Risks 592 - 9 February 2013

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 23,000 subscribers. 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

What do we want? Here's our starter for 10

Regular safety inspections, a maximum temperature in the workplace and far greater control of carcinogens are just some of the improvements that the TUC is calling for in a new 10 point safety manifesto. 'Time for change' features 10 key recommendations which the TUC believes, if implemented by a future government, could help turn around the UK's poor health safety record, and prevent many of the 20,000 workplace-related deaths which occur in the UK every year. The TUC manifesto makes the case for good health and safety practice, in a climate where safety laws are increasingly seen by ministers as unnecessary burdens on business, and where spending cuts and changes in regulations are making it increasingly difficult to police employers who play fast and loose with their employees' safety. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady commented: 'Every year 20,000 people die needlessly because of an accident or illness caused by their jobs, and many thousands more are unable to work because of health problems which began at work.' She added: 'This isn't just a national tragedy for the victims and their families, but is also a huge drain on the economy, costing the state billions of pounds a year. But it doesn't have to be this way. Unfortunately ministers seem convinced that despite the high number of deaths and injuries at work, safety regulations are too onerous on business and rather than being tightened, need to be watered down or removed entirely. This is completely the wrong approach, when what is needed is tougher enforcement and new safety laws. Our safety manifesto sets out to do just that.' Other changes called for in the TUC manifesto include more safety reps with more rights, tighter dust controls, extended protection for vulnerable workers, legal safety duties on company directors, and only those firms with a good safety record to be eligible for public contracts.

Unions berate government on 'safety costs' lie

Unions have reacted angrily to a 'ridiculous' government claim that safety regulation is a waste of 'time and money' for businesses that should be 'focusing on growth'. They were commenting after on the publication of two reports outlining how the Health and Safety Executive has responded to government demands to reduce official safety oversight and regulation, based on recommendations from government commissioned reviews by former Tory cabinet minister Lord Young (Risks 478) and Professor Ragnar Lofstedt (Risks 534). Minister for employment Mark Hoban said: 'For too long businesses have been confused by health and safety regulations which cost them money and take up time when they should be focusing on growth.' He added: 'Health and safety is important, but its focus should be where risks are high. These reports show just how much progress we have made in restoring clarity to the system, and over the coming months I'll be making sure common sense prevails.' UNISON national safety officer Robert Baughan responded: 'The argument against these regulations is ridiculous. If health and safety is supposed to be a burden and a barrier to jobs and growth why then is the economy still in recession? The real burden is the 20,000 people a year who die through their work.' He added: 'The coalition has slashed health and safety regulations in the same reckless, irresponsible manner they have slashed public services. Health and safety legislation is not there to cause a headache to employers - it is there to keep people safe at work. This government has seen yet another opportunity to chip away at the hard-won rights of workers, and is putting the safety - and lives - of workers at risk as a result.' A TUC spokesperson said: 'If the government spent half the time and effort that they have wasted over the past two and a half years trying to reduce non-existent burdens and sort imagined problems with health and safety into trying to improve the system, then they would have helped reduce the real burden felt by the 1.8 million workers and former workers currently suffering from an injury or illness caused by their work.'

Train drivers want action on station pollution

Train drivers' union ASLEF is demanded action to reduce dangerous fumes at Edinburgh's Waverley Station after a study revealed that air pollution at the station is seven times higher the environmental safety standard. This means workers can be exposed throughout their working shifts to levels of fumes several times the public safety limit (Risks 587). ASLEF Scottish officer Kevin Lindsay said the union has written to Network Rail and train operators including ScotRail, East Coast and Virgin demanding action to reduce dangerous emissions inside the station. He said it is 'completely unacceptable' that nitrogen dioxide - produced by vehicle exhaust and capable of damaging lungs, blood and the immune system - was recorded at greatly elevated levels at four locations on Waverley's concourse. 'Network Rail has claimed that it has improved ventilation and restricted some vehicle access but this is totally inadequate,' he said. 'We want concrete proposals for how Network Rail and the train companies intend to improve air quality in the station.' One immediate step that could be taken, he said, was to prevent diesel locomotives from coming into the covered area. Waverley is the only UK mainline railway station that still allows vehicles, including taxis, private cars and delivery trucks, to drive right inside it. Green MSP Alison Johnstone lodged a question with the Scottish Parliament asking what action the government could take to guarantee Waverley did not breach safe air pollution limits. She said: 'It's ludicrous that people working in the station - those who have the greatest exposure to the fumes and particulates - are expected to tolerate the conditions.' Last year, diesel exhaust fumes were rated as a definite cause of lung cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which also said here was evidence they may cause bladder cancer (Risks 560).

Unions continue to benefit asbestos families

An advice service supported by unions had secured approaching £1 million for asbestos victims in northern England since September 2012. The Northern TUC Asbestos Support and Campaign Group says in addition to one-off compensation payments totalling £311,643.00 for asbestos victims in the northern region, it has also sorted out welfare benefits payments of in excess of £105,000 per month for victims and their families. The recipients of the funds are suffering from a range of debilitating asbestos-related diseases including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. The group is a partnership between the Northern TUC, Macmillan Cancer Support, regional trade unions and Wallsend Memorial Hall and People's Centre. Kevin Rowan, Northern TUC regional secretary, said: 'This is a huge, life-changing amount of money going to help the people who need it most, and as an added benefit it will be recycled into the local economy providing a win-win situation for the welfare of workers and the region as a whole.' Maggie Bailey, a Macmillan welfare rights adviser, said: 'Research carried out by Macmillan shows that people affected by cancer are often unaware of the benefits they can claim and at the time of diagnosis need help to guide them through a complex welfare system. We visit people in their homes and help them with the forms and give advice. We can also give them information about other Macmillan services and support groups.'

Other news

Huge decline in safety inspections of 'high risk' firms

The number of local authority (LA) proactive safety inspections of high risk 'category A' premises has fallen 44 per cent, according to new figures, with 1-in-5 local authorities admitting to undertaking no proactive inspections at all. HSE's 'Delivering health and safety reform' report, published this week, indicated there is official concern at the dramatic decline. HSE, which has cut its own proactive inspections by a third, noted: 'LA regulators have also reduced their inspections from 70,700 in 2011/12 to a projected 6,400 in 2012/13 based on mid-year returns. HSE is now consulting on proposals for a statutory National LA Enforcement Code that is based on the same principles used to direct HSE's inspection activities.' The local authority statistics, published in a report considered at HSE's January 2013 board meeting, estimated councils will have carried out 2,560 proactive inspections at high risk premises in 2012/13, compared to 4,560 in the previous year. The number of inspections at lower risk category B2 or C premises fell from 49,419 to a projected figure of 10,245. The overall number of proactive inspections across all premises fell by 77 per cent. A fifth of local authorities carried out no proactive inspections at all. Enforcement agencies were instructed by government to cut proactive inspections by a third, but these official figures point to a collapse in local authority safety inspections. Hilda Palmer, spokesperson for the Hazards Campaign, said the figures were 'horrifying' and that the fall in inspections was far higher than the 33 per cent demanded by the government. 'A fall in scrutiny only rewards the bad employer who passes on the cost to the employee, the community and the public purse,' she said. 'That a fifth of local authorities carry out no proactive inspection at all is a shocking and unacceptable retreat from enforcement and protection, exposing workers in those areas to increased risk of ill-health and injury.' The marked decline in inspections of high risk local authority enforced workplaces casts doubt on claims by safety minister Mark Hoban this week that the overall fall in inspections was justified because the 'focus should be where risks are high.'

Spot inspections linked to superbug decline

Surprise visits by health inspectors are helping hospitals win the war against superbugs, according to Scotland's NHS bug-buster. Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) chief inspector Susan Brimelow said the unannounced spot checks were 'paying dividends' as the latest annual report showed wards and equipment are generally cleaner and superbug infections are falling. The report by HEI said the number of problems found by inspectors during announced and unannounced visits to hospitals had fallen to their lowest rate since the regime began. The number of 'requirements' issued between October 2011 and September 2012 had fallen to 110, compared to 172 in 2009/10, equivalent to a rate of 3.5 per inspection. Requirements refer to improvements ordered by inspectors to ensure a particular ward or facility meets the national standards for controlling healthcare associated infections, laid out by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland. This week's annual report was the first since unannounced inspections were rolled out in June 2012, a move Ms Brimelow has credited with driving up standards. 'I am confident our programme of predominantly unannounced inspections is paying dividends and we will continue to scrutinise hospitals in this way, working with NHS boards to focus on those areas that still need to improve,' she said. 'I feel cautiously optimistic we are seeing progress but NHS boards must not take their eye off the ball and should always be ready for inspection.' The improvement coincided with a fall in the incidence of hospital superbugs over the same period. Cases of C.difficile among patients over-65 fell 37 per cent in 2011/12 compared to 2009/10, while cases of MRSA had fallen by 35 per cent.

Bad firms made to pay up for HSE's costs

Firms breaching safety laws have been hit with bills for hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Health and Safety Executive (Risks 576). Under The Health and Safety (Fees) Regulations 2012, which took effect in October 2012, those who break health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE's related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action. The first bills under the Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme have just been issued. Trade magazine Construction Enquirer says it has seen documentation confirming HSE has now invoiced £727,644.81 for visits during the first two months of the scheme. Inspectors are charging their time out at £124-an-hour, with the average bill coming in at £513. According to the Enquirer, the £727,644.81 figure relates to bills across all industries resulting from 1,418 notices issued during the period. HSE has told Hazards magazine that the FFI income will provide 'extra spending power' for HSE of up to a £10m in 1012/13, with the cap rising to £17m in 2013/14 and £23m in 2014/15.

Construction workers to challenge police over blacklist

Solicitors acting for thousands of construction workers are appealing a decision by the Metropolitan police not to investigate claims that officers supplied information to an illegal blacklist of construction workers. Christian Khan solicitors, representing the Blacklist Support Group, submitted a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Met in November 2012. But it has now emerged that the complaint was 'non-recorded', with a spokesman for the IPCC saying it was too general. Sarah McSherry, a partner at Christian Khan solicitors, called the police response 'deplorable'. Speaking to trade magazine Building, she said: 'The complaints process is the only forum in which criminal allegations against police officers can be investigated yet the [Met's] directorate of professional standards refuse to record the complaint, suggesting that our clients 'should report the matter as a crime in the normal way' as the 'complaints process is not the correct vehicle to forward their concerns or allegations'.' She added: 'This smacks of a complete lack of knowledge of the Police Reform Act and indeed the very function of the directorate of professional standards.' McSherry said that they would be appealing the decision. Labour MP Dave Anderson said: 'This is what you get when you let the accused become involved in an investigation.' He added: 'There should be a full investigation and Vince Cable should actually implement the will of parliament and instigate an investigation where people would feel protected in order to expose these abusers.' More than half of the country's leading construction firms were using the blacklist run by The Consulting Association in 2009 when the operation was shut down, paying an annual £3,000-a-year subscription plus £2.20 for each blacklist check.

Privatising search-and-rescue should be stopped

A controversial move to privatise the UK's search-and-rescue helicopter service should be halted, experts, rescuers and the rescued have warned. A report in the Guardian says search-and-rescue professionals, doctors, mountain-rescue volunteers, workers in the maritime industry and people who have been saved fear a new civilian privatised service will not be as effective as the one now provided mainly by RAF and Royal Navy pilots and crew. It says there are deep worries that plans to cut two of the 12 search-and-rescue (SAR) bases dotted around Britain's coastline will leave some areas exposed, particularly the Channel. It is a move that has been questioned by the government's transport committee (Risks 586) and opposed by coastguard and maritime unions (Risks 563). The privatisation has also alarmed experienced civilian volunteers who rescue thousands of people a year from the UK's mountains, cliffs and cave systems. They fear that the new contractor could cut back on services to protect profits and helicopters, and fail to invest in live training exercises with volunteer rescue teams. Bill Whitehouse, chair of the British Cave Rescue Council, said: 'To what extent would a new commercial service pull out the stops when the chips are down? Will they point to a contract and say, 'that's not in it'?'

Site safety warning over fake hard hats

A UK hard hat manufacturer is urging contractors to check their site workers' helmets after a potentially lethal batch of poor quality counterfeits was discovered. Experts at JSP are warning that the fake hard hats can be split in two with your bare hands. The British Safety Industry Federation said the counterfeits originated from Asia or the Middle East. The helmets are copies of JSP's MkII safety helmet which it has been manufacturing in the UK for over 35 years. The bogus hard hats are easily identifiable from the marks 'Burly' and 'MkII' under the peak. Matthew Judson, JSP's director of technical support, said users should make sure JSP's name is branded into the helmet, and ensure that the user information leaflet is original - not a photocopy that is not square on the page - correctly spelled, in multiple languages, and with the manufacturer's contact details listed. He said: 'If you suspect a helmet is fake, give us a call and we will send someone out to have a look at it, or take it back to the place you bought it from.' He added: 'If someone had been wearing a bogus helmet and an object had fallen on their head they could be dead. Fakes can kill.'

Firm fined £1 after workplace death horror

A metal manufacturer in Manchester has been fined just £1 after an employee was killed when a machine weighing half-a-tonne fell from a forklift truck. Bruce Dempsey, 25, from Eccles, was walking alongside the forklift as it moved the machine at Applied Fusion Ltd in Patricroft when it fell and struck him on the head. He died at the scene. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation into the incident, on 2 December 2009, found it had not planned the work in advance so that the machine could be moved safely. Manchester Crown Court heard that Applied Fusion Ltd had been moving four of its machines into a bigger workshop at the factory. It was during the relocation of the fourth machine that it became unstable and fell, resulting in Mr Dempsey's death. The court was told the company had taken over the Fielding Street factory six weeks before the incident, but a health and safety audit had not been carried out at the company's new premises. The firm also failed to inform its own trained engineer responsible for overseeing lifting operations that it was planning to move the machines at the plant. The forklift operator who lifted the machine had attended a one-day driver training course in October 2006, but was not trained and competent to lift any complicated loads that were not on pallets. Applied Fusion Ltd, which went into administration in March last year, was found guilty of a criminal safety offence in November 2012 and this week received a nominal fine of £1. Judge Bernard Lever said that sentencing guidelines suggested a fine of no less than £100,000, which would have been imposed if the company had funds.

Honda UK fined after employee loses fingers

Swindon-based Honda UK has been fined after an employee distracted by questions from managers lost two fingers while polishing a piece of equipment. Swindon Magistrates' Court heard that 55-year-old Cesar Santos had been using an emery cloth to polish a metal component as it rotated on a manual lathe on 11 February 2012. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Mr Santos was in the last stages of polishing the component when the glove on his right hand became entangled in the equipment, severing two fingers. The court was told Mr Santos was being observed by a group of supervisors and management, and was distracted by being asked how much longer he would be. He was off work for six weeks following the incident before returning to build up to normal duties, but he still requires the assistance of colleagues at times. The HSE investigation found that Honda did not provide a safe system of work and failed to assess the dangers involved in the work Mr Santos was told to carry out. In addition, the company failed to enforce its own glove policy which indicated gloves should not be worn whilst using machinery. Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd was fined £10,000 plus £5,959 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence.

Refurb firm fined over fall danger

A West Midlands refurbishment and shopfitting company has been fined after instructing two employees to work at height without any protective measures or relevant roofwork training. The men were working on the roof of a large furniture store in Bridgtown, Cannock, on 26 September 2011 for Fastrac Profiles Limited when they were spotted and photographed by a concerned member of the public. A complaint was made to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which visited the premises and found the workers were not trained for the roof repairs they were undertaking. Stafford Magistrates' Court heard they had been instructed to weld steel to uprights at the apex of a roof. The work was poorly planned and no risk assessment had been carried out. HSE inspectors also found that no fall prevention measures, such as scaffolding, had been put in place. Although the failings did not result in a fall or injury, the two employees, plus others working below them, were placed in unnecessary danger. Willenhall firm Fastrac Profiles Limited was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £3,761 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Work of Height Regulations 2005. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Alastair Choudhury said: 'I would like to thank the member of the public who brought this to our attention because the situation had the potential to lead to serious or fatal injuries for both men.'

Brum builder fined for illegal asbestos work

A Birmingham builder has been prosecuted after he exposed himself and potentially young children and their parents to asbestos on the street where he lives. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Nicholas Sharpe, trading as Sharpe Builders, after he illegally removed and broke up asbestos panels from a home in Castle Bromwich. Solihull Magistrates' Court heard HSE inspectors visited a house on Rover Drive on 19 July 2012, following a call from a Solihull Council environmental health officer about possible unlicensed asbestos removal work. An HSE investigation found that, during work to covert a garage into a living room, Mr Sharpe had been wearing only a dust mask for protection as he removed a number of asbestos insulating boards (AIBs) from the ceiling. He broke these into pieces and put the uncovered panels on the householder's driveway. The builder had no plan for the work and had not acquired a survey of the building, so did not know that the material was asbestos. Nor did he provide any information to the householders. The court was told he did not hold the necessary licence to remove the asbestos boards, and failed to take adequate steps to prevent both the exposure to and spread of asbestos fibres generated by his work. Nicholas Sharpe pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £4,000 plus £1,100 costs.

Architect in deadly asbestos oversight

An architects' practice has been prosecuted after builders were potentially exposed to asbestos fibres during construction work at Aberystwyth Rugby Club in Mid-Wales. Aberystwyth Magistrates heard that Dilwyn Roberts Penseiri/Architects Ltd failed to pass on vital information about the presence of asbestos insulation board to builders before they removed soffits from an end wall at the clubhouse in January 2012. The situation came to light during a routine inspection of the work by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, who found remains of damaged asbestos insulation boards on the gable end of the clubhouse. An HSE investigation found that Dilwyn Roberts Penseiri/Architects Ltd had been appointed to design and oversee the work at the clubhouse and to act as the Construction, Design and Management co-ordinator for the project. Although an asbestos survey was commissioned by the rugby club and sent to the architects, this was never shown to the building contractors even though it clearly identified the presence of asbestos insulation board. Dilwyn Roberts Penseiri/Architects Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,400 plus £2,917 in costs. HSE inspector Phil Nicolle, speaking after the hearing, said: 'Construction Design and Management co-ordinators are required to identify and collect pre-construction information for projects. It should contain all information relevant to the health and safety of people engaged in, affected by the work or using the building as a future workplace. Dilwyn Roberts Penseiri/Architects Ltd failed to pass on vital survey information, which they were aware of, resulting in a construction worker being exposed to asbestos fibres.'

Washing overalls killed mum

The son of a woman who died from an asbestos-related cancer is appealing for his dad's former work colleagues to help investigate his working conditions. It is believed his mum was exposed to asbestos dust washing her husband's work clothes. Elsie Winter, a mother of two and grandmother of six, died from mesothelioma on 8 October 2010 aged 83. It is believed Elsie's health problems were caused by the contact she had with her husband George's work clothes, which were often contaminated with asbestos dust. George, who died in October 2005, worked as a labourer at Chilton Council, which later became Sedgefield Council and is now part of Durham County Council, between March 1966 and April 1986. He was responsible for carrying out repairs and maintenance on council-owned homes and properties in the area and he worked alongside other tradesmen who regularly handled asbestos. He also collected van loads of debris and waste from building projects across the district and was responsible for disposing of the remnants, which included asbestos. His son, Kevin Winter, said: 'I really want answers about why my dad, and indirectly my mum, was allowed to come into contact with asbestos without any warning from Chilton Council about how dangerous it was. I'm sure my dad would have been devastated to know he put mum in danger like this and would have done everything to protect her from it if only he'd known how dangerous it is. Hopefully with the help of his ex-workmates we can get my parents the justice they deserve.'

International News

Global: Cancer agency criticised over asbestos ties

Alleged links between the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the asbestos industry have been condemned on the eve of a crucial UN conference. A report in the medical journal The Lancet examines a series of recent decisions by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that have triggered a storm of protest from governments, non-governmental organisations, and health campaigners. They have and left the agency, which is an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), 'open to accusations that range from the relatively benign charge of poor judgment to allegations of corporate capture by the asbestos industry,' the report says. 'The row erupted late last year, when IARC accepted an invitation to send one of its scientists, Valerie McCormack, to present a paper at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine, entitled Chrysotile Asbestos: Risk Assessment and Management. That decision sparked a flurry of emails and letters to the Director-General of IARC Christopher Wild, imploring IARC to shun the conference over suspicions that the organisers were in cahoots with the Russian asbestos industry.' McCormack's paper has been criticised for under-estimating the cancer risks posed by white, or chrysotile, asbestos - the only form of the carcinogenic mineral still in use. The timing of IARC's attendance at the conference is especially sensitive, coming on the eve of the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, which will take place in April and is coordinated by the UN. It is thought asbestos producers will again veto addition of chrysotile asbestos to the list of highly dangerous substances requiring 'prior informed consent' before they can be imported. The industry lobby has previously been criticised for claiming the support of international agencies including WHO in its campaign to continue unfettered asbestos exports to developing nations.

UAE: Latest deaths highlight migrants' plight

The death of at least 22 Asian workers in a road accident has again highlighted the plight of the United Arab Emirates' largely migrant workforce. A further 24 workers were injured in the 4 February rush hour incident, when a bus transporting workers collided with a lorry carrying construction materials in the Zakhir district of the oasis city of al-Ain. According to local media reports, most of the workers were cleaners of Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin. Millions of foreign workers, mostly from South Asia, live in the UAE. The lorry ended up on top of the bus, Gen Hussein al-Harithi, director of Abu Dhabi traffic police told state news agency WAM. He said the lorry had overturned when its brakes failed and that there had not been a safe distance between the two vehicles. 'Twenty-two people were dead at the scene,' he said. 'There were 24 others injured, and their injuries ranged from minor and moderate to serious.' The lorry was reported to be carrying either gravel or sand. The per-capita death toll on UAE roads is among the highest in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. The exploitative and hazardous working conditions facing UAE's migrant workforce has been the subject of repeated criticism. A Human Rights Watch report published on 31 January accused UAE of 'backsliding' on human rights, adding the authorities had 'failed to reform a labour system that facilitates the trafficking and forced labour of its migrant workers.'

USA: Demand for action on deadly silica

Unions and safety advocates are demanding urgent action on silica, linked to hundreds of occupational disease deaths each year and thousands of cases of devastating ill-health. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the official US safety regulator, has drafted a proposal that would reduce occupational exposure to silica. But it's been stalled by the White House for more than two years now, under a protracted review by the Office of Management and Budget. According to Richard Trumka, president of the national union federation AFL-CIO: 'It's time for the White House to act.' Urging people to sign a petition calling on Obama administration to implement the silica standard, he said: 'I can't stress how important this issue is for hundreds of thousands of construction workers and their families. This OSHA proposal has been delayed for too long.' About 1.7 million workers in the US are estimated to be at risk from silica dust. Public health experts estimate that 280 workers die each year from silicosis - and thousands more develop the lung-scarring condition as a result of workplace exposures. Exposure to silica can also cause health problems including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and autoimmune disease. The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health says this is the latest delay in 'a 15-year saga of trying to protect workers, even though the dangers of exposure to silica dust and the crippling and fatal lung disease it causes have been known for decades.'

USA: Miner who raised safety concerns gets sued

A Kentucky miner who raised safety concerns and got fired from his welding job is now being sued by his former employer and blacklisted by other mines. Reuben Shemwell is now wrapped in a messy legal battle with his former employer, an affiliate of Armstrong Coal. Media reports say that what happens to Shemwell's case could impact all US miners who claim they've been fired or otherwise punished for blowing the whistle in what remains one of the nation's most deadly industries. 'I've been representing miners in safety discrimination cases for more than 30 years, and this is the first time I know of anywhere in the country where a company has sued a miner for filing a discrimination complaint,' said Shemwell's attorney, Tony Oppegard. 'We think the reason they filed was to intimidate him and to intimidate other miners.' Armstrong management claim the 32-year-old was fired for 'excessive cellphone use', a charge he denies. In subsequent court filings, he claimed the real reason he was fired was that he'd complained about safety problems at his worksite. According to Shemwell's filings with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the federal agency responsible for protecting miners, Shemwell had refused to work in confined spaces where he'd been overcome by fumes, and he'd complained to a superior that the respirators provided to welders were inadequate. Shortly before Shemwell was fired, he and a colleague also refused to work on an excavator while it was in operation, according to the court papers. The documents say Armstrong chose to shut the site down rather than subject it to MSHA oversight, which management said would be too costly. Ten workers were laid off. MSHA said Armstrong's suit, filed in August, violates a law designed to protect miners who file discrimination complaints.


Guidance on carcinogens and work-related cancer

Papers from a 'Carcinogens and work-related cancer' workshop, organised last year by EU-OSHA, have been made available online. The event reached wide-ranging conclusions, including: 'There is an increasing need to identify vulnerable, and 'hidden', groups whose occupational exposure to cancer risks and carcinogenic processes is underrepresented in exposure data and intervention strategies... Typical groups are amongst migrants and part time workers, and those employed as sub-contracted staff. Women and young workers, typically in service occupations where awareness of chemical risks is low, may also be at risk. These 'hidden' groups are typically exposed to multiple carcinogens, and because of the socio-economic context are at greater risk of developing cancer.' It also highlighted an official French campaign on dangerous substances that found 'enterprises improved their policies after a labour inspection visit or when they get expert support. Companies preparing a risk assessment document compliant with OSH are more successful in achieving substitution of hazardous substances than those neglecting their duties.'

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