Risks 594 - 23 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

Take your time off for training

Union safety reps should take time out for training to make sure they maximise their effectiveness, the TUC has advised. A new 'Time off for training' factsheet notes: 'Training is very important for any health and safety representative if they are going to be able to represent and support their members with confidence. Trained representatives are better representatives and there is a wide range of training available to help them.' The TUC factsheet continues: 'One of the reasons that unionised workplaces are safer workplaces is that representatives are trained in health and safety. Without that training they would find it much harder to ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy.' The factsheet spells out the legal right for safety reps to take paid time off for training. It also gives guidance on what to do if any employer proves reluctant, noting employment tribunals normally side with safety reps where there is a dispute. 'It is for the union to decide what training is required and this may vary depending on the type of workplace and the role of the health and safety representative. Also, health and safety representatives' training is in addition to the health and safety training the employer is required to provide for the entire workforce... If your employer refuses you time off with pay, or asks you to do a different course from that recommended by your union, then the first step is to speak to your union about it. They will look at your case and advise you on the best course of action.'

Fake safety equipment 'could kill'

Construction union UCATT is warning all construction workers to make sure that their protective equipment is genuine, following fresh concerns that fake safety equipment has made its way onto sites. It says in some cases imported fake safety helmets are so weak that they can be split in two by a person using their bare hands (Risks 592). Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'Purely and simply, fake safety equipment could kill. Construction is already the most dangerous industry in Britain. Workers need to check the authenticity of all safety equipment and if they have any doubts about its validity then they should not wear it.' He added: 'Workers have a right not to be placed in danger, employers must take safety seriously and should not object to anyone requesting checks be made on their safety equipment.' As well as substandard safety gloves and helmets, there have been concerns raised about fake scaffolding poles and scaffolding clamps. In July 2012 a TUC alert warned an influx of substandard and fake personal protective equipment (PPE) to the UK was putting lives at risk (Risks 566). It said safety reps 'can help prevent problems with PPE by ensuring that their employer consults with them over the type of PPE they buy. They can also check that any PPE that is provided is legal.' A checklist advises reps to ensure PPE is purchased from a reputable supplier and displays the logo of the Registered Safety Supplier (RSS) scheme.

Action call on 'tough' blacklisting companies

There should be to a further investigation of the 'tough' blacklisting activities of Balfour Beatty and Skanska, the union UCATT has said. The union call came after Mary Kerr, the bookkeeper with the covert blacklisting organisation The Consulting Association (TCA), described Balfour Beatty and Skanska as 'very tough' when it came to blacklisting as they would not employ anyone on the list, while other companies could take a more lenient attitude. Speaking to BBC Radio 4's 'The Report' programme, she reiterated claims made by her late husband, TCA head Ian Kerr, in evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in November 2012. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'All blacklisting is a vile and disgusting practice. Balfour Beatty and Skanska were even prepared to blacklist workers who had a similar name to someone on the list. Even the arch-blacklister Ian Kerr said this was unfair'. Mr Murphy added: 'I hope that the Scottish Affairs Committee will further investigate this matter. Workers who were denied work but whose names do not appear on The Consulting Association's blacklist deserve answers just as the 3,213 innocent blacklisted workers do. This is yet another reason why we need a public inquiry into blacklisting.' The BBC programme presented evidence that government officials were aware of the TCA's activities from 2007. At the time, the TUC had been urging the then Labour government to activate part of the Employment Relations Act 1999 outlawing blacklisting because of anecdotal evidence from trade unionists that the problem was increasing. But TUC's Sarah Veale said unions were told the regulations would not be enacted because of a lack of evidence. 'It's very disappointing to know that this was around at the same time that the TUC was lobbying hard to get the government to put the blacklisting regulations onto the statute book,' she said. The regulations were eventually introduced in 2010 but only after TCA had ceased operating.

Almost 9 out of 10 council workers are stressed

A staggering 87 per cent of local government workers are struggling to cope with increased stress and pressure at work, research by UNISON has found. The survey of more than 14,000 workers by UNISON discovered a 'toxic cocktail' of declining staff numbers (70 per cent) and increasing expectations from the public (61 per cent) and employers (82 per cent), is piling on the pressure. Overall, 72 per cent say stress is affecting how well they can do their jobs, and 70 per cent say that workplace stress is affecting their personal life. UNISON is urging the government to slow down the multi-billion pound cuts currently hitting councils. It says job losses have already hit 250,000, making it difficult to provide services in high demand as communities struggle to cope with the recession. Heather Wakefield, head of local government at UNISON, said: 'Working in local government is like living in a pressure cooker and eventually the lid will blow off. Workers can't take any more. Multi-billion pound cuts, and 250,000 job losses as calls for services increase, means impossible demands are being placed on stressed out council workers. And the stress at home continues. The pay freeze means it's a constant financial juggling act as red bills pile in and wages just don't match up.' She concluded: 'The government has to ease the pressure on councils, allow them to pay staff a rise this year and slow the cuts and closures to give the public the services they need in this hour of need.'

Everything Everywhere has stress everywhere

Mobile phone firm Everything Everywhere (EE) might be making a healthy profit, but it is also making its workers stressed, research by the union CWU has found. The union's survey found stress is a 'serious problem' in EE call centres. Using Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stress management criteria, the results rate EE as 'urgent action needed' in all seven areas identified as the main risk factors for workplace stress. The survey found 98 per cent of over 250 workers surveyed said they had to work very intensively. Almost nine out of ten (88 per cent) said they faced unrealistic time pressures. And nearly threequarters (73 per cent) were not allowed to choose when they took a break. Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary, commenting as the company posted 'solid' financial results, said a merger and re-branding exercise had made it 'a tumultuous time for staff. The company's results show that cost cutting, in particular in duplicate functions such as back-office support, has brought savings but this has taken a toll not only on jobs but also workloads and worry.' He added: 'While it's encouraging to see the company performing well, we would now like to see real positive action taken to tackle the issues of stress in the workplace and to improve the wellbeing and reward of all staff.'

Boris Johnson bent on fire station closures

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has condemned Mayor of London Boris Johnson for refusing to meet with its officials to discuss plans to close 12 fire stations, remove 18 engines and slash 520 frontline firefighter posts. Earlier this month members of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) defied an order by the mayor to begin a public consultation exercise over the proposed cuts. In response, the mayor has threatened to take the authority to court. The FBU wrote to the mayor on 1 February, requesting a meeting to discuss its serious concerns about the consequences for public and firefighter safety of the proposed cuts. But, in a reply, the mayor flatly rejected the request. Ian Leahair, FBU executive council member for London, said: 'As the organisation representing London's 6,000 firefighters, it is not unreasonable of us to expect that the mayor should meet with us to hear our concerns about the impact of his proposed cuts. It is frankly deplorable that Mr Johnson has refused our request. He is effectively saying that he is completely uninterested in the views of the workforce.' He added: 'The mayor is closing his ears to the message that his proposed cuts are dangerous and wrong and would compromise public and firefighter safety.'

Overwork led to serious airport injury

An airport worker suffered a broken back when a seriously overworked colleague lost control of a motorised vehicle at Stansted Airport. Mick Draper, 64, from Braintree, Essex was injured in March 2009 when a colleague drove a buggy, used for transporting trailers full of luggage, into a trolley Mr Draper was attending to as part of his job for Swissport. The buggy hit the Unite member's elbow and threw him several feet onto a nearby luggage chute. He landed heavily breaking three bones in his back, which needed reconstructive surgery. Before the incident Mr Draper was a senior shop steward with Unite. He contacted the union for advice, and subsequent investigations found the buggy driver had worked 17 hour days for the last 11 days up to the collision occurring. Mr Draper had previously warned bosses that the practice of allowing workers to work excessive hours would lead to an accident but his concerns were ignored. Facing a union-backed compensation claim, Swissport's insurers settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. Mr Draper said: 'I'd warned my bosses before that the practice of staff working excessive hours was dangerous but my concerns were ignored. I knew that this was an accident waiting to happen but never imagined it would be me that would end up paying the consequences. My injuries have completely changed my life. I was extremely active until the accident and now the only time I'm not in pain is when I lie down.' Unite's Peter Kavanagh said: 'Swissport only needed to ensure that staff were not working excessive hours and the health and safety of the workforce would not have been put at risk.'

Other news

Survey raises work heart attack concerns

More than half of British businesses do not have a defibrillator, a new poll has found, despite the impact the device has on cardiac arrest survival rates. Safety professionals' organisation the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) commissioned the survey of 1,000 business decision makers across the UK and found that 513 did not have the lifesaving equipment at work. Almost two-thirds of those who said 'no' were with medium to very large companies. Currently, 30,000 people in the UK each year have a cardiac arrest out of hospital and NHS data shows just 18.5 per cent of them survive. IOSH points to US statistics it says show 13 per cent of workplace fatalities result from cardiac arrest. IOSH's Jane White said: 'Using a defibrillator within the first few minutes after collapse gives the best chance of saving a life - it can increase survival rates by as much as 75 per cent. This just proves to businesses how important it is to have the equipment on-site.' She added: 'If someone suffers a cardiac arrest at work and does not survive, it is devastating for their family, friends and workmates and it can also cause a great deal of stress for the person giving CPR. Companies also need to consider the impact of losing a member of staff on their fellow employees, factoring in the cost of down-time, counselling and any replacement or training of staff. The message here is not only an ethical one, it also has financial implications. Of course, a defibrillator is good health and safety practice because it saves lives, but it also makes sound business sense.'

HSE inspection blitz on refurb sites

A month-long Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection blitz is to target construction sites nationwide. HSE says during the initiative, to run from 18 February to 15 March, it will visit sites where refurbishment or repair works are taking place. The unannounced visits will check firms are managing high risk activity, such as working at height, in a safe manner and will also check assess to welfare facilities and whether suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) such as head protection is being used appropriately. HSE says during 2011/12, 49 workers were killed while working in construction and 2,884 major injuries were reported. HSE construction chief Philip White said: 'Death and injury continue to result from avoidable incidents and it is largely those engaged in refurbishment and repair work who are failing to step up to the mark. Poor management of risks and a lack of awareness of responsibilities is unacceptable.' He added: 'In many cases simple changes to working practices can make all the difference, and can even save lives. Therefore if we find evidence that workers are being unnecessarily put at risk we will take strong action. We are determined to drive the message home that site safety and worker welfare cannot be compromised.'

Dogs law is a dog's dinner

A government committee has criticised England's dangerous dogs' legislation and said last week's proposals to improve the law don't go far enough (Risks 593). These proposals called for compulsory microchipping of dogs and the extension of the current law to cover attacks on private land. Launching the report of its inquiry into dog control and welfare, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chair Anne McIntosh MP said: 'Current laws have comprehensively failed to tackle irresponsible dog ownership. DEFRA's (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) belated proposals published last week are too limited.' She said since 2007 seven people, including five children, have been killed by dogs in private homes. The NHS also spends over £3 million annually treating dog attack injuries, she added, concluding: 'DEFRA should introduce comprehensive legislation to consolidate the fragmented rules relating to dog control and welfare. New rules should give enforcement officers more effective powers, including Dog Control Notices, to prevent dog-related antisocial behaviour.' Postal workers' union CWU welcomed the committee's report. Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: 'This is a far more comprehensive and satisfying response to the problems of dangerous dogs and the limitations of current laws. We hope that Westminster will act on the excellent recommendations in the report and take action to introduce preventative measures against dog attacks, such as dog control notices, and to go further in addressing England's failing dogs laws.'

Joiner developed life-threatening wood allergy

A joiner developed a wood allergy which could have killed him after working without adequate protection from Iroko hardwood dust. Brian Ogden, 57, was first exposed to the toxic dust at Classic Joinery Manufacturers in Oldham over 20 years ago. He noticed it irritated his nose, throat and eyes, and caused breathing problems. In 2008, staff were given a large order involving the use of Iroko timber. Brian told his bosses it would cause him health issues and they gave him a protective air-filter mask. Within a week he was battling flu-like symptoms and breathing difficulties. He said: 'I've never experienced anything like it, as well as the respiratory problems, my face and eyes swelled up. I had to be hospitalised and put on a drip because my condition was so severe. The doctor said the type of reaction I had suffered could have been fatal if not treated.' He returned to his job and was bought a more expensive mask. But he continued to have problems after the battery ran out and wasn't replaced. He was made redundant after the firm went into liquidation and ceased trading in October 2009. His solicitor, Madelene Holdsworth of law firm Pannone, secured an undisclosed compensation payout. She said: 'The health problems associated with working with Iroko are well known and should have been anticipated.' As well as respiratory disease, hardwood dusts are a recognised cause of nasal cancer (Risks 510) and lung cancer (Risks 206).

Paper firm fined for worker's death

A Corby paper manufacturer has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker was crushed to death as her husband worked nearby. Desanka Todorovic, 44, was waiting to collect some flat pack boxes from the warehouse at Merley Paper Converters Ltd, on 16 March 2009 when racking carrying heavy boxes collapsed, burying her underneath. The company, which manufactures paper rolls used in tills, chip and pin terminals and cash machines, was prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that it had failed to properly control the risks to employees in the warehouse. The racking that collapsed had been in a poor condition with important locking pins missing. Northampton Crown Court heard that Mrs Todorovic had been standing next to the racking as a forklift truck was being used to lift down pallets of boxes. Several boxes of till rolls fell on top of her, partially burying her underneath, and she died shortly afterwards after sustaining multiple injuries. Merley Paper Converters Ltd was fined £70,000 and ordered to pay costs of £30,974 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Speaking after the sentencing hearing, HSE inspector Roger Amery said: 'I felt huge sympathy for her husband who was also working in the factory and was nearby at the time.' HSE no longer undertakes inspections in the paper sector until after an incident is reported.

New safety initiative for deadly waste industry

A blueprint for addressing the 'terrible toll of death, injury and ill health in the waste and recycling industry' is to be published following what the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) describes as a 'landmark' summit. Senior figures from across the sector met in Solihull to agree the key health and safety issues facing the industry and what needs to be done to tackle its poor health and safety record. The event was organised by HSE and the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum. HSE says the plan will be published in April following ratification by WISH and will contain sections on leadership, competence, worker involvement, support for small business, and creating safer, healthier workplaces. Giving the keynote speech to the conference, HSE chair Judith Hackitt said it was important to have a common understanding of the health and safety issues facing the industry. She said: 'We must work together to respond to the current challenges and drive improvements in health and safety performance, but improving the track record is not for HSE to resolve alone - industry must take the lead.' Delegates at the event were urged to sign up to a statement of intent on HSE's website, making a public commitment to drive improvements. Tony Ward, a GMB safety rep who works for Biffa, attended the summit. 'It was a constructive and useful day. In particular, the workshop session raised awareness of the many differences of approach to health and safety,' he said. 'Even if only one person raised one idea that saves one life that would make the day worthwhile.' HSE says between 2004/5 and 2011/12, it received reports of 97 workers and 19 members of the public being fatally injured - and 3,722 employees suffering major injuries - in waste and recycling activities, making it one of Britain's most dangerous sectors.

Engineering firm repeatedly put workers at risk

An engineering firm has been fined for endangering workers over a long period by allowing them to use machinery on which vital safety devices had been disabled. Sunderland Magistrates' Court heard that Washington-based Penshaw Engineering Limited knowingly kept two computer-controlled lathes in use when interlock safety devices were not working. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector visited the site on 30 March 2011 and found that the safety devices had been disabled. The court was told the safety devices were designed to protect the workers from the moving parts of the machinery, by preventing dangerous machine movements when they were open. However, they had been disabled to allow workers to use the rotating lathe to polish components under production with emery cloth. Further investigation by HSE found that the safety devices had been disabled for around a year prior to the inspection, and that management were aware this had happened. The company had also been served with two improvement notices by HSE following an inspection in 2006 and had received advice on the disabling of interlocks on computer controlled machinery. Penshaw Engineering Limited after admitting a criminal safety offence. After the hearing HSE inspector Fiona McGarry, said: 'The circumstances in this case were made even worse by the fact that the company had previously been issued with improvement notices and had received advice relating to this very issue.'


The role of the occupational physician

A handy new guide to the role of occupational physicians has been published by the British Medical Association (BMA). BMA says: 'This guide provides up to date information on all aspects of occupational health including an explanation of the expected duties of occupational physicians and practical advice on specific aspects of the role, such as conducting health assessments and providing advice on sickness absence.' Although BMA says the intended audience for 'The Occupational Physician' is occupational physicians, employers and organisations offering occupational health services, it is also an extremely useful resource for union safety reps, providing clear guidance on the rules covering referrals to occupational physicians, related ethical issues and good practice. The guide also includes a useful summary on the regulations on access to medical records and issues including sickness absence and ill-health retirement.

International News

Global: Official agencies stung into asbestos action

A United Nations health agency, stung by allegations it had too close a relationship with the asbestos industry, has issued a statement confirming its support for an end to all asbestos use. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO), was responding to a 2 February article in the medical journal The Lancet, which reported concerns that the agency was 'open to accusations that range from the relatively benign charge of poor judgment to allegations of corporate capture by the asbestos industry' (Risks 592).The response, which came in a 19 February joint statement from IARC and WHO, notes that 'stopping the use of all forms of asbestos is the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.' The original Lancet article was prompted by a 13 December 2012 letter to IARC signed by top occupational and public health specialists. It raised concerns about IARC's participation in what it believed to be an industry dominated asbestos conference in Kiev. The paper to be presented by IARC, the letter said, under-estimated considerably the lung cancer risk posed by chyrsotile asbestos. Canadian human rights expert Kathleen Ruff, a signatory to the letter, commented: 'This joint statement from the WHO and IARC exposes the deadly deception of the campaign being waged by the asbestos industry to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being put on the Rotterdam Convention's list of hazardous substances, as the Convention's expert scientific committee has repeatedly recommended.' The next meeting to discuss the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the convention's list of highly dangerous substances that require 'prior informed consent' of an importing nation starts on 28 April.

Global: Chemical controls necessary to protect health

Industrial chemicals found in common household products may cause breast cancer, asthma, infertility and birth defects, global health chiefs have warned. These endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) - used in toys, PVC flooring, car dashboards and thousands of other products - have 'serious implications' for health, the report notes. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report indicates a ban could be necessary. WHO's Dr Maria Neira said: 'WHO will work with partners to establish research priorities to investigate links to EDCs and human health impacts in order to mitigate the risks. We all have a responsibility to protect future generations.' The report comes on the heels of an academic study linking this group of chemicals to greatly elevated breast cancer risks in a wide range of jobs (Risks 583). The WHO report estimates that as much as 24 per cent of human diseases and disorders are due at least in part to environmental factors which include chemical exposures. It notes: 'Many endocrine diseases and disorders are on the rise and the speed at which they are increasing rules out genetic factors as the sole plausible explanation'. The report says that ''it is critical to move beyond the piecemeal, one chemical at a time, one disease at a time, one dose approach currently used by scientists studying animal models, humans or wildlife. Understanding the effects of the mixtures of chemicals to which humans and wildlife are exposed is increasingly important.' Welcoming the report, the UK-based Alliance for Cancer Prevention said 'we look forward to seeing action in response to the report's call for reducing the exposures to EDCs by a variety of measures.' The statement continued: 'Initiatives such as introducing Toxics Use Reduction legislation, promoting green chemistry and substitution, and a precautionary approach in regulating EDCs could be immediate responses, coupled with a coherent and effective EU EDC strategy on banning, phase out and eliminating human exposure to EDCs.'

USA: Stronger chemical laws 'spur innovation'

Stronger laws to regulate hazardous chemicals spur innovation, with potential benefits for national economies, as well as human health and the environment, according to a new report. 'Driving innovation: How stronger laws help bring safer chemicals to market', published by the Washington DC-based Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), concludes that tougher rules to manage chemicals at the global, regional and national levels have sparked the continuous invention of safer chemicals, accelerating the pace at which safer alternatives are developed, and pulled them into the market. 'Our study finds that stronger laws governing hazardous chemicals can not only drive innovation, but also create a safer marketplace,' said Baskut Tuncak, staff attorney at CIEL and author of the report. 'Well-designed laws spark the invention of alternatives and further help level the playing field to enable safer chemicals to overcome barriers to entry, such as economies of scale enjoyed by chemicals already on the market and the externalised costs of hazardous chemicals on human health.' The report highlights the human health-related costs of intrinsically hazardous chemicals, such as endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, and recommends their systematic phase-out under international laws. It calls for 'internalisation' of the cost of hazardous chemicals by industry, including proving the safety of chemicals on the market and for stronger treaties to create a level playing field globally.

USA: Union calls for breast cancer action

A union representing workers across the USA and Canada has issued an action call to its union reps on occupational breast cancer risk. The union USW issued the hazards alert after a paper published in November 2012 warned a 'toxic soup' of chemical exposures in agriculture, plastics, food packaging, metal manufacture and the bar and gambling industry was placing women at an increased risk of breast cancer (Risks 583). Women employed for 10 years in some of these sectors had more than twice the normal chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. For younger pre-menopausal women, working in factories producing plastic components for cars or tin cans increased the risk five-fold. All these occupations involve exposure to potential carcinogens or 'endocrine disrupter' chemicals that interfere with the body's natural hormone systems. The USW hazard alert calls on union reps to 'educate our members about the health hazards of chemicals; use our collective voice to win health and safety improvements in our workplaces, such as substituting less hazardous chemicals or using engineering and design controls to prevent worker exposures to harmful chemicals; and tell our elected representatives that we support reforming outdated chemical laws.'

Events and Courses

TUC courses for safety reps


Blacklist Support Group AGM, 23 March 2013

The Blacklist Support Group's annual general meeting, which will take place in London on Saturday, 23 March, will be the 'largest meeting of blacklisted workers ever assembled in one place.' The group says attendees will 'discuss the ongoing campaign against the illegal construction industry blacklist in the courts, in parliament, with the unions and on sites.' Speakers include general secretaries Len McCluskey of Unite, Paul Kenny of GMB and Steve Murphy of UCATT. Also addressing the event will be labour rights expert Professor Keith Ewing and leading employment rights lawyer John Hendy QC.

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