Risks 616 - 3 August 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

Government dishonesty over 'compensation culture'

The government is being dishonest about the UK's 'compensation culture' in order to justify cutting basic health and safety protections at work, according to a TUC-backed report. It warns that thousands of workers suffering deadly occupational diseases are being denied payouts as a result of these cutbacks. The report, by the workers' health journal Hazards, shows that far from being a compensation free-for-all, as ministers claim, the number of people actually receiving awards for work-related injuries or diseases has fallen by 60 per cent over the last decade - down from 219,183 in 2000/01 to 87,655 in 2011/12. The report, based on official government figures, shows even the families of those dying from occupational diseases have little chance of securing a payout. For most occupational cancers the chances of getting any compensation is below 1 in 50. While more than 4,000 workers a year die of work-related chronic bronchitis and emphysema, just 59 received compensation in 2011/12. For those suffering from work-related stress, anxiety and depression the chances of getting compensation are even smaller. Of the 221,000 cases in 2011/12, just 293 resulted in a payout. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'The government is trying to brainwash people into thinking the UK has a rife compensation culture. However, the facts tell a very different story. Even those dying from work-related diseases have precious little chance of getting a payout.' She added: 'The true government motive here is to weaken health and safety laws and make it harder to for victims to pursue claims. Unfortunately the end result is likely to be a much higher rate of workplace accidents, injuries and illnesses in the future.' Commenting on the findings, Labour MP Jim Sheridan, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety, said the government 'is simply undermining the important issue of health and safety at work. The government's approach to health and safety encourages bad employers.' A government spokesperson said it was 'ensuring workers get the protections they need by making sure health and safety rules are easier to understand, administer and enforce. The burden of health and safety red tape had become too great.'

Unions protest over new tribunal fees

Union protests marked the introduction on 29 July of new fees of up to £1,200 for workers taking employment tribunal cases against their employers. The charges apply to tribunal complaints about issues including victimisation for safety activities (Risks 615), sexual harassment or race discrimination. The TUC general secretary, Frances O'Grady, said: 'Today is a great day for Britain's worst bosses,' adding the upfront fees were 'making it easier for employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour.' She added: 'These reforms are part of a wider campaign to get rid of workers' basic rights at work. Its only achievement will be to price vulnerable people out of justice.' Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the introduction of fees was a 'throwback to Victorian times.' He added: 'Seeking redress for unfair dismissal and discrimination and other injustices in the workplace is a fundamental human right - but now ministers are putting up insurmountable financial hurdles for working people in pursuit of justice. We estimate that this will affect 150,000 workers a year. This is not an aid to economic recovery but a means to keep working people frightened and insecure.' The Unite leader warned: 'Unite will not stand idly by and let its members suffer such treatment - and the union will financially support members at employment tribunals. We will be campaigning strongly for this pernicious legislation to be repealed with the advent of a Labour government.' GMB senior organiser Andy Prendergast, whose union held a protest outside the Central London Employment Tribunals, said: 'With the introduction of employment tribunal fees, the government has given a green light to bad employers to continue exploiting their staff.' A ruling this week by the Royal Courts of Justice gave UNISON permission for a Judicial Review hearing in October to challenge the tribunal fees.

The government is making blacklisting easier

The TUC has warned that while the government has condemned an apparent blacklist of Crossrail construction workers, it is making it easier to sack people. Writing in the Guardian, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady noted: 'Listen to ministers of any government, and the rationale for rights at work is normally the need to bear down on a few rogue employers letting the side down. Yet here the majority of a sector crucial to the economy was caught red-handed doing something we usually associate with the security apparatus of oppressive dictatorships. This is why workers hit hard by blacklisting are still fighting for justice.' She added: 'The latest project to face allegations of blacklisting is Crossrail over claims that workers have been sacked for raising health and safety concerns about the development.' The union leader said it was 'not enough' for business secretary Vince Cable to refer the issue to the Information Commissioner, particularly as 'he is part of a government that is making it harder for employees to speak out against injustice.' She said: 'Last year employees were made to wait an extra year for protection against unfair dismissal. This means any employee with less than two years of service can be sacked just for looking at their boss the wrong way. And this week has seen employment tribunal fees brought into law which means that even if an employee has unfair dismissal protection it will now cost them as much as £1,200 to take a case to a hearing. Blacklisting and other bad treatment - whether by rogue backstreet employers or household names - is getting easier, not harder.'

Justice prevails after firefighter deaths

Firefighters' union FBU has welcomed a High Court judgment supporting the families of two firefighters killed in a fireworks blaze. The court concluded East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service must pay compensation to the bereaved families. Commenting on this week's court ruling on the deadly 2006 Marlie Farm fire (Risks 335), FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'Common sense and justice have prevailed today, and the judge's ruling reflects the systemic and cultural failure of those responsible for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. Although the ruling cannot undo Geoff or Brian's tragic deaths, firefighters can be relieved that their employers cannot merely renounce their duty of care as had been argued.' He added: 'The events at Marlie Farm were a tragedy, with two lives needlessly lost even though firefighters did a fantastic job, and the FBU was proud to support them during the incident and investigation.' He criticised the fire service for insisting the case go to court, adding that East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service should now 'avoid prolonging the agony of bereaved families as well as injured firefighters and police officers by accepting this judgment and paying the appropriate compensation as soon as possible.' The court ruling echoed concerns raised by the FBU in the aftermath of the tragedy, identifying failures to train staff on the risks of explosives and in the correct manner in which to approach explosives incidents or to pre-plan for the incident. The families of the killed firefighters had claimed crews were 'ill-prepared and poorly resourced' by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS). ESFRS said it would give careful consideration to the judgment.

Sports Direct faces flak over zero hours contracts

Pressure is mounting on Mike Ashley and his Sports Direct empire over its use of zero-hours contracts for part-time employees as Unite this week demanded a meeting with the billionaire businessman. Politicians, campaigners and charities called on the UK's biggest sports retailer to change its policy after Unite revealed it was using the no-rights contracts for 90 per cent of its workforce. Sports Direct's 20,000 part-time employees - all on zero-hours contracts - make up one in 10 of the total number of workers on such contracts across the UK, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Unite has already lodged a number of tribunal cases on behalf of aggrieved workers. Regional secretary Annmarie Kilcline called on the company to treat its workers with dignity, adding: 'Unite is seriously concerned that a culture of low pay and poor treatment has embedded itself at Sports Direct. Workers are coming to us to report mistreatment so we have begun to compile a dossier to present to senior management cataloguing these concerns.' She said: 'The union was recently shocked to discover allegations that staff at its East Midland's warehouse are often expected to queue for up to 45 minutes to be searched, one-by-one, by the company's security staff as they leave the premises at the end of a long shift.' Ian Murray, shadow business minister for employment relations, called on Sports Direct to address the issues raised and questioned the company's silence. Insecure work has been linked to higher rates of occupational disease and injury, with workers less able to speak up about problems.

Nurses need safety in numbers at work

More hospital nurses are necessary to overcome time constraints on the ward and to deliver effective and safe care, health service union UNISON has said. Commenting on a new study published in journal BMJ Quality & Safety that found over-stretched nurses in England were being forced to ration care to cope with their workload, UNISON head of nursing Gail Adams said: 'This report adds to the growing evidence that there is safety in numbers when it comes to caring for patients. Earlier this year UNISON's own survey of nurses and healthcare assistants found that nearly 60 per cent did not have enough time to deliver safe, dignified and compassionate patient care.' She added: 'The introduction of minimum staff to patient ratios would be a life-saving initiative - one that would dramatically change life on wards for patients and staff, providing a safer, more caring environment for all.' The new study found nurses in England report they are having to 'ration' care because of time pressures. The fewer nurses there are, the higher the risk care will be compromised, according to the research. Jane Ball, who led the study of almost 3,000 nurses, said: 'The study not only reasserts the connection between staffing levels and patient outcomes, but provides an indication of the scale of the staffing problems we face. The majority of general medical/surgical wards have staffing levels that are insufficient to meet patient needs on every shift.' A number of US jurisdictions have introduced comprehensive safe staffing laws in health care (Risks 457).

Coastguard shifts staffed below safe levels

More than one quarter of coastguard watches in the UK were staffed below safe levels last summer, according to official figures obtained by the union PCS. According to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) data, more than 3,300 of a total of 15,000 watches - across 15 stations where figures were available - were staffed below the risk assessed levels between January 2012 and May 2013. During the coastguard service's busiest period, May to September 2012, more than 1,100 of 4,400 shifts were affected - 26.8 per cent. The union says the figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, paint a deeply troubling picture as the government presses ahead with plans to close nine of the UK's 19 coastguard stations and cut 140 jobs. The union says it remains opposed to the closures, noting the government 'has failed to make a convincing case to either the public or parliament that lives will not be put at risk.' PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'It is truly shocking that coastguard stations are so regularly running below safe levels and this must be addressed as a priority.' He added: 'We have never been convinced of the government's case for the closure of half of our coastguard stations and believe public safety is being compromised in the drive to make cuts.'

Poor protection hurt worker

A factory worker fractured his wrist at work after a global manufacturing company failed to provide him with correct personal protection equipment (PPE). David Morrell, from Neath, South Wales, had worked for the Morganite Electrical Carbon Ltd as a maintenance fitter for 34 years. The Unite member had been instructed to repair a hydraulic press, and was using a jack to open it, when his hand slipped due to the amount of oil on the equipment. He fell, landing hard onto his outstretched arm, damaging his right wrist and thumb. The gloves supplied by his employer were unsafe for use with oily materials because they did not have any grip. An x-ray revealed he had a fractured scaphoid, and David's wrist was in plaster for six weeks. Following that, he had to have a further three months of physiotherapy to help repair the damage. As a result of the incident, Morganite Electrical Carbon Ltd issued new gloves with grip to their maintenance staff. The Unite member received an undisclosed payout thanks to a union-backed compensation claim. He said: 'The fact is, my employers failed to review the poor equipment they gave us until after my accident, which is frustrating - it took months before I could use my wrist again. If I had been given the right gloves in the first place it would not have happened.' Unite regional officer Carl Lucas said: 'Employers have a responsibility to equip their staff with the right protective equipment to prevent accidents and limit the risks of injury. It is completely unacceptable for employers to wait for an accident to happen before they review safety measures.'

Supermarket shunt led to back injury

An Asda employee who injured his back after a vehicle collision at work has been awarded compensation. The 52-year-old GMB member from Burbage, Leicestershire, was getting out of the picker truck he had been driving when a colleague in a reach truck turned a corner without looking and collided into the side of his vehicle. The impact from the collision caused the picker truck to be shunted forward and hit the man in the lower back. He was left with a swollen spine and needed three months of physiotherapy to help repair the injury. As a consequence of the injury he has moved to an administrative role as he is unable to carry out manual handling of heavy goods. He has now received an undisclosed compensation payout in a GMB-backed claim. Andy Worth from GMB said: 'Employees have the right to go into work safe in the knowledge that systems in place mean they can leave unharmed at the end of the day. Where vehicles are in operation there are very clear rules and employers are expected to make sure employees abide by them.'

Other news

Hundreds of former coke oven workers seek justice

More than 300 former coke oven workers are taking legal action against British Steel and British Coal in a battle for justice for cancers and respiratory diseases they are now suffering because of exposure to harmful dust and fumes decades ago. A landmark judgment against a Phurnacite plant in South Wales in the High Court last year paved the way for legal action in areas particularly badly affected areas in Wales and the north east of England where coking and steel plants were particularly commonplace (Risks 579). Last week law firms Hugh James and Irwin Mitchell confirmed they had jointly issued a letter of claim against British Coal and British Steel on behalf of 300 former coke oven workers who became ill after working at coking plants and steel works across the country. The majority of workers were employed in a range of occupations at the coke works between the 1940s and 1980s and suffered with various respiratory illnesses, including lung cancers, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) including chronic bronchitis and asthma. Many have since died as a result of their condition. Kathryn Singh, of Hugh James, said: 'Sadly this is yet another instance where workers are left paying the price of their employers not protecting their health and safety decades ago. We now hope that the defendants will work with us to resolve our clients' cases quickly and amicably.' Roger Maddocks of Irwin Mitchell, added: 'Hundreds of former coke oven workers are now suffering from terrible conditions simply because of the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis. Employees have a basic right to be able to go to work and return home safely at the end of the day.' He said: 'Sadly, in these cases, the workers have been affected by very serious and in some cases terminal illnesses just because of the air they breathed at work. We have repeatedly called for improvements to safety in the workplace and will continue to campaign for the rights of the victims we represent.'

Payout for a life wrecked by solvents

A paint shop supervisor whose life was wrecked by exposure to solvents at work has received a 'substantial' payout. Adam Coventon was employed by Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd which, along with its health and safety consultant, was fined in January for criminal safety offences related to the case (Risks 589). The 36-year-old, who worked in the factory for five years, developed myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) after being exposed to the industrial solvent and known neurotoxin trichloroethylene, because his employer failed to properly install a new piece of machinery. A degreasing tank used to clean scientific instruments before they were sprayed was poorly installed and didn't seal properly allowing the solvent to leak into the poorly-ventilated room where Adam worked alone. He received no warning of the hazard and no protective equipment. Six months after the new degreasing tank was installed Adam developed breathing difficulties, chronic shakes and fatigue. His GP recorded a 20 per cent decrease of lung function and referred him to a specialist consultant who then identified a lack of lucidity and well-being. 'This should never have happened,' said Corrina Mottram of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Adam. 'Given this was a company used to dealing with dangerous chemicals who should have known of the risks and the strict rules surrounding their use, this level of chemical exposure was almost unprecedented. The injuries which Adam has suffered are extremely life-limiting and have affected what he is able to do on a day-to-day basis. The employers tried to distance themselves from Adam's illness arguing that it was not connected with the exposure, our medical evidence showed they were wrong.' Adam has not been able to return to work since his diagnosis and the severity of his symptoms limit him in everyday tasks. Four years after the chemical exposure, he takes daily medication to help manage his muscle spasms and control the pain associated with them. He will be dependent on the medication for the rest of his life.

Claimants lose out as insurers go missing

A voluntary system set up by insurers to assist people with work-related injuries or diseases to track down employers' liability insurers is failing compensation claimants far too often and should be replaced with a statutory system, the TUC has said. The union body was speaking out after the publication of the Employers' Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) Annual Report and Accounts 2012. The report notes: 'The results of ELTO's first formal customer survey showed a net satisfaction score of 42 per cent, which is a great result for an organisation that is still in the process of transition to business as usual.' The organisation, which has a membership made up of almost all the UK's employers' liability insurers, found that of the 2 million mandatory policy records supplied during 2012, 74.6 per cent achieved the 'Time to Supply target', so over a quarter failed. Checks on enquiries where ELTO failed to track down the insurer found it had missed evidence in almost 40 per cent of cases. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'The TUC has been campaigning for better tracing for many years as every time an insurer cannot be traced a victim is denied compensation. The ELTO annual report may claim that the scheme that the insurers have set up is working but the figures show otherwise.' He said that claiming a 42 per cent satisfaction rate is a great result 'can only be described as bizarre. The system is failing in so many ways.' He added: 'Clearly there is a need for a statutory system that is taken out of the control of the vested interests of the insurance industry.'

Employers are not dealing with hazards

The workplace is a top hot spot for injuries in Britain, with many workers believing their employers cut corners and leave known risks unaddressed. The findings, in a report by law firm Slater & Gordon that examined injury patterns across the population, found the average person in Britain suffers an 'astonishing' 10,787 injuries, illnesses or accidents in their lifetime. The study of 2,000 people found the average person has suffered seven accidents in the past 12 months. It also discovered that while accidents were most commonly suffered at home, over a third of people have been injured at work. A fifth of people said their workplace has currently an obvious hazard or danger that isn't being dealt with in the right way. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they feel their workplace cuts corners when it comes to health and safety. Simon Allen, a personal injury lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said: 'It is disturbing that in 2013 so many accidents happen in the workplace. Whilst we do of course spend most of our day at work, if followed, health and safety legislation should protect us. What is, however, perhaps more disturbing is that when workers report their concerns about dangers in the workplace employers don't appear to address them.' He added: 'Health and safety can be seen as inconvenient and bureaucratic by some but it is designed to ensure than when we go to work we return home to our families unharmed. Identifying risks to health and safety and then addressing them to prevent accidents at work is the key.'

Oil firms still paying for Deepwater Horizon

The criminal neglect that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster is continuing to hurt the reputation and bottom line of the companies involved. London-based oil multinational BP has admitted the $20bn compensation fund it set up to pay claims related to the 2010 rig failure, which killed 11 workers and smeared the Gulf of Mexico in oil, is running out of cash. The oil giant announced this week that the fund has just $300m left. The deadline for business to claim loss of earnings due to the spill is not until April next year. BP says once the fund runs out, further claims will come straight out of future profits. The company said: 'We expect that, in the third quarter, the remaining amount for items covered by the trust will be fully utilised and additional amounts will be charged to the income statement.' The contractor responsible for cementing the well, Halliburton, is facing its own tribulations. The US company has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence relating to the tragedy. The plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, means Halliburton will have to pay the maximum possible fine. BP had accused Houston-based Halliburton, its contractor, of destroying evidence and asked it to pay for all damages. 'A Halliburton subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanour violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation,' the company said in a statement. Halliburton is the third of three major companies at the heart of the oil spill to admit criminal wrongdoing. BP and rig operator Transocean have already pleaded guilty to charges related to the disaster.

Ministers urged to support the safety regulator

The government should support the UK's 'world class' health and safety regulator with more resources, and rethink plans to exempt many workers from laws designed to protect them and others, the safety professionals' body IOSH has said. The IOSH call comes in written evidence to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), as part of a Triennial review by ministers of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: 'Our submission strongly supports the continued need for HSE and its current delivery model, as 'arm's length' from government ministers, and emphasises the need for better resourcing.' He added: 'IOSH does not believe that any part of the HSE's work could be better delivered elsewhere. It has built up significant expertise, experience and competence over many years and its worldwide reputation is testimony to its excellence in these functions. It is a world class organisation.' The Institution - the UK's largest professional body in health and safety - also called for a single enforcement agency, to improve quality, consistency and efficient use of resources. This would end the current arrangement in which HSE inspectors and local authority enforcement officers both perform this function separately. IOSH also said it was concerned by 'the speed, scale and nature' of the government's deregulatory programme.

Firms fined for quarry blast damage

Two companies have been fined after a quarry explosion sent rocks flying 200 metres into the air and onto a public road, causing damage to waiting cars. The falling blast debris landed well outside of designated danger zone during the incident at Brayford Quarry in Brayford on 24 February 2011, and narrowly avoided striking a worker who had halted traffic whilst the blasting took place. Frome-based WCD Sleeman and Sons Ltd, who organised the blast, and quarry operator Hanson Quarry Products Europe Ltd were both prosecuted last week after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified serious control failings. Barnstaple Magistrates' Court heard that two cars waiting in the queue on a nearby public road were hit by flying rock, which dented the bonnet of one and a smashed the windscreen of the other. HSE inspectors discovered an 8.5kg piece of rock on the other side of the road. Six other smaller pieces of rock were also recovered from the road. A worker acting as a sentry on the road to manage traffic during the blasting heard the rocks coming through the trees and covered his head with his stop-go board and took cover next to a large van which was waiting on the road. The driver of the van saw pieces of rock pass over the worker. WCD Sleeman and Sons Ltd was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £17,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach. Quarry operator Hanson Quarry Products Europe Ltd of was fined £20,000 with £14,000 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Quarries Regulations 1999.

International news

Australia: Unions welcome new asbestos cash

Unions in Australia have welcomed a cash injection from the federal government for the new Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. The additional Aus$6.4m (£3.8m) has been provided to the agency to allow it to implement a National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management. Michael Borowick, assistant secretary of the national union federation ACTU, said Australia had the highest per capita use of asbestos in the world. 'Asbestos has caused a horrific death toll and much suffering in Australia, and the impact of asbestos-related diseases is not expected to peak until 2020,' he said. 'The funding will go towards reducing future deaths from asbestos-related disease with another 30-40,000 people expected to be diagnosed in the next 20 years.' The union leader added: 'Unions have campaigned for decades about the dangers and have successfully banned it from Australia and helped secure long term compensation for people affected by asbestos-related disease. We think that the asbestos pilot programmes announced by the government will provide practical examples and lessons in how we can realistically achieve asbestos identification and removal plan goals.' The plan aims to identify and grade all asbestos by 2018, including getting all asbestos out of government buildings by 2030. 'This is what unions and the Australian people want: safe homes, safe workplaces and safe communities,' said Borowick.

Canada: Why making a killing involves killing

It turns out that Canadians are far more likely to be killed by their bosses' negligence or corporate cost-cutting than by street criminals. The Vancouver Sun reports that in most years in Canada more than 500 people will be murdered. But each year close to twice that many die 'in what we have been taught to call workplace 'accidents,' needlessly crushed, scalded, slashed, electrocuted and poisoned.' The article cites Steve Bittle, a University of Ottawa criminologist and author of 'Still dying for a living', who believes these 'accidental' deaths are the result of 'safety crimes,' wilful decisions by corporate figures who decide to run risks with their workers' lives to maximise profit. Bittle notes that Canada got a corporate manslaughter law after the deaths of 26 Nova Scotia miners when the Westray Mine exploded in 1992, although it still took 12 years and a high profile union campaign to get the law in place. Since then, the Westray Act has hardly been enforced, with only about a dozen charges laid in the last nine years. Nearly 1,000 workers are killed annually. According to the Vancouver Sun: 'Apparently the phrase 'make a killing in business' still has a dark and literal meaning right across Canada, and that will continue to be the case until the Westray Act is properly enforced and strengthened, as Bittle so cogently argues in this brave and profoundly important (although sometimes dense with academic prolixities and jargon) book.'

China: Apple faces new worker abuse claims

Technology giant Apple is facing fresh allegations of worker rights violations at the Chinese factories of one of its suppliers, the Pegatron Group. China Labor Watch (CLW) has alleged that three Pegatron factories violate a 'great number of international and Chinese laws and standards.' The CLW report notes: 'CLW's investigations revealed at least 86 labor rights violations, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations. The violations fall into 15 categories: dispatch labour abuse, hiring discrimination, women's rights violations, underage labour, contract violations, insufficient worker training, excessive working hours, insufficient wages, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labour health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management, and environmental pollution.' Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, said 'our investigations have shown that labour conditions at Pegatron factories are even worse than those at Foxconn factories.' Apple supplier Foxconn has been linked recently to serious safety and labour abuses, and was forced to take remedial action after a spate of worker suicides (Risks 559). Both Apple and Pegatron said they would investigate the allegations immediately. 'Apple is committed to providing safe and fair working conditions throughout our supply chain,' the firm said in a statement. Pegatron's chief executive, Jason Cheng, said in a statement that the firm took the allegations 'very seriously,' adding: 'We will investigate them fully and take immediate actions to correct any violations to Chinese labour laws and our own code of conduct.'

Global: Caged chickens and caged workers

Abusive conditions in the poultry industry are proving harmful to both workers and consumers, unions in Australia and the US have warned. Baiada Poultry, one of Australia's largest producers of chicken meat, has just been found by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission to have misled the public after claiming its high-density farmed chickens were 'free to roam'. Unions say they are not surprised - the company's PR team also erroneously presents the firm's workers as happy and contented. But the union says in reality 'fatigue, bullying and injury are all too common.' The National Union of Workers has been running a campaign for safety and an end to contracting in the industry for over two years now. A safety audit of 1,000 workers revealed a disturbing 62 per cent of poultry workers received less than two hours of manual handling training, with 37 per cent saying they have had no manual handling training at all. One-in-five of those surveyed reported that they have suffered bullying while working in the poultry industry. A 'staggering' 37 per cent of those surveyed said they had suffered an injury at work but only half of these workers filed compensation claims. In the US, the Department of Agriculture has proposed industry-friendly modifications to its poultry slaughter inspection programme that would remove the requirement of processors to test for salmonella or campylobacter and that would permit a dramatic line speed up to 175 birds per minute. The US Safe Food Coalition and Worker Health and Safety Coalition, which includes the union UFCW, wrote to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) urging rejection of the proposal. Recent studies show up to 72 per cent of workers in the industry suffer from serious work-related injury or illness. The campaigners say increasing line speeds and removing uniform inspection increases risk for workers and consumers.

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