Risks 606 - 25 May 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

Tell retailers to sign the safety plan

The TUC is urging major UK high street brands to stop dragging their feet and sign up to a safety deal fashioned after a devastating garment factory collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1,100 workers. In response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory, IndustriALL, the global union for garment workers, and UNI global, representing retail workers, developed an Accord on Fire and Building Safety (Risks 605). According to the TUC: 'Signing the Accord commits companies to fund an independent safety inspector body that will involve workers in the process, through their unions, and to make long term deals with suppliers, offering more secure employment and training for workers. As such it represents a big deal for Bangladeshi workers.' The union body said the safety accord has already been signed by over 30 major retailers. 'However, a number of High Street brands who manufacture in Bangladesh still haven't signed. Prominent amongst these are Debenhams and Gap, and it would be great to bring them on board as well.' The union is urging members and consumers to sign up to an online letter to both Debenhams and Gap. 'We need to increase the pressure on them, whilst they are still in the media spotlight. Getting these companies on board from the outset will help ensure that even more workers in Bangladesh will be protected by improved working conditions,' TUC said.

Crossrail contractor faces blacklisting action

Union members protested this week outside the London Central Employment Tribunal in support of a Unite rep who lost his job after raising safety concerns. In September 2012, Frank Morris was sacked from the Crossrail project along with 28 electrical workers from the subcontractor EIS. He believes the Crossrail consortium Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) terminated the EIS contract because of trade union activity and whistleblowing. Unite says Frank Morris was blacklisted originally after raising health and safety concerns on the London Olympics site. It adds 'Frank Morris is now the victim of another blacklisting conspiracy by the construction consortium BFK.' The Unite-backed legal case recommenced at the London Central Employment Tribunal on 21 May. The claim is being brought under the blacklisting regulations introduced in April 2010 after the covert blacklisting outfit, The Consulting Association, was raided in 2009 by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and a blacklist was discovered. Bam and Kier were subscribers to The Consulting Association's services. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: 'Unite is behind Frank Morris 100 per cent. There is meaningful evidence that blacklisting continues, even on Crossrail - Britain's most high profile construction project.' He added: 'Blacklisting is a national scandal and Unite is determined to stamp out this practice because it ruins lives and has no place in a modern society.' Roy Bentham of the Blacklist Support Group said: 'Frank Morris has suffered dismissal, abuse and even violence because he stood up for his fellow workers. His fight to expose the blacklist is an inspiration. The Blacklist Support Group will continue our campaign until we achieve justice for Frank and all the blacklisted union members.'

Union appeal for injured blacklisted activist

A union appeal fund has been set up for anti-blacklisting campaigner George Tapp, who was mown down at a demonstration by a hit and run driver. The Unite member was involved in a protest at a site operated by construction firm Bam in Manchester last week. A Ford Ka was driven at the demonstrators and Mr Tapp and another protester were carried 100 metres on the vehicle's bonnet before being hurled into the road. The car driver did not stop. Mr Tapp suffered two broken legs and head injuries. He is expected to be in hospital for eight weeks. The demonstrators were targeting a £100 million redevelopment of Manchester City FC's training stadium being carried out by Bam, one of the firms named in the blacklisting scandal. Salford Trades Union Council has launched an appeal fund for Mr Tapp, which has so far raised hundreds of pounds. A police account of the incident in which Mr Tapp was injured has been described as 'bizarre' and 'ridiculous' by witnesses. A statement from Greater Manchester Police described it as a 'collision between a blue Ford Ka and 64-year-old man'. Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson said that protesters had climbed onto the bonnet of the car before it ran George down. Eyewitness Alex Halligan described police account as 'disgraceful' and said it had 'no bearing to reality'. Salford UNISON rep Steve North said it that was 'ridiculous' to suggest that George was on the bonnet - adding that union solicitors were looking into the matter.

Train drivers concerned over makeshift shrines

The appearance of makeshift shrines at the site of rail tragedies is distressing for train drivers and not an appropriate way to pay tribute to the dead, the rail union ASLEF has said. The union says these unofficial memorials, which often include flowers, scarves and soft toys, appear after deaths and on anniversaries. ASLEF's officer in Scotland Kevin Lindsay said: 'These floral tributes are a reminder of fatalities on the railway and often drivers endure flashbacks to other fatalities. No-one wishes to come to work and be reminded that someone has died there.' He added: 'Often drivers suffer extreme reactions to fatalities and never return to driving. As a union, we respect the right of families to mourn and believe Network Rail should have a memorial at a major station which families can use as a focal point for their grief.' A report in the Scotsman newspaper notes: 'About 24 people a year are killed on Scotland's railways, most of them suicides. Many train drivers witness such incidents and some leave their job as a result.' The Samaritans say that trackside shrines can lead to an increase in suicidal behaviour, the paper reported.

Danger warning on fire safety report

A government-commissioned review of the future of the fire service is really a Trojan horse for further damaging cuts, unions have warned. The TUC said Sir Ken Knight's review was produced 'simply to provide cover' for the next wave of government's attacks. Addressing the conference of firefighters' union FBU this week, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'Sir Ken's report highlights that fewer people are now making calls to the fire service but this is mostly down to the preventative work that firefighters are doing out in the community. Further cuts will simply put all this valuable work in jeopardy.' Warning 'cuts cost lives', she added: 'The review is effectively giving the government cover to embark on yet another round of damaging cuts to our fire service. Central government funding is already being slashed by 25 per cent and some 1,500 firefighter posts were cut in the first year of the coalition alone. Response times are now two minutes slower than they were a decade ago.' The TUC would support an FBU campaign against government plans to make firefighters work until they are 60 (Risks 596), she said. 'These changes would introduce a fitness regime that is simply not workable, one which potentially discriminates against women and which could see thousands of dedicated firefighters facing the sack. This is simply not acceptable and the TUC stands ready to assist the FBU in any way it can.' FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'The review of the fire and rescue service by Ken Knight is just a fig leaf for slashing our fire and rescue service to bits.'

Retired shipyard worker gets lung disease

A former Tyneside shipyard worker has developed a disabling lung condition caused by asbestos. GMB member Thomas Hepple, 72, from North Shields, was diagnosed with pleural thickening - a debilitating lung disease - after suffering severe chest pain and breathlessness in May 2010. A shipyard worker on Tyneside, he was employed as a labourer by three different shipyards during the 1950s and 1960s. He was exposed to the deadly dust while working alongside laggers who were using asbestos on the ships. He was never given protective equipment nor warned that he might be at risk. The condition has left Thomas unable to walk further than 100 metres and he struggles to climb the stairs in his home. Solicitors brought in by the GMB have now secured an undisclosed provisional settlement for Mr Hepple that will still allow him to make a further claim for compensation if his condition worsens in the future or he develops a more serious form of asbestos-related disease. Mr Hepple said: 'This has left me virtually housebound. I can't walk very far and even on short trips have to really pace myself. I worry about the future and if I'll develop a cancer like mesothelioma.'

Other news

Pressure and job insecurity hits a 20-year high

British workers are feeling less secure and more pressured at work than at any time in the past 20 years, with pay cuts and diminished control over their jobs among the biggest concerns, according to a national survey of employees' wellbeing. More than 3,000 workers aged between 20 and 60 were interviewed in 2012 for the latest in a six-yearly Skills and Employment survey. The three reports arising out of the research published this week show that in 2012 people were working harder and faster. 'Work intensification', which was previously rife in the early 1990s, has resumed since 2006. Both the speed of work and pressures of working to tight deadlines have risen to record highs. Some 40 per cent of workers said they worked at very high speeds 75 per cent or more of their working time, against 23 per cent in 1997 and 38 per cent in 2001, while 58 per cent said they worked to tight deadlines. Technological change is a key factor, but work intensification was not found to be associated with downsizing. The study also found job stress has gone up and job-related well-being has gone down since 2006. Just under a third (31 per cent) said they were afraid of unfair treatment at work. The researchers also note that employees were more content and less anxious about job or status loss 'where employers adopted policies that gave employees a degree of involvement in decision-making at work.' Prof Alan Felstead of the Cardiff School of Social Sciences, who directs the research, said: 'The slowness with which employers in Britain are enhancing employee participation is becoming an issue of considerable concern.' He added: 'In general, better job control entails increased employee involvement and participation. The intention should be to improve the balance between the benefits of hard work and the costs.' Job insecurity is linked to higher rates of work-related injury and ill-health.

Haulier jailed for crush death at Ipswich docks

A haulier whose lorry loader tipped over and crushed a man to death at Ipswich Docks has been sentenced to 12 months in prison and fined £50,000. Paul Napier, 48, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Neville Wightman last month following a trial at Ipswich Crown Court. He had admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of Red & Marine employee Mr Wightman, 52, who was crushed to death, and his colleague Steven Burden, who was seriously injured in the incident, but had denied manslaughter. At a sentencing hearing last week, His Honour Judge Devaux said that after considering all the mitigating circumstances, 12 months was the shortest tariff he could impose. During the trial, the court was told that Napier had been grossly negligent by not taking the 'essential and elementary' step of extending stabilisers before using a crane to unload pontoons on 16 December 2011. A tearful Napier, who did not give evidence during the trial, addressed the court before the judge passed sentence. He said: 'I would just like to say how sorry I am to Neville's family for all the pain and grief I have caused them and also how sorry I am to Steve's family and Steve himself for the injuries he has sustained. I can't bear to think how hard it has been for them because I know how hard it has been for me the past 17 months.' After the guilty verdict in April, Health and Safety Executive inspector Antonina Drury said: 'This tragic incident could easily have been avoided had Paul Napier followed the basic rules of undertaking a safe lifting operation. Had he ensured that the right equipment was properly deployed, and had he kept everyone safely clear of the lifting zone until the load had been landed, then Mr Wightman would still be alive.'

Man jailed after worker dies in a fall

A County Durham man has been jailed and a Tyneside firm and one of its directors fined after a demolition worker fell to his death from a cherry picker that was knocked over by a falling roof beam. Ken Joyce was working for Allan Turnbull, trading as A&H Site Line Boring and Machining, when the incident happened on 2 December 2008. Mr Joyce was dismantling the structural steelwork of a roof at the Swan Hunter Shipyard in Wallsend, Newcastle. During a four-week trial at Newcastle Crown Court, a jury heard how the 53-year-old was working from a cherry picker when a girder struck its basket, knocking the equipment over. Mr Joyce fell to the ground below and suffered serious head injuries. He was pronounced dead soon after. A joint investigation carried out by Northumbria Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC) had sub-contracted the dismantling work to Allan Turnbull, 61. The jury was told that NEMOC and its director Christopher William Taylor, 51, failed to ensure the safety of its employees and subcontracted workers by neglecting to check that Mr Turnbull had the necessary competence to carry out the work. The police and HSE investigation also found that Allan Turnbull had failed to adequately plan the work. Allan Turnbull was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter. He had earlier pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of safety law. He was sentenced to three years in prison. North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC), which had been operating from the Swan Hunter Yard, was fined £1 for each offence after it was found guilty in absence of two criminal safety offences. The company is now in liquidation. Christopher William Taylor, 51, was found guilty of two criminal safety offences and fined £30,000 plus £50,000 costs. The case was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service.

'Unreasonable pressure' led to dentist's suicide

A dentist killed himself after facing 'unreasonable pressure' from health chiefs over standards of record keeping at his practice in Leeds, an inquest has heard. Dr Anand Kamath, 42, was under investigation at Rothwell Dental Surgery - which he ran with his wife and fellow dentist Dr Rajni Prasad. The inquest at Wakefield heard father-of-three Dr Kamath was in danger of being referred to the General Dental Council and feared for his career. Dr Kamath, who had injuries to his wrists, was found dead in the bath at his home in Pudsey on 3 December last year - just days after he and his wife had attended a meeting with the health trust on 28 November. The inquest heard how, following two minor complaints about the dental practice, Leeds primary care trust (PCT) decided to conduct an audit of 30 of the practice's patients. The audit uncovered shortcomings in record keeping. Citing expert evidence to the inquest, coroner David Hinchliff said: 'Unreasonable pressure exerted on him [Dr Kamath] by Leeds PCT appears to have pushed a good man over the edge.' Recording a verdict of suicide, Mr Hinchliff said: 'There had been a complaint and an investigation, not about his ability as a dentist, but in relation to record keeping which had put him and his wife under an intolerable strain. It seems he was in grave danger of being reported to the General Dental Council, being removed from the list of practitioners which would have ended his career. It appears all of this preyed on his mind and it just became too much and he had taken action to end his own life.'

Recycling giant fined for worker death failings

A temporary worker at one of the world's largest metal recycling firms was killed because of a failure to properly segregate people and moving vehicles, a court has heard. European Metal Recycling Limited, which operates across Europe, Asia and the Americas, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after Linas Mataitis, 25, from Mitcham, was struck by the bucket of a wheeled loading shovel. The incident occurred at EMR's site in Willesden during a shutdown clean-up on 18 July 2010. He sustained fatal injuries after being pushed and pinned against a steel column by the large, heavy vehicle. Southwark Crown Court was told Linas had joined the company two months earlier as a temporary worker. He was one of a team of workers using hand shovels to scrape and clear dirt near conveyors feeding a large shredder, creating piles for colleagues using machines to clear. The court heard a wheeled loading shovel was returning to be refilled for a fourth time when it struck Linas and crushed him against a conveyor support. European Metal Recycling Limited was fined £300,000 plus £72,901 in costs after pleading guilty to two criminal safety offences. Speaking on behalf of Linas' family, his girlfriend Donata Gerulyte, said: 'His parents have lost their only son, who they hoped would support them as they grew old and who would one day take over the small family business in the Lithuanian village where we grew up. I know that was his dream also once we started our own family together.' She added: 'Things are slowly returning to normal, but I will never, ever forget him, or what happened.' On 19 April 2010, just three months before the crushing death of Linas Mataitis, the firm was fined £8,000 with £5,506.50 costs for a 29 April 2008 incident when a worker's hand was crushed as he attempted to clear a blockage on a magnetic conveyor (Risks 453).

BAE Systems sentenced for the death of worker

Global defence company BAE Systems has received a six figure fine after a worker died when he was crushed by the 145-tonne weight of a metal press at its East Yorkshire plant. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) described the death of maintenance engineer Gary Whiting, 51, as an 'entirely preventable tragedy' caused by the serious safety failings of BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd at its plant in Brough. Hull Crown Court was told that a detailed investigation by HSE had exposed a series of flaws in safety practices during maintenance of the metal press, some of which had persisted for many years. Mr Whiting died on 10 November 2008 while working as part of a four-man team doing routine servicing of a large metal press, a machine the size of a two-bed house. Two men were working at one end of the machine and two at the opposite end. The court was told neither pair could properly see the other. Mr Whiting entered the machine to remove a piece of equipment he had been using but at the same time, one of his colleagues at the far end started the full test cycle of the press frame. The 45-square-metre frame descended, trapping Mr Whiting. He died the same day in hospital from his injuries. BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £97,153 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. A statement released on behalf of Mr Whiting's widow, Jackie, two children and brother, said: 'We are pleased that, more than four and a half years after Gary was killed, BAE Systems have been brought to justice. The complete absence of any safe system of work for the job Gary was performing beggars belief. There wasn't a suitable risk assessment for the job he was doing. The machine he had been working in had been operated with a person inside it before and it is pure luck no one was killed in the machine before Gary.'

International News

Argentina: Retail giant Zara is linked to slave labour

The Spanish fashion brand Zara is outsourcing its production in Argentina to clandestine sweatshops employing immigrants under slave-like conditions, campaigners have revealed. The sweatshops in Argentina are based on the outskirts of Buenos Aires or in tourist areas with large numbers of immigrants from Bolivia. The campaign group La Alameda and CGT, the country's largest trade union confederation, which together have exposed the abuses, say the working hours are inhuman. It is not the first time the company has been linked to illegal and inhuman methods of exploitation. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, it was fined millions after facing similar accusations, and there are reports of terrible labour abuses eleven other countries. In Argentina, criminal charges were filed on 26 March and 11 April this year. Covert filming by city inspectors showed workers sleeping in bunk beds right next to the machines. They were made to work for over 13 hours a day, from Monday to Friday, from seven in the morning to ten or eleven o'clock at night, and until midday on Saturdays. The three clandestine sweatshops producing garments for Zara in Argentina were shutdown for being unregistered and posing high health and safety risks. The justice system has not yet confirmed the charges, despite the offences having been subsequently verified by the video footage obtained by the inspectors. Inditex, which owns Zara, is the second largest textile company in the world, and its owner, Amancio Ortega, has the third biggest fortune on the planet and is the richest person in Spain. Zara could audit its supply chain through Argentina's state-run National Institute of Industrial Technology, but has never done so. The programme is practically free, but not compulsory.

Global: What made the retail giants cave?

A campaign by global unions and labour rights groups that succeeded in getting dozens of the world's biggest retail and textile companies to sign up to a union-crafted safety accord (Risks 605), has prompted questions about what lessons can be learned for future campaigns. Owen Tudor, TUC's head of international relations, said: 'Of course, one grisly prompt for action has been the deaths of at least 1,100 ready-made garment workers - that's the point at which the authorities stopped counting - in fact, it's likely that over 2,000 died.' But he said the fact that some major retailers in the US were still holding out is revealing. He said compared to the US, the UK has 'a long track record of union engagement with corporate supply chains, and engagement in the tripartite (corporates, NGOs and unions, including global union federations and the ITUC) Ethical Trading Initiative.' Tudor said that in the days prior to the Bangladesh deal, union officers from general secretaries down had been hitting the phones to corporate contacts. 'We've applied what we call 'the strength of our arguments as well as the argument of our strength', as phone calls and letters have been backed up by mass e-actions and the potential mobilisation of media and consumer pressure,' he said. Tudor concludes that 'the lesson of this week is that corporate engagement strategies take a long time to have an immediate effect, that global multinationals can be persuaded to the bargaining table, and that union global solidarity works.' This week TUC Aid, the TUC's charitable union development arm, issued an appeal for funds to support families of the victims of the 24 April disaster in Bangladesh.

Global: The pressure is mounting on Gap

More than a million people have already signed an online petition calling on Gap to stop stonewalling and back the global Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord. UNI, the global union for the retail sector, says the company 'has been inundated with calls from thousands of angry customers who say they expect better from Gap. Many have said they won't buy Gap clothes until they sign the deal.' UNI criticised statements made by Gap CEO Glenn Murphy at the retail giant's San Francisco annual general meeting on 21 May. The US multinational's leader wrongly characterised it as a 'European deal', but also said Gap is 90 per cent in agreement with the accord and did not rule out signing up and that the only stumbling block was 'unlimited legal liability.' This global supply chain accord, driven by the global unions IndustriALL and UNI and labour rights groups, already has US companies on board. UNI general secretary Philip Jennings said: 'Mr Murphy your opposition to the accord is not credible. You talk about GAP being a leader in corporate social responsibility, a leader in the community committed to improving factory safety in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Where's the proof if you do not sign the accord?' He added: 'Please do not mislead your shareholders and shoppers: this is a global accord, a game-changer which will create a new world of ethical retail. Gap's investors and consumers should be part of it.' IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said Gap 'has a golden opportunity to show this reputation is genuine and not just a part of its US$600 million PR campaign. Gap should act and join the Accord. It is not yet too late to reassure investors and shoppers it's ready to do the right thing.'

USA: Investors tell retailers to get in line

A coalition of faith organisations, investors and labour rights groups is urging major US retailers, including Walmart, Gap and Sears, to sign on to the new binding workplace and fire safety plan to prevent tragedies such as the 24 April building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers. In an open letter, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) wrote that a succession of disasters are 'a grave indictment of the human rights record of Bangladesh and an illustration of the failure of the global companies that manufacture and source their products there to ensure humane working conditions.' It added 'we are convinced that systemic change will only occur when companies take action together. They must use the full force of their commercial power to press for reforms.' In a second letter to large US retailers, 15 investor groups with more than $1.35 trillion in assets urged the companies to sign the accord brokered last week by global unions UNI and IndustriALL. 'Improving worker safety in Bangladesh may require a collaborative effort by both companies and government. As shareholders, however, we specifically must rely on the companies in which we invest to monitor and mitigate the risks in their supply chains. We urge companies with significant purchasing power in Bangladesh - companies such as Walmart and Gap - to act swiftly and effectively.' The letter concludes: 'Proper risk oversight requires first that a company knows its supply chain... It is not sufficient to place the onus for compliance on suppliers alone while pricing systems actively undercut requisite investment in infrastructure or encourage covert subcontracting.'


Stopping exposure to carcinogens

The latest of the TUC's 'Time to Change' health and safety campaign bulletins deals with preventing exposure to carcinogens at work. TUC says around 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year, and every year more than 150,000 people die from the disease. Estimates of how many cases are caused through work vary considerably. The HSE puts the number at around 13,500 new cases of cancer caused by work every year, with over 8,000 deaths, all though admits this is a 'conservative' figure. Workplace cancer campaigners including unions say the total is considerably higher. The new bulletin provides an overview of the situation including information on what the law says about exposure to substances that can cause cancer.

Events and Courses

Save Our Safety lobby, London, 11 June 2013

Unions UCATT and Unite are holding a joint lobby of parliament on 11 June 2013 to 'expose the Conservative-led government's attacks on health and safety laws.' They say the lobby, which will concentrate on construction safety, 'will be an opportunity to dispel many of the myths and lies that surround safety laws and members will have the opportunity to contact their MP about their concerns.' The unions advise anyone wanting to attend the lobby to contact their MP in advance to make sure that they will be around on 11 June. There will be a post-lobby meeting between 1pm-3pm in the House of Commons.

TUC courses for safety reps


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