Risks 597 - 16 March 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 healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk

Union News

Unions must fight for safety in a 'hostile' climate

A 'hostile' political climate is jeopardising hard won safety improvements at work, the TUC has warned. Launching the new edition of its bestselling safety publication Hazards at work last week, TUC said the government's disdain for workplace safety had resulted in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) being barred from making unannounced visits to most workplaces. On top of this, HSE is in the middle of a cuts programme that will lop 35 per cent off its budget. TUC has called for a change of direction from the government, after latest death at work statistics showed the fatality rate remained at the same elevated level in 2011/12, up over 17 per cent on the record low figure in 2009/10. It is also urging union reps to get hold of a copy of the 2013 edition of Hazards at work, so they can use the 448-page guide to find their own solutions to health and safety problems at work. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'This guide is an essential tool for union safety reps and employers and has never been more badly needed. The government seems determined to water down health and safety laws despite recent increases in workplace fatalities. It seems incredible that ministers seem unconcerned by the cut in the number of workplace inspections at a time when more people are dying and getting injured at work.' She added: 'Protection is more important now than ever and this book is one of the best tools for understanding, assessing and dealing with health and safety issues.'

Safety is not just 'nice', it is necessary

When the TUC's new assistant general secretary took up his post, he didn't imagine workplace health and safety would be top of his to-do list - but it was. According to Paul Nowak: 'Given all that is going on in the world with unemployment, cuts, pensions, attacks on trade union rights and the general fall in living standards for everyone who is not a banker or company director, it may seem strange that one small decision has got me hot under the collar, that is the decision to remove an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) to the Management Regulations.' But unions had been quick to draw the dangers to his attention. 'Getting rid of some code of practice may not seem a big thing but safety professionals, campaign groups and trade unionists are enraged that, after consulting on whether to withdraw it, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has decided to ignore the views of the large majority of respondents who wanted to keep this ACoP and have instead decided to bin it,' he said. It is the code, which HSE wants to replace with guidance, that spells out employers' risk assessment duties. 'Replacing an ACoP with guidance is simply downgrading it and giving it 'nice to have' status,' he said. He is dismayed by the move, which he believes is a response to the government's demand for deregulation, noting 'no convincing reason has been given for ditching it. It just seems to be a case of 'we have been told to get rid of as much regulation as we can and this is one of the low hanging ones we can pick off easily'.' The new assistant general secretary is urging anyone who shares his concerns to sign up to an online petition opposing ditching the code. It is the initiative of another concerned organisation, IOSH, the institution representing health and safety professionals (Risks 595).

Blacklister Balfour Beatty is sorry it got caught

The head of construction giant Balfour Beatty has told MPs he regrets the firm getting caught blacklisting safety and union activists, but seemed less concerned about the blacklisting itself. In 12 March evidence to a House of Commons' Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry, Mike Peasland, the company's chief executive officer (CEO), claimed 'I don't know' in response to a series of questions from MPs about what information was fed to covert blacklister The Consulting Association, when and by whom. The firm has also refused to hand over to MPs the report of Balfour Beatty's internal probe into its involvement in the blacklisting scandal. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, who attended the hearing, commented: 'When pressed on whether they discriminated against safety representatives Mr Peasland seemed quite indignant. No-one would ever be victimised for 'genuine' safety concerns, only if they were 'hiding behind health and safety'. He stressed time and again that safety was a top priority and they had an exemplary safety record.' The TUC safety specialist checked up on this record 'and found that over the period since 1999 the Balfour Beatty group of companies had 16 prosecutions, nine prohibition notices and seven improvement notices served on them.' He added: 'It finally became clear that, far from having any moral objections around the principle of blacklisting, Balfour Beatty only gave it up when ordered to do so. Mr Peasland even admitted that they got a service from The Consulting Association that they were happy with, and his concern was over the methodology, not the principle.' Steve Acheson of the Blacklist Support Group, who was blacklisted by Balfour Beatty after raising safety concerns on site, commented: 'They had no morals about sentencing my family to financial hardship. Mike Peasland's performance was like watching an unrepentant mafia godfather: Don Corleone had a similar moral code.'

Union protest in Dundee over blacklisting

Over 200 construction workers joined a 9 March demonstration in Dundee to protest at the blacklist used by major firms to weed out workers who had raised safety concerns at work. They want the Scottish government to launch an inquiry into the practice in Scotland. It is thought the names of several hundred Scottish construction workers appeared on a secret list discovered in a 2009 raid on covert blacklister, The Consulting Association. Unite regional industrial officer Rab Sherry said: 'We're only beginning to scratch the surface of what is nothing short of a national scandal and the rally represents a step-up of activity in our pursuit for justice and legislative change. It's not just a matter for Westminster to address; the Scottish government must start tightening its procurement policies to prevent known blacklisting companies from tendering and profiteering from future public contracts.' He added: 'They can also set-up an independent inquiry into the extent of the blacklisting scandal in addition to publishing the information we know it already holds on the issue. Nothing less will suffice.' The union official, who himself was blacklisted, concluded: 'Unite is laying down the gauntlet to the Scottish government on blacklisting: Which side are you on? If the political will is there they can work with this campaign to tackle the scourge of blacklisting and help bring to an end this insidious practice.' Scottish ministers said they were awaiting a report by the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, which has been investigating blacklisting across the UK.

Academics stressed by out of control workloads

A survey of more than 14,000 higher education staff in the UK has found academics and academic-related staff are increasingly stressed by a loss of control over the way they work. The research, carried out by the union UCU, found that stress caused by a perceived lack of control at work has increased among higher education staff over the four years from 2008 to 2012. The report also names and shames a group of 20 universities where staff are most likely to report they lacked autonomy in their day-to-day working lives. Using a standard Health and Safety Executive questionnaire, the survey found staff have become more stressed about a perceived lack of control over how they plan and time their workload over the past four years. UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, linked the change to a 'managerial culture' involving a 'damaging level of micro-management.' She said: 'The overall trend for academics to feel they have less control of their work over the past four years is worrying but may be partly attributable to pressures resulting from the Research Excellence Framework. The problem is very much focused in particular universities that are using management techniques designed for businesses that have nothing in common with education.'

'Grave concern' about further coastguard cuts

The government's refusal to rule out further cuts to coastguard stations is a 'grave concern', the union PCS has said. In response to a recommendation from the House of Commons transport select committee calling on the government to 'rule out further [coastguard station] closures in the foreseeable future and confirm that the new arrangements...are intended to last for a generation,' the government instead stated: 'No government committed to excellent public services could guarantee that there will be no further change 'for a generation'.' The government response came despite severe criticism from coastguard staff and MPs over existing plans to close half of the UK's coastguard stations. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the service was already struggling to retain suitably skilled coastguard staff. He added: 'After all the justified criticism the government has received, its refusal to commit to no further coastguard cuts in the coming years is of grave concern. Ministers are already facing a staffing crisis and now risk destabilising this emergency service even further.'

Unions welcome government defeat on payouts

A decision by peers to throw out a government plan that would have denied some injured workers compensation has been hailed as a 'victory for common sense' by unions. Ministers had wanted to end 'civil liability' on employers, meaning compensation for workplace injuries or ill-health would only be payable if negligence was established, even where the employer was found to be in breach of criminal safety duties. But in a report stage debate last week on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, peers voted 225 to 223 to reject wholesale the change (Risks 596). Welcoming the vote, PCS said if the clause had come into law the 'onus would fall detrimentally and unfairly on to the injured worker, or their surviving loved ones in cases of fatality, to prove employer negligence,' adding it would 'make it even harder to claim compensation.' UNISON said the rejection by peers of the change was 'a victory for common sense.' Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, said: 'This damaging clause would have made it much harder for workers to win compensation for workplace injuries and sent a green light to irresponsible employers to disregard the law.' The government has now to decide whether to reintroduce the clause when the Bill returns to the House of Commons for its final stage in parliament.

Wrists at risk wherever you work

Two cases where workers in very different industries suffered broken wrists show it is bad management and not any unavoidable risk of the job that causes workplace injuries. Unite member Ian Jones suffered such a bad break to his wrist in a fall at a Heinz factory in Wigan that he was unable to return to work. The 66-year-old tripped on a bolt which was protruding from the floor in the factory's manufacturing department. The fracture failed to heal after six weeks in plaster, so the maintenance electrician had a bone graft from his pelvis to fuse the wrist. Heinz admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £16,500. In a second case, a prison worker's left wrist was fractured when it was crushed by a broken down workplace van. The 28-year-old PCS member, an operational support worker from Leeds, was off work for more than four months following the incident in February 2011 at HMP Wealstun, Wetherby. He was trying to connect a tow rope to the van when the vehicle suddenly moved forward, crushing his hand between the van and a fork lift truck. The driver of the van had failed to apply the hand brake. The PCS member, whose name has not been released, suffered a fractured left wrist and ligament damage. His wrist needed seven different plaster casts to help it heal and he eventually had surgery to pin the bone. He was off work for more than four months and has since changed jobs. HM Prison Service admitted liability and agreed an undisclosed out-of-court payout.

Other news

Growth yes - but not at the cost of our safety

The government is pandering to the business lobby at the expense of workplace safety, the TUC has warned. The union body was speaking out after an 8 March invitation from business minister Michael Fallon to 'businesses and regulators' to help fashion a 'growth duty' for regulators - a proposed legally-binding measure that 'will require regulators to take into account the impact of their activities on the economic prospects of firms they regulate.' A BIS news release announcing the quickie six week consultation, 'Non-economic Regulators: Duty to Have Regard to Growth', which 'businesses are invited' to consider ahead of a 19 April deadline, said: 'The proposed 'growth duty' will ensure that enforcement activity of these regulators, including the Health and Safety Executive, Environment Agency and Highways Agency, imposes minimum burdens that could hold businesses back, while upholding the highest standards of public protection.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'High quality, safe work will help promote growth, but it is a pleasant addition to the greater benefit of having a happy healthy population. To achieve that we need strong, properly enforced regulation.' He added: 'If on the other hand we believe that regulation is simply there to promote business and help profitability then we might as well just hand over regulation-setting to the CBI. Mind you, they seem to be almost doing that, as the press release announcing the consultation exercise asks for the views of business, but not of workers or the public. That says it all really.' A commentary in Hazards magazine noted: 'Improving the 'economic prospects' of firms by slackening regulatory controls doesn't reduce costs, it shifts them.' Most of the cost of companies' safety shortcomings are carried by individuals, communities and the public purse, it concluded.

Report exposes official safety inspection deceit

A government relaxation of safety regulation in the workplace, scheduled to accelerate in the name business 'growth', will have costly consequences for workers, communities and the public purse, a new report has warned. In 2011, the government demanded a dramatic reduction in the number of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) workplace safety inspections nationwide, the move supposed to allow resources to be concentrated on 'high risk' employers. But official figures obtained by Hazards magazine, which this week published the 'Work rules' report, reveal that while unannounced HSE inspections overall have dropped by over a third since 2011, inspections in high risk workplaces have fallen too. The HSE figures obtained by Hazards show the highest risk firms, those covered by the safety watchdog's Hazardous Installations Directorate (HID), fell by almost 40 per cent. The official statistics show HSE created 3,622 inspection records in 2010/11, this dropping to 2,219 in 2011/12. There was only a marginal (3 per cent) increase in HID 'regulatory activity' recorded by HSE over the period. Inspections by HSE's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) also fell, down from 2,092 in 2010/11 to 2,075 in 2011/12. The 'Work rules' report warns that last year's deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreaks in Edinburgh and Stoke-on-Trent and the ongoing horsemeat scandal exposed the pitfalls of relaxing statutory oversight of businesses. Both scandals led to a reversal in long-term cuts to inspections. 'Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted is no way to set regulatory policy,' the report notes. 'But disaster management seems to be the only evidence-based strategy this government has on offer.' The report is critical of a government plan to introduce a 'growth duty' on regulators. 'It is unlikely the 'growth duty' would be good for the long-term interests of business - safety is good for the bottom line - but it is certain it would be bad for the rest of us,' it concludes.

  • Work rules, Hazards magazine special report, 13 March 2013.

Insiders criticise 'dire' occupational health system

The problems of poor care uncovered by the inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust (Risks 593) are a consequence of the 'brutalisation' of NHS staff, an anonymous whistleblower has claimed. Writing in the British Medical Journal the occupational health physician, who worked at several NHS trusts, said he believed severe work pressures and poor management have not been taken seriously enough by NHS managers. Levels of occupational health problems were higher in the NHS than industry, the doctor added, and 'responsibilities for overseeing safe working practices were not delegated to people who had the necessary authority,' the whistleblower said. The letter to BMJ concludes: 'The factors I have identified have led to the brutalisation of some NHS staff so that they no longer respond appropriately to distress in their patients, as recorded in the inquiry into what happened at Mid Staffs. If we wish healthcare staff to behave with compassion they must be treated with such.' In a response in BMJ to the anonymous letter, former Health and Safety Executive (HSE) occupational physician Morris Greenberg said the 'movement to establish statutory Occupational Health Services in the UK' had started in 1949 and had culminated in the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act. 'Unfortunately, the seed of deregulation was introduced which allowed outsourcing to wax and policing to wane,' he wrote. 'The acceptance of the gross decline in the UK's occupational health practice firmly indicates the disrespect with which it is held. Nothing short of a ministerial inquiry will remedy the dire state of health and safety at work, whether in office, shop, factory or hospital.'

Revised 'fit note' guidance launched

Staff on sick leave will have better support to get back into work through new fit note guidance, the government has said. It says the guidance advises doctors on how they can give the most useful advice about what patients can do at work and how they can return to the workplace as soon as possible. Advice could include exploring a period of home working or different ways of working. Dr Bill Gunnyeon, chief medical adviser for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said: 'The fit note can be valuable in helping people return to work quickly and avoid long-term absence and potential job loss - this revised guidance helps doctors, employers and patients use it to its full potential.' The guidance clarifies that the fit note is about someone's general fitness for work and is not tied to their most recent job, allowing flexibility to discuss what changes could help someone do some work. It includes clarification about the legal status of the fit note in relation to sick pay, situations where an employer cannot make any changes, and non-medical problems at work. Last week, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), the College of Occupational Therapists and the Society of Chiropody and Podiatrists launched their own guide, which they say 'will help GPs and employers to focus on what a patient can do at work as part of their rehabilitation after illness, injury or recovery from treatment.'

Sickness win for agency worker

Agency workers are set to have better anti-discrimination rights after an Employment Tribunal awarded an agency worker who went sick a £35,892.08 payout for disability discrimination and unfair dismissal. The tribunal case, funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, heard that agency worker Corinda Pegg had been dismissed after 44 weeks service with Camden Council due to absences caused by depression. After a series of bereavements she was absent from work for a week receiving mental health residential care. On her return to work she was sometimes late and, when questioned by her manager, explained that this was due to her disability. The case went to an Employment Appeal Tribunal on the legal question of whether equality law protects agency workers from being discriminated against by the organisation to which they are supplied. The judge said that, as Ms Pegg was under an obligation to work for Camden Council, it was subject to a legal duty not to discriminate. The compensation was awarded when the case returned for a full Employment Tribunal hearing. EHRC's Wendy Hewitt said: 'This case clarifies that agency workers are entitled to the same degree of protection from discrimination at their place of work as permanent employees.'

Welcome for Labour's migrant worker pledge

Construction union UCATT has welcomed Labour Party plans to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers. The pledge to extend employment protection to cover more vulnerable workers came in a party political broadcast by Labour leader Ed Miliband last week and in a 7 March speech from shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper. The proposals include extending the Gangmasters Act to cover construction and other sectors and making it illegal for employers to cram migrants into unsuitable and expensive accommodation. Yvette Cooper said: 'We need tighter enforcement of labour market rules to avoid exploitation and prevent undercutting.' She added: 'Last month 15 UK dairy farms were found guilty of using illegal labourers hired through gangmasters. The workers were housed in disgraceful accommodation previously used for animals, and paid £400-£500 less than the minimum wage each month. Yet for that abuse, they were fined only £300 each - less than they saved in a month on every illegal worker they exploited.' Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'These policy proposals will help to stamp out exploitation in industries such as construction, creating a fair playing field for all workers. Companies who act correctly will have nothing to fear, while rogue employers will be prevented from causing misery.'

MPs raise concerns about port safety

Most UK's sea ports are failing to submit reports on their safety performance, accident statistics are inadequate and too few resources are devoted to the industry, a committee of MPs has said. Ports are required to confirm that they are complying with the Port Marine Safety Code every three years but the Commons transport committee said this was requirement was overlooked by most ports. The committee added that organisations representing marine pilots, who guide ships in and out of ports, said they lacked confidence in the Department for Transport (DfT).They said the Port Marine Safety Code was praised as a world leader but scant resources were devoted to monitoring code compliance. Committee chair Louise Ellman, a Labour MP, said that although ports had a good safety record 'when problems occur, there can be terrible consequences in terms of loss of life, pollution and damage to property.' She said: 'We cannot tell to what extent ports follow government guidance on port safety because most fail to confirm to government that they comply with the guidance. There are also few publicly available statistics about accidents and near-misses in ports. This has to change.' The committee called for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to increase port inspection frequency to eight times a year. It added that ports should be required to publish statistics on accidents and near-misses. Commenting on the findings, RMT general secretary Bob Crow told the Morning Star: 'The drive to cut staff, slash budgets and chip away at safety standards is storing up a major tragedy and this timely report should set the alarm bells ringing and decisive action is required before it is too late.'

Pie factory death fine will go unpaid

A defunct pie manufacturer fined after a worker died in an oven explosion is unlikely to pay up, despite a new operation run by the same man and employing the same staff taking over its business. Huddersfield firm Andrew Jones Pies, which is now in administration, was fined £250,000 at York Crown Court and ordered to pay £124,896 in costs. Imposing the penalty, the judge said the company had 'failed dismally' and that, though he understood the company was not in a position to pay the fines and costs, his judgment reflected the level of failings by the company. The explosion at Andrew Jones Pies happened on 10 April 2009 after baker David Cole made repeated attempts to light the 30-year-old oven, unaware that more and more gas was building up to a critical flashpoint inside the baking chamber. When the gas did ignite, the blast blew the large oven door off its hinges hitting Mr Cole. The 37-year-old baker, who was standing in front of the oven, was hit by the door and then trapped when part of the roof collapsed. Mr Cole, who had worked for the company for 12 years, was pronounced dead at the scene. A colleague, Marcus Cartwright, was also badly injured. The company, which had been in business since 2005, was charged in August 2012 after going into administration 15 months earlier. Prior to the explosion it has never been inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the safety watchdog admitted to Hazards magazine (Risks 402). The assets of Andrew Jones (Pies) Ltd have since been sold to a new company called AJ Pies and Pastries Ltd, also run by Andrew Jones and which has retained the same staff.

Farm owner sentenced over tractor death

The co-owner of a Lakeland farm has been sentenced after an employee was found dead under the wheel of a tractor. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Stuart Webster following the death of Thomas Phizacklea at Aurora Park Farm in Scales near Ulverston. The body of the 34-year-old was discovered on 2 July 2009. Barrow Crown Court was told that the 27-year-old tractor was in a poor condition, there had been problems starting it in the past and the handbrake did not work. An HSE investigation concluded the most likely explanation for Mr Phizacklea's death was that he left the tractor running in neutral without the handbrake on as he got out of the cab to walk around the vehicle. His body was found trapped between the front offside wheel and a mound of earth, after the tractor rolled forwards. Stuart Webster, 49, pleaded guilty to criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to ensure the tractor was in good working order. He was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £29,184 in prosecution costs. Mr Phizacklea's widow, Laura, 31, said: 'At the time of Tom's death, I was ten weeks pregnant with our fourth child. I couldn't face going home without him so we stayed at mum and dad's until after Tomasina was born.' She added: 'People deserve to be kept safe and looked after when they go to work but Tom wasn't. He needed the job to care for me and the children but it cost him his life.' Thomas Phizacklea was one of 39 farm workers to be killed at work in Great Britain in 2009/10. Nearly 500 people also suffered a reported major injury. Farms are not subject to preventive HSE inspections.


Workers' Memorial Day, 28 April 2013

TUC has added a Workers' Memorial Day facebook events page to its resources for health and safety's big day. The 28 April event is the biggest single workplace safety activity on the calendar, and is the day unions and safety campaigners worldwide pledge to 'Remember the dead and fight for the living'. Also now available is the Hazards 2013 Workers' Memorial Day poster.

International News

Canada: Court recognises diesel cancer

A mining union has welcomed a decision by the Superior Court in Quebec, Canada, which has recognised the diesel exhaust-related lung cancer suffered by a mining worker as an occupational disease. 'This is a very important decision, because it's the first time that a causal link between lung cancer and diesel smoke exposure has been recognised,' said union representative Marc Thibodeau. 'It should lead to major changes in ventilation conditions in underground mines. Now that employers know that they will be held responsible for workers who develop cancer, they will definitely be more careful.' The Superior Court confirmed lower court rulings of Quebec's occupational health and safety commission - the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) - and employment injury commission. The case was taken on behalf of Claude Fortin, who was employed by the mining company Iamgold. He died in 2009, but the ruling means his family will be entitled to receive compensation from CSST. 'I would like to emphasise the strong courage demonstrated by Claude Fortin, now deceased, as he relentlessly defended his case. Underground miners owe him a great debt of gratitude. Employers will no longer be able to get away with blaming pre-existing conditions for the cancers their workers develop. Clear case law has now been established,' said Thibodeau. An expert panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a United Nations body, announced in June 2012 that diesel fume had been reclassified as a top rated 'Group 1' carcinogen (Risks 560).

Europe: Agreement to 'eradicate' asbestos for good

The European Parliament has agreed to 'eradicate' asbestos by 2028. The resolution, adopted by the parliament on 14 March with a 558 to 51 majority, calls for the implementation of a co-ordinated European Union (EU) strategy to remove all asbestos. The strategy should include a screening and registration programme for public buildings containing asbestos, as well as a roadmap for its removal. Stephen Hughes MEP, who is vice-president of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, initiated the resolution. He said despite a growing number of bans, asbestos remains in millions of buildings, office and ships worldwide. He said he was 'very glad that the Parliament has today set a clear deadline for the total eradication of asbestos by 2028. With such a large majority of this house supporting my report we have sent a strong signal to the European Commission. It must now act.' The MEP added: 'The younger generation of workers are not necessarily aware of the dangers of asbestos. All types of asbestos are dangerous. That's why we are urging the Commission to present a specific directive so that workers who remove it are well-trained and qualified.' According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are between 20,000 and 30,000 cases of asbestos-related disease recorded every year in the EU alone. WHO's worldwide figure, which many believe to be an under-estimate, puts the toll at over 100,000 deaths a year.

Global: Failed auditing model led to 400 deaths

The 'blind faith' companies showed in a failed auditing model resulted in more than 400 garment worker deaths, labour right groups have said. 'Fatal fashion', a new report by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), analysed the causes of two deadly factory fires in the export-oriented garment industry in Bangladesh and Pakistan. In September 2012, a fire raged at Ali Enterprises in Karachi killing nearly 300 workers. In November 2012, a fire at Tazreen Fashions Limited in Dhaka killed 112. The companies both produced garments for well-known clothing brands and retailers, including KIK, C&A, and Walmart. Both factories had been subjected to factory audits by the brands or social audit firms. According to CCC and SOMO, the tragedies 'are symptomatic of an ailing system. They reflect systemic flaws on the level of government protection of human rights, a deathly reliance of international brands on a failed auditing model where even the absence of a fire exit remains unaddressed, and a gross disrespect shown by the garment industry for workers' rights.' Martje Theuws from SOMO said: 'The report demonstrates that companies and governments knew about the risks, but failed to take sufficient measures to prevent the fires from happening or to address the needs of the victims afterwards. Governments and companies should act in accordance with the internationally recognised state duty to protect human rights and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, as laid down in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.' The groups warn that 'unless there is a real game-change, death by factory fire is inevitable.'

Global: New global chemicals regime is needed

A new comprehensive global chemicals agreement is needed to safeguard people and the environment, a report has concluded. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) said existing global agreements for chemicals management fall short, with only 22 hazardous chemicals currently managed throughout their lifecycle at the global level. Their report, 'Paths to global chemical safety: The 2020 goal and beyond', says the four principal international agreements in force - the Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam Conventions and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) - are not adequate, even if fully implemented, to protect human health and the environment from the risks of dangerous chemicals. 'A comprehensive chemicals regime is necessary at the global level to ensure present and future generations enjoy the right to a healthy environment,' said Baskut Tuncak, staff attorney at CIEL and author of the report. 'The current piecemeal approach of ensuring chemical safety is grossly inadequate to protect people and the environment, and cannot provide a level playing field for businesses operating in a globalised marketplace.' SSNC president Dr Mikael Karlsson said Europe had taken a lead on laws governing chemical use, but added: 'A comprehensive chemicals convention would establish global standards and enable countries to enact legislation to this effect.'

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