the sense of solidarity that underpins it.'
- TUC news release: Don't let the Prime Minister repatriate workers' rights, says TUC.
- TUC Touchstone blog: Repatriation would hit workers across Europe.
- The Guardian: TUC boss: Cameron will seize your EU employment rights to weaken them.
Rail union RMT has accused London Underground (LUL) bosses of 'lying through their teeth' to play down the impact of industrial action the union says is being taken by train drivers to protect passenger safety on the capital's Bakerloo line. Since 15 January, Bakerloo drivers in RMT and ASLEF have been checking that trains are empty of passengers before moving into sidings, after LUL stopped station staff checking the carriages. The union says LUL's 'reckless move' had resulted in more than 3,000 'over carries' into Bakerloo sidings in the last year, including one involving a 12-year-old boy who could have jumped onto live rails but for the action of an alert driver (Risks 577).
RMT says the drivers' safety action has eliminated the problem of over carrying, but has resulted in substantial delays to the service, which LUL has tried to hide - including by suppressing routine internal reports that show the true level of cancellations and delays.' The company claims there have only been minor delays. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'LUL must have a very low opinion of its passengers to think that pretending nothing is wrong will fool anyone - and they are even making matters worse by refusing to allow control staff to put special measures in place to cope with the delays and cancellations. The twitter sphere is buzzing with angry passengers wanting to know why they are being delayed and not being told about it, and LUL should stop this ridiculous charade, admit they got this one wrong and reinstate the safe procedure they have banned.'
- RMT news release:Tube bosses lying over Bakerloo safety action, says RMT.
- Morning Star: Tube bosses scramble to hush up industrial action.
Changes to the planning rules to allow free schools to open in commercial and industrial buildings without planning permission have been condemned by teaching union NUT. Christine Blower, the union's general secretary, said: 'The government's latest announcement demonstrates that it is prepared to put its own ideological interests ahead of the health, safety or well-being of children. It is the right of every child to attend a school that is in suitable premises that are fit for purpose and where their health and safety can, as far as possible, be assured.'
She added: 'Parents will not consider these aims to be bureaucratic 'red tape' but sensible measures to ensure their children are properly safeguarded whilst at school. That is why we have planning and health and safety laws in place and why councils are charged with making these judgments about the suitability of premises before planning permission is granted.' The union leader said: 'This government is demonstrating no respect whatsoever for state education. Not only do they believe it is unnecessary for pupils to be taught by qualified teachers but also that they do not deserve to be taught in decent buildings.'
The union GMB is calling on local councils not to award any new public work to the companies that operated the blacklist until they compensate those they victimised. The union has published a map setting out where the 3,213 workers on the blacklist either lived or worked. Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: 'People have been deprived of an honest living through these illegal tactics which has blighted their families' lives. They have been the victims of injustice over many years by multinational companies- now seeking to live off public sector contracts.
Not a single company has yet been punished nor have any of them paid compensation.' He added: 'GMB is calling on local councils not to award any new public work to the companies that operated the blacklist till they compensate those they damaged.' Last week Tower Hamlets joined Hull, Knowsley and other councils in agreeing not to award contracts to firms guilty of blacklisting. The Labour motion received all party support.
Business secretary Vince Cable has so far resisted calls for an investigation into the practice. However this week he wrote to Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, noting: 'I would like to meet with you to discuss how best to handle any evidence of any ongoing blacklisting that might emerge, drawing on your experience of the original investigation into The Consulting Association.' Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna welcomed the move. He said: 'We will work alongside ministers to ensure blacklisting allegations are fully investigated and to examine what changes are needed to strengthen the law against blacklisting so that this scandal is never repeated again.'
- GMB news release: UK Map Of 3,213 Blacklisted Workers and related article and map (PDF).
- East London Advertiser: Council bans contracts with firms blacklisting 2012 Olympic site workers
- Building: Cable seeks assurances on blacklisting.
A Unite member injured when he stepped in a sunken drain cover as he fixed a company vehicle in the early hours of the morning has received compensation. Vehicle mechanic Peter Day from Swansea was injured when he was working on a broken down Allied Bakeries delivery lorry parked on the bakery premises. It was 4am and the lighting in the area was faulty. He was working in the space behind the lorry's cab but when he moved away he put his left foot in the drain, which had sunk by more than an inch. His knee twisted and he fell, landing heavily on his left hand.
He suffered a broken hand and cartilage damage to his wrist which meant he had to wear a plaster cast for five weeks. The fall also meant he suffered more pain in his arthritic right knee for eight weeks. Despite initially attempting to return to work he had to take eight weeks off until he recovered. His hand needed physiotherapy and when he did return he was unable to lift heavy items. Peter, who has now retired after working 19 years at Allied Bakeries, had raised concerns about the drain with his manager several times, but nothing was done to fix the hazard.
Faced with a Unite-backed compensation claim, Allied Bakeries admitted liability and settled out of court for £6,500. Peter said: 'We had warned bosses about the problem with the drain several times as we knew it was a safety risk but nothing was done about it. After my accident the drains were raised and the lighting was fixed. It is frustrating that I had to suffer injuries and take time off sick before action was taken.'
A GMB member developed a painful skin condition after being exposed to known irritants in the workplace. The 52-year-old from Stafford, whose name has not been released, developed dermatitis after he was exposed to brake fluid and a rust inhibitor while working for JC Bamford Excavators (JCB) in Rocester. The production line operative, who has received an undisclosed compensation payment, had worked for the digger manufacturer since 2003 in a number of different roles.
His skin problems first began in 2010 when he was moved onto a job where he was bleeding brakes and connecting radiator hoses. Soon after moving onto the new job he began to suffer from red itchy spots on his hands and arms which developed into a painful rash. He highlighted his problem to his employer but although he was moved onto connecting radiator hoses full time his condition got worse. The company nurse investigated the cause of his skin complaint and found that the fluid coming out of the radiators wasn't dirty water but a rust inhibitor. The fluid was an irritant and the workforce should have been provided with protective gloves to avoid skin complaints.
Mark Bergman from the GMB commented: 'JCB should have worked out if there were chemicals in the radiators particularly as they themselves made the machines. A risk assessment and a system to put in place appropriate personal protective equipment would have avoided this member's discomfort and long term skin condition.'
- Thompsons Solicitors news release: JCB pays damages to GMB member after failing to provide gloves to stop skin condition.
A suggestion by Britain's top police officer that workers should face mandatory drug testing by their employers has been condemned by the TUC and a former government drugs policy adviser. Professor David Nutt said the idea, suggested by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, was 'bonkers' and would lead to 'an enormous amount of errors' and 'no net benefit.' The Met chief had earlier told MPs that millions of professionals should face mandatory drug testing at work. Anyone who failed a test and refused help to get clean should lose their job, Sir Bernard said.
He said testing could take place in 'all occupations' but cited in particular teachers, intensive care nurses and transport staff. In a speech to the all-party parliamentary group on cannabis and children, Sir Bernard said drug testing and the fear of losing their job would act as a deterrent for drug users. He said: 'It seems to me we have got to plant in people's minds something to affect the demand as well as supply.'
TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'The muddled suggestion by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is not about supporting workers with a drug problem or making sure that those in safety critical work are not drug impaired it is simply about using the threat of workplace drug testing as a way of influencing what people do in their own time. It is not only a clear abuse of the human rights of the workers involved but it is most likely illegal' (Risks 458).
Research by a global drugs testing organisation last year found UK workplaces were overwhelmingly drug free. Concateno said its report was based on the results of 1.7m UK workplace drug tests over the previous five years. In 2011 just 3.23 per cent of all the UK workplace drug tests it conducted were positive (Risks 563).
- BBC News Online: Mandatory drug testing 'bonkers' - Professor David Nutt.
- Daily Mail: Millions of workers should be tested for drugs: Met chief declares war on substance abuse.
- TUC drugs at work WebPages and guide to drug testing at work.
The number of new corporate manslaughter cases opened by the Crown Prosecution Service has risen by 40 per cent in a year. There has been an increase in charges laid from 45 in 2011 to 63 in 2012. In total 141 cases have been opened since 2009, with 56 prosecutions currently ongoing, according to law firm Pinsent Masons. There have so far only been three convictions since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 took effect in 2008.
But Pinsent Masons' Simon Joyston-Bechal warned firms against complacency: 'High risk industries and companies cannot be reassured by the current lack of convictions for corporate manslaughter,' he said. 'The three convictions so far are just the tip of an iceberg. Corporate manslaughter cases are very complex and can take a long time to come to trial. We can now see from these figures that there are a rapidly growing number of cases in the pipeline.'
Pinsent Masons warned budget-focused firms about ignoring safety issues. Joyston-Bechal, a specialist safety lawyer and partner with the firm, said: 'Cutting corners on safety in order to save money is probably the most serious aggravating feature of an offence. All businesses need to have robust health and safety procedures in place.'
- Pinsent Masons news release: New corporate manslaughter cases opened by CPS up 40% in 2012
- Sky News: Corporate Manslaughter Cases Up By 40% In A Year.
A hospital has admitted failing to protect the public from deadly Legionnaires' disease. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Basildon University Hospital following a series of cases of the disease, two fatal. James Compton, 74, from Billericay, died in 2007, just after cost-cutting reductions in a water treatment programme came into effect. Raymond Cackett, 54, died from Legionnaires' in March 2010. Six further patients - Egbert Van Nuil, Lyn Kilshaw, Roy Leech, Joyce Limbert, Francis Nutt and Verona Hughes - were also infected.
The hospital admitted at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court a criminal failure to protect patients and visitors between 28 February 2004 and 31 December 2010. The case was transferred by magistrates to Chelmsford Crown Court for sentencing on 14 March, when the trust could face a six figure fine. Clare Panniker, chief executive of Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Trust, said the hospital had spent £3m and introduced a number of changes in the past decade in an attempt to control legionella. Pascal Bates, from the HSE, said the hospital's procedures on legionella fell 'markedly short'.
He added: 'The problem went to board level. The hospital had numerous warnings from regulators and consultants which weren't followed.' In the financial year 2006/07 the hospital reduced its water treatment programme to save money, the court heard. 'That was an inappropriate cost saving measure,' Mr Bates said. The court was told that the hospital trust had been prosecuted before and fined £25,000 over the death in 2002 of 77-year-old George Bate from Legionnaires' disease. Chairman of the bench Peter Rose said the case had been going on for 'an extraordinarily long time, nearly seven years.'
- Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Trust statement: Legionella HSE statement 29.1.13
- The Telegraph: Legionnaires’ deaths hospital had cut water treatment programme to save money.
- BBC News Online: Basildon Hospital admits legionella protection failures.
- Essex Enquirer: Hospital faces huge fine over Legionnaire's.
A US court has approved the biggest criminal penalties deal in US history, given to British oil giant BP as part of a settlement related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. In November 2012, BP said it would pay $4bn (£2.5bn) to the US Department of Justice and agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges (Risks 583). The sum includes a $1.26bn fine. The Deepwater Horizon incident killed 11 workers and released millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
Luke Keller, a vice president of BP America, told a federal district court in New Orleans, the families of the dead, and other victims of the tragedy of the company's regret and apologised for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. 'We - and by that I mean the men and the women of the management of BP, its board of directors, and its many employees - are deeply sorry for the tragic loss of the 11 men who died and the others who were injured that day,' said Mr Keller. 'Our guilty plea makes clear, BP understands and acknowledges its role in that tragedy, and we apologise - BP apologises - to all those injured and especially to the families of the lost loved ones. BP is also sorry for the harm to the environment that resulted from the spill, and we apologise to the individuals and communities who were injured.'
The oil giant has been selling assets worth billions of pounds to raise money to settle all claims. The company is expected to make a final payment of $860m into the $20bn Gulf of Mexico compensation fund by the end of the year. Several dozen people submitted letters to Judge Sarah S Vance requesting that she reject the plea agreement. Some wanted additional financial compensation, while others requested stronger punishment for BP supervisors or a more powerful apology. Had the judge not accepted the agreement, the company would have faced a long and expensive trial, potentially resulting in tougher penalties.
The company's stock price, which fell roughly by half after the incident, has recovered more than 40 per cent of its loss over the last three years. The company announced some changes to its management team on the day the settlement was agreed. Bob Fryar, the executive vice president for production, will become the new executive vice president for safety and operational risk. Officials at BP said the moves did not represent a fundamental change in direction.
- BP news release: BP Announces US District Court’s Acceptance of Plea Resolving All Criminal Claims Against Company Relating to Deepwater Horizon Accident .
- New York Times: Judge Accepts BP’s $4 Billion Criminal Settlement Over Gulf Oil Spill.
- BBC News Online: BP's record $4bn Deepwater criminal penalties approved.
- More on BP's safety record.
Steel manufacturer Tata Steel and a specialist contractor have been fined a total of £320,000 for safety failings after a worker was killed by a falling metal bar in Redcar. Kristian Lee Norris, 29, from Middlesbrough, was working for Vesuvius UK Limited to re-line a steelmaking furnace at Teesside Cast Products at the time of the fatal incident on 12 April 2008. He was hit on the head by a two foot long metal bar that fell approximately 10 metres from a passenger and goods lift overhead.
Teesside Crown Court heard an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that adequate precautions were not in place to control the risks from falling tools or other materials. This was a failing on the part of both Mr Norris' employer, Vesuvius, and Tata Steel UK Limited, which then owned Teesside Cast Products. Both defendants were aware of the problems but allowed the work to continue. Vesuvius UK Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £24,020. Tata Steel UK Limited pleaded guilty and was fined £120,000 with £24,020 costs.
After sentencing, HSE inspector Richard Bulmer, said: 'Kristian's tragic death may have been prevented had Vesuvius UK Limited and Tata Steel UK Limited made simple and adequate provisions to protect employees working beneath work and lift platforms. The risks associated with work at height are well known, as are the necessary safeguards. Yet on this occasion the precautions taken to prevent people or objects from falling were wholly insufficient and sorely lacking.' Tata, in its previous UK guises of Corus and British Steel, has been named repeatedly among the UK firms most likely to kill its staff (Risks 472).
A London council has been sentenced for a serious safety breach after a 15-year-old girl was engulfed in a fireball from a cooking stove during a school camping expedition. The teenager, then a pupil at East Ham's Plashet School, was caught in a flashover when another girl poured methylated spirits on to the cooking stove as she believed it was going out. The erupting flames set fire to the girl's clothing and headscarf.
She suffered severe burns to her hands, arms, face, neck and legs and was in Chelmsford Hospital's Special Burns Unit for three weeks. She has since had to have a skin graft and has permanent scarring. The teenager was one of 25 girls on a three-day Duke of Edinburgh's Silver Award camping trip near the West Sussex village of Henfield. The incident, on 9 July 2011, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, which brought a prosecution against Newham Council.
Southwark Crown Court was told the incident could have been avoided if basic precautions had been taken. Fuel should have been kept in the correct containers, safely stored and simple procedures followed for lighting the stove. Newham Borough Council pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £17,246 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector John Crookes said: 'This is not about stopping school trips or burdening staff with excessive paperwork. It is about identifying simple precautions and ensuring they are in place.'
- HSE news release: Newham Council in court over teenager's fireball horror
- HSE education safety webpages
A new report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) examines occupational safety and health within the 'complex networks' of suppliers and service providers. The Bilbao-based agency says 'Promoting occupational safety and health through the supply chain' analyses existing literature on the subject, as well as government policies and case studies, to provide an overview of how occupational safety and health can be managed and promoted through the supply chain, and which incentives and instruments exist for companies to encourage good occupational safety and health practices among their suppliers and contractors.
- EU-OSHA news release: Health and safety in supply chains
- Promoting occupational safety and health through the supply chain, EU-OSHA, January 2013
The global trade union body for garment workers has called for 'real action' after yet another deadly clothing factory fire in Bangladesh. IndustriALL was speaking out after seven workers were killed in a blaze at a garment factory in Dhaka only two months after the fire at the Tazreen garment factory in November 2012 that claimed 112 lives (Risks 589). The latest fire occurred at lunchtime on 26 January at a small garment factory, Smart Fashions, in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
The victims are reported to be female workers aged between 15 and 28 years. Reports say the factory was producing garments for major high street names. Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, said his organisation was 'calling for urgent and serious action to prevent further tragedies. We invite all major international brands, national employers and the government of Bangladesh to start an urgent discussion with us on a concrete plan of action. It must include strict health and safety regulations, efficient inspection and union participation in workplace cooperation, ensuring freedom of association in line with internationally recognized ILO labour standards, and a programme to raise minimum wages to at least living wage levels in the country.'
A repeated failure to heed the danger signals presented by new technologies and substances has led to deaths, illness and environmental destruction, a new report had concluded. The second volume of 'Late lessons from early warnings', published this week by the European Environment Agency, gives specific examples of where danger signals have gone unheeded with sometimes devastating consequences. The new 750-page volume draws heavily on evidence from the workplace.
Twenty new case studies include the stories behind industrial mercury poisoning, fertility problems caused by pesticides and hormone-disrupting chemicals in common plastics. The report also considers the warning signs emerging from technologies including mobile phones, genetically modified organisms and nanotechnology. It warns that in some instances, companies put short-term profits ahead of public safety, either hiding or ignoring the evidence of risk. In others, scientists downplayed risks, sometimes under pressure from vested interests.
Such lessons could help avoid harm from emerging technologies, the report notes. It recommends the wider use of the 'precautionary principle' to reduce hazards in cases of new and largely untested technologies and chemicals. It states that scientific uncertainty is not a justification for inaction, when there is plausible evidence of potentially serious harm. Such a precautionary approach is nearly always beneficial - after analysing 88 cases of supposed 'false alarm', report authors found only four clear cases. The report also concludes that precautionary actions can often stimulate rather than stifle innovation.
- Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation, EEA, January 2013
- EEA news release: The cost of ignoring the warning signs - EEA publishes ‘Late Lessons from Early Warnings, volume II’
- The Guardian: Europe 'has failed to learn from environmental disasters'
- The Pump Handle: Late lessons from early warnings of risks to health and ecosystems
Workplace health campaigners in India are celebrating after the government of Rajasthan agreed to provide medical, monetary and social benefits to around 2.5 million unorganised mine workers affected by silicosis. This week the state government announced it will issue 'show cause notices' to 27,000 mine owners. This should mean the number of mines registered with the Department of Mines will increase from under 4,000 to 30,000.
'We are issuing instructions to our officers to collect information and update their database. We will share the information with the department of mines and geology,' Sudhansh Pant, principal secretary, petroleum and mines, told the Hindustan Times. Director of mines DK Saxena said if the mine owners failed to provide information about the condition of their workers and workplaces, they would be prosecuted after an inspection of the mines.
The Mine Labour Protection Campaign (MLPC), which participated in the 28 January meeting with top government officials, said the deal brought wide-ranging changes. As well as registering with the mines department, the firms will be required to report on health and safety violations, including any workers affected by silicosis. The deal also includes compensation settlements to 14 silicosis widows and an agreement that all silicosis victims will receive welfare payments.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has expressed 'serious reservations' about the capacity of the Health and Safety Authority to deliver on its programme of work, in the face of ongoing budget and staff cuts. Esther Lynch, ICTU legal affairs officer and a member of the HSA board, said the cuts were eroding the Authority's capacity to 'undertake basic oversight of working conditions with workplace inspections falling from 16,000 to 13,700.'
She was speaking ahead of the 25 January launch of the authority's 'Strategy Statement 2013-2015 and Programme of Work, 2013'. 'The authority is now operating on three quarters of the budget it had in 2008 and more cuts are forecast. Staff numbers are already down from 197 (in 2008) to 170 and are due to fall to 155,' Ms Lynch explained. 'Preventative unannounced inspections are key to safe and healthy workplaces, it should not take a fatality before the Authority turns up.'
She added: 'Health and safety is not an unnecessary, regulatory burden. Both workers and industry benefit from strong regulation and enforcement which help keep fatalities, injuries and sickness absence rates down.' Launching the strategy, the minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation, Richard Bruton, said: 'There is a need to find efficiencies but not at the expense of the safety, health and welfare of workers. The collaborative approach adopted by the Authority, using targeted inspections and compliance tools, is designed to encourage buy-in from all stakeholders.'
- ICTU news release: Budget cuts eroding health & safety authority's 'capacity to deliver'
- HSA news release: Over 11,000 businesses registered for online safety tool BeSMART.ie as HSA seeks to make compliance easier for SMEs
- HSA Strategy Statement 2013-2015 and Programme of Work 2013
A US government agency intended to assist small businesses is instead operating as an unquestioning promoter of a deadly business lobby wish list. A report from the independent Centre for Effective Government says the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy is supposed to ensure that federal agencies evaluate the small business impacts of the rules they adopt. Instead it has been weighing in on issues including scientific assessments of the cancer risks of formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium. But instead of scrutinising the evidence, it has just regurgitated industry briefings.
The Centre says by the Office of Advocacy's own admission, it lacks the scientific expertise to evaluate the merits of these scientific assessments. 'We found that the Office of Advocacy's comments on these assessments raised no issues of specific concern to small business and relied almost exclusively on talking points provided by trade associations dominated by big chemical companies. Between 2005 and 2012, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and its members spent over $333 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies on, among other things, a protracted campaign to prevent government agencies from designating formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium as carcinogens.
The Formaldehyde Council, Styrene Industry Research Council, and Chrome Coalition spent millions more. These groups asked the Office of Advocacy for assistance, and the Office became their willing partner.' According to the Centre: 'We conclude that the Office of Advocacy's decision to comment on scientific assessments of the cancer risks of certain chemicals constitutes a significant and unwarranted expansion of its role and reach beyond its statutory responsibilities. We recommend that Congress ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the Office of Advocacy and exert more rigorous oversight of its activities to ensure its work does not undermine the efforts of other federal agencies to fulfil the goals Congress has assigned them.'
- Centre for Effective Government news release and report: Small businesses, public health, and scientific integrity: Whose interests does the Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration serve? (PDF)
TUC courses for safety reps
COURSES FOR JANUARY TO APRIL 2013
- Visit the TUC 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
Issued: 2 February, 2013