Risks 617 - 10 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

Unions are great for health and the economy

A union presence has a strong positive effect on the health of the workforce and the economy, a Europe-wide study has found. Researchers Maureen Dollard and Daniel Neser from the University of South Australia combined five different data sets canvassing 31 wealthy European countries, including the UK. They found 13 per cent of the variance in national life expectancy could be explained by differences in worker self-reported health and national gross domestic product (GDP) - and unions were a key factor explaining these differences. The paper states: 'It is important to note that it was not the quality of work conditions, but rather, workplace protective factors at both the macro (union density) and organisational level (PSC [psychosocial conditions]) that were most important for worker health.' It adds: 'For worker health our main finding is that national health inequalities have their basis in national power and structural factors implied by union density that give rise to concrete psychosocial conditions, individual resources, public resources and working conditions that could affect worker health.' The authors conclude: 'A healthy workforce is good for the economy. The observation that worker self-reported health is related to GDP and life expectancy assessed at a national level underscores the importance of the work context for national health and productivity status. Two levels of labour protection, macro-level (union density), and organisational- level (PSC) were most important for worker health.' They add: 'The prominence of union density and its influence on workplace PSC for worker health raises the possibility that external forces can go further toward improving working circumstances (eg. additional legislation, guidance).' They say it is crucial that 'participatory occupational safety and health policy and programmes' are expanded, with their results indicating 'worker health is good for the economy, and should be considered in national health and productivity accounting. Eroding unionism may not be good for worker health or the economy either.'

TUC hits back after new compo attacks

The TUC has criticised a new push by insurers and the government to limit access to compensation. Axa chief Paul Evans told the Daily Telegraph on 4 August that 'compensation culture is becoming a real issue for society', adding: 'We are seeing more claims for stress coming through, and deafness or loss of hearing through noise in the workplace, more claims on employer liability. Again like whiplash these are things that at the time are nearly impossible to prove.' In reality, noise-induced deafness is extremely easy to prove, using a simple diagnostic audiometric test. And a TUC-backed Hazards report last week revealed fewer than 1 in every 750 workers suffering from health problems related to stress at work get a payout. On 31 July, the government introduced a system to channel employers' liability claims worth less than £25,000 through a 'claims portal', a move it says is intended to 'reduce the amount defendants, or their insurers, have to pay in legal fees.' It does this by reducing payments to claimants' lawyers, meaning it will be difficult to get law firms to take on all but the most straightforward claims. Justice minister Helen Grant said: 'We are turning the tide on the compensation culture which has pushed up the cost of insurance for drivers, schools and business - and taking another important step to reducing the cost of living for ordinary people.' Commenting on the clampdown on workplace claims, TUC's Hugh Robertson said: 'There is not one single shred of evidence that there is any kind of compensation culture. The number of claims has fallen by 60 per cent in the past decade and only a small percentage of injured and ill workers even make a claim.' He added: 'The government, at the behest of the insurance industry, is trying to stop workers getting justice by making it even harder to claim with changes to the way costs are worked out and removing employers' liability when they break the law. While workers face reduced protection in the workplace and cuts to their compensation when they do get injured (if they are ever able to claim), the government will continue their 'blame the victim' blitz egged on by their cheerleaders in the insurance industry.'

STUC backs move to reform fatalities inquiries

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is backing a probe into Scotland's 'failing' Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) system. Patricia Ferguson MSPannounced this week she intends to introduce a members' bill to radically amend the Fatal Accident and Sudden Deaths Inquiries (Scotland) Act 1976, which has been criticised for placing a lack of emphasis on lessons being learned and for excluding the families of the deceased from the process. The Glasgow Labour MSPsaid: 'Through personal experience of working with the families of the victims of the explosion at Stockline I am all too aware how anachronistic the current FAI system is.' The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) admitted that serious failings in its inspection procedures were a factor in the factory explosion in Glasgow in May 2004, in which nine workers died (Risks 422). A public consultation for the Bill will be launched in the New Year. STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham commented: 'The STUC very much welcomes the proposals by Patricia Ferguson MSP to bring forward a Bill that will put those who suffer most at the heart of Fatal Accident Inquiries. In our experience inquiries, held in public to examine deaths at work, take an unacceptable amount of time for those who have lost loved ones to establish the circumstances surrounding their deaths.' He added: 'Far too often any recommendations made are not implemented and we are of the view that Patricia Ferguson's proposals will provide answers for bereaved families at the earliest opportunity, the facility for lessons to be learned from the circumstances surrounding the deaths, and for legally enforceable and meaningful recommendations to be implemented to prevent similar and needless tragedies re-occurring... We believe these proposals will lead to a more effective and meaningful inquiry system that prevents needless deaths'.

Action as stress and bugs blight hospitals

Over-stretched staff labouring in bug infested Leeds hospitals are wilting under the stress, GMB has said. The union was speaking out after the Yorkshire Evening Post revealed pest control has been summoned to hospitals in Leeds 771 times over the past two and a half years to deal with problems from rats to cockroaches. GMB's Bill Chard said: 'Continual re-organisation, higher than UK average levels of stress, mixed with ongoing financial pressures all add up to a lethal mix. The 2012 NHS staff survey showed that Leeds Teaching Hospitals staff suffered way above average stress levels with a whopping 46 per cent of those surveyed stating they had suffered work related stress.' He said the 'shocking statistics' on infestations reinforced the message that the hospitals are being mismanaged. 'This catalogue of vermin, rats, cockroaches, fleas, etc, are an indictment of a failing system. There are too many people at the top end earning mega money and too few essential workers like house keepers, porters and cleaners,' he added. 'The NHS must focus on patient care. It is not a business, it simply doesn't need all these layers of management and expensive consultants.'

Boris putting lives at risk from fire

A decision by London mayor Boris Johnson to overrule the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and impose £35 million of cuts will put the lives of Londoners at risk, firefighters' union FBU has warned. Ian Leahair, FBU executive member for London, said: 'The cuts are dangerous and wrong, and this is devastating news for Londoners, with lives across the capital being put at risk by the mayor's reckless cuts. Johnson has simply ignored the evidence, and his cuts will mean slower response times for 4 million Londoners. It's also an affront to democracy: Johnson has not listened to Londoners, his own fire authority or the elected representatives on the London Assembly.' The FBU said that the campaign against the cuts would continue, and alongside other opponents of the cuts, that they are exploring the potential for a judicial review. The cuts plan will see 10 stations closed, 14 engines removed, 552 frontline jobs slashed and the removal of two rescue units. The union said 94 per cent of Londoners who took part in the public consultation opposed frontline cuts in the London Fire Brigade, and hundreds of Londoners also voiced their opposition at public meetings. The London Fire and Emergency Planning authority, the London Assembly and several local authorities also opposed the cuts.

Private eye spied on sick worker

A tracking device was fitted secretly to a mum's car by private investigators brought in by West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service to discover whether she was moonlighting while on sick leave from her job as a 999 call handler. FBU member Anthea Orchard, 35, said she and her family were horrified when she discovered the device. The mother-of-two was signed off work by a doctor after she fell ill with stress and hyperthyroidism last November, shortly after returning from a year-long maternity leave. Almost immediately, the fire service employed a private investigator to spy on her after her bosses suspected that she was working full-time running a business built around her hobby of balloon making. Mrs Orchard said shortly after her sick leave started, odd phone calls were made to the family home by people asking if she could do some work for them. Her family and neighbours saw men hiding in cars outside her home, and then she found a GPS tracker had been attached to the underside of her Audi car. 'I was getting phone calls from people trying to get me to take on work,' she said. 'I'd told them I couldn't because I was signed off work. The number hadn't been withheld and when I looked it up it was for a private investigator.' Mrs Orchard, who was exonerated, has now left her job with an £11,000 pay-off after signing a 'compromise agreement' in which she agreed not to take the service to court for human rights violations over 'unnecessary surveillance or invasion into privacy and family life.' FBU West Yorkshire secretary David Williams, who supported Mrs Orchard, criticised the decision by the fire service to 'spy' on its own workers. 'It's a shame they feel they have to stoop to this level. It's not great when they are spying on their own employees.'

CWU backs tougher dangerous dog sentences

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has welcomed a government consultation on sentencing for dangerous dog offences and says it hopes it will lead to tougher and more consistent sentencing. The new proposals are included in a consultation that will run until 1 September. They follow the announcement in February of plans to extend the scope of the law to enable a prosecution to be brought against anyone whose dog injures someone or acts aggressively in a private place where they are permitted to be, such as the owner's home. Under the consultation, the maximum two year jail term for an 'aggravated dog attack' could be replaced with the possibility of life. CWU - the union representing postal workers and telecom engineers, who suffer 5,000 dog attacks each year - welcomed the consultation and said it hopes that better sentencing arrangements will become law this year. Dave Joyce, CWU health and safety officer, said: 'Current sentencing arrangements do not match the serious nature of offences. Sixteen people have been killed since 2005 by dogs, yet the maximum prison sentence is just two years. Only one person has ever been imprisoned for a dog attack on a postal worker and as the fatality rate from dog attacks grows sentencing must get tougher.' He added: 'We would draw comparisons with driving offences where death by dangerous driving has a maximum prison sentence of five years and automatic disqualification. We want to see something similar for serious dangerous dog offences. Irresponsible dog ownership causes injury and distress and must be tackled.' The government consultation will be used to help inform new clauses the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

Office mould caused occupational asthma

An office worker has developed occupational asthma after being exposed to fungal spores at his place of work. UNISON member David Livingstone, 62, was working as a substance misuse specialist for Addiction Dependency Solutions Ltd, a regional charity specialising in drug and alcohol services, at a 400-year-old building in Kendal when he became ill. In October 2008, fungus developed on the building's damp exterior wall less than 2ft away from his desk. Despite making his concerns about daily exposure to mould spores known to his employer, the fungus was neither removed nor even investigated. Within two months David developed an aggressive cough and a wheezy chest. The symptoms worsened over time leaving him unable to work for a month. While his colleagues also developed similar symptoms, David's proximity to the mould meant his condition was more severe. He returned to work in early 2009 and his health again began to deteriorate but it wasn't until March 2009 - five months after it had appeared - that his employers instructed builders to investigate the mould. The problem was identified as a leaking soil pipe within the external wall as well as general damp throughout the building's stonework. An extensive six months renovation was required. David, who was diagnosed with occupational asthma, still needs to take two asthma inhalers on a daily basis. He has now received £12,000 in a union-backed compensation settlement. Kevan Nelson from UNISON said: 'The mould spores on the wall was talked about openly in the workplace and regularly raised as a health issue to the management, yet David's employers failed to resolve the issue for five months. It shows a dangerous disregard for his wellbeing and that of his colleagues.'

Other news

New warning on the UK's deadly dust standard

The UK's workplace dust standard should be tightened considerably to protect workers from serious diseases, a new academic paper has concluded, echoing a 2011 call from the TUC. The paper published in the July edition of the Annals of Occupational Hygiene warns that 'exposure to low-toxicity dusts, which have previously been viewed as 'nuisance dusts', can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] or other non-malignant respiratory disease.' The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that at least 4,000 workers die each year of work-related COPD, many the result of exposures to dust at work. The authors of the new paper, from universities in England, Scotland and the US, note that the current UK dust standard has remained unchanged for over 30 years, warning 'there is good evidence from epidemiology and toxicology studies that current dust exposures may still present a risk to workers and that for some of those who are affected, there are devastating health consequences.' They back a call by the TUC (Risks 521) and UK unions (Risks 522) for the occupational exposure limits (OELs) to be reduced to a quarter the current levels, a recommendation also supported by the Institution of Occupational Medicine and the German standards board. 'It would be prudent for health and safety professionals to take this information into account while giving advice,' the authors conclude. 'We urge regulators in Britain and elsewhere to move to develop new, safe OELs for poorly soluble low-toxicity dusts.'

Web-only HSE guidance isn't good enough

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched revised guidance it says will help make it easier for larger organisations and businesses to understand how to manage health and safety. But the 'completely refreshed and enhanced' Managing for Health and Safety guidance has not just been rewritten, it has been converted from a publication into a webpage - something that has dismayed unions. Unite health and safety officer Bud Hudspith said the decision to go online-only, replacing the widely used free leaflet, was 'an absolute disaster.' He added: 'Who do the HSE think will access and use this information? Who makes these decisions? They do not appear to be living in the real world.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson agreed that restricting the availability of the guidance was a mistake, adding that while TUC welcomed this new version of 'an important publication that is used across industry by both employers and safety representatives... we are concerned with the fact that the whole document is not available even in an electronic form. To get the whole picture of a safety management system you need to go through the whole document - not just dip in to the bits you think might be relevant. That is why unions want, at the very least, a link to a pdf of the whole thing that can be printed off for use within organisations.' HSE says the online guide 'is mainly for leaders, owners, trustees and line managers' and follows a 'Plan, Do, Check, Act' approach to managing health and safety and checking duties are being met and measures are being delivered effectively. HSE's lead author of the guide, Andrew Cottam, said: 'Following the guidance is not compulsory, unless specifically stated, and businesses are free to take other action, but if they do follow the guidance they will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. Health and safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law and may refer to this guidance.'

McAlpine names rivals in blacklist defence

Sir Robert McAlpine has added at least nine other contractors as co-defendants against a multi-million pound legal action by blacklisted building workers. Solicitors Guney, Clark and Ryan are acting for more than 100 construction workers who launched the compensation claim last year. The claim was against McAlpine who were defending the action on their own. The company told trade journal Construction Enquirer: 'Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd can confirm that it has issued Part 20 Claims against nine construction groups in relation to its on-going defence of allegations of 'blacklisting' of workers in the industry. Sir Robert McAlpine believes that all of the companies that have been served these legal documents were participants in The Consulting Association and all will join Sir Robert McAlpine as co-defendants in the action brought by a small number of construction workers.' The nine major contractors added to the list of defendants are Balfour Beatty, BAM, Carillion, Costain, Laing O'Rourke, Kier, Skanska, Vinci and AMEC. When subsidiaries are included, the list runs to 34 firms. Steve Acheson, spokesperson for the Blacklist Support Group, said: 'The entire construction industry is now on trial in the High Court.' He added: 'We are fighting for compensation for our families but we are also fighting for all those workers who lost their lives on building projects when safety reps were systematically targeted by these companies who value profits above human life.' Sean Curran, a partner at Guney, Clark and Ryan solicitors, said: 'We are very happy that the action is now progressing through the court system. Ultimately we look forward to the day we obtain redress on behalf of our clients and in doing so, ensuring they can move on with their careers and personal lives without this experience continuing to blight them.'

Government must act to halt zero hours culture

Urgent action is needed to stop the growth of the zero hours culture, unions have said. The call came after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) admitted it had dramatically underestimated the extent of zero hours work, upping its figure by 50,000 to 250,000 UK workers. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'These updated figures from the ONS still underestimate the true scale of zero hour working, which has spread like wildfire throughout our economy. 300,000 workers in the care sector alone are employed on these insecure terms and conditions and that is before you factor in sectors like higher education, retail, legal services and journalism.' She added: 'From Buckingham Palace to Sports Direct zero hours contracts are cropping up everywhere and the government's oft mentioned review must lead to proper regulation to prevent their continued misuse. Employers cannot be allowed to take advantage of the current economic climate to employ people on the cheap.' Research published by the human resources organisation CIPD on 5 August suggested the problem could still be much more serious than the government accepts, with a possible one million zero hours workers in the UK. The report prompted business secretary Vince Cable to say the government could legislate on zero hours contracts, while still ruling out a ban. Unions have expressed alarm at the rapid increase in zero hours-zero rights employment. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis commented: 'UNISON would like to see the use of these contracts banned - at the very least the government needs an official investigation to confirm the true scale of the problem.' Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said 'our evidence shows there is no part of the economy which is safe from this practice. There is no doubt that pressure is going to build on this government to act to end this pernicious practice. The government should not wait to be convinced. There needs to be an urgent change in the law to stop employers exploiting workers by trapping them in a life of insecure work and poverty.'

Engineering firm disabled safety interlocks

An employee injured his hand on a machine at an engineering firm where a safety lock had been deliberately disabled. The worker, who does not wish to be named, almost lost a finger whilst trying to clear swarf (metal debris) from a large Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) milling machine at Quickmach Engineering Pressings Ltd in Cinderford on 12 November 2012. Cheltenham Magistrates' Court heard that the employee, an experienced machinist, was working on components for the aviation industry. He had entered the machine to clear swarf with a stick when his right hand slipped and came into contact with a rotating cutter, which cut and almost severed his index finger. The worker has since had to have two operations and was unable to work for a considerable period. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered that an interlock switch to the sliding access door of the machine had been dismantled and deliberately disabled. An inspector established that it had been in this condition for at least two years. Had the interlock switch been working it would not have been possible to enter the machine until the cutter had stopped rotating. Despite this serious incident, when HSE visited the company on 6 December 2012, they found that the machine was still being used in exactly the same way, with a disabled interlock. Quickmach Engineering Pressings Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,121 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. HSE inspector Caroline Bird said: 'The CNC machine had been fitted with safety devices by the manufacturer, but Quickmach had allowed employees to deliberately dismantle them - a practice that had continued unchallenged for at least two years.'

Director escapes with a fine for street crimes

A Buckinghamshire construction company and its managing director have been fined for multiple safety failings following the total collapse of two large properties in Westminster. The buildings, on London's Fulham Road, were reduced to rubble in January 2011 and neighbouring properties sustained serious structural damage. Ethos Construction Solutions Limited and sole director Pritish Lad were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Westminster Magistrates' Court heard that Ethos Construction, led by Mr Lad, was the principal contractor for a major project to refurbish a self-contained block of 14 buildings to create 56 new apartments and 13 commercial units. Numbers 270 and 280, adjoining properties, collapsed without warning on Sunday 23 January. The weekend timing meant there was no work activity and nobody was on site. Three prohibition notices were issued by HSE to stop dangerous work on the project. Ethos Construction Solutions Limited was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay a £9,000 in costs after pleading guilty to six breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and a single breach of Work at Height Regulations 2005. Pritish Lad, 34, pleaded guilty to five breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and the same Work at Height breach. He was fined a total of £9,500 with costs of £6,750. After sentencing HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers commented: 'The development site was a scene of complete devastation following the collapse and had anyone been working at the time there could have been multiple fatalities and serious injuries.'

Factory noise led to tinnitus

A machine operator was left with serious hearing difficulties after his employers failed to provide him with appropriate hearing protection. Joseph Shaw now requires a hearing aid due to the damage caused by the noisy machinery at engineering firms Warrington Wheel and Titan Distribution and Thames Board Mills. The 75-year-old worked as a press operator at Warrington Wheel and Titan's St Helen's factory between 1973 and 1997, where he was responsible for operating machines that punched out steel to make wheels for wagons and trailers. He also worked at Thames Board Mills between 1961 and 1967 doing maintenance work. He says has been devastated by the loss of his hearing and the affect that tinnitus, a ringing and buzzing sensation in his ears, has had on his life. Sarah Tagg, who specialises in industrial deafness claims at the law firm Irwin Mitchell and who obtained a four-figure payout to cover the cost of hearing aids, said: 'Joseph was never warned or advised about the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss or provided with the appropriate protective equipment during his employment at these two companies.' She added: 'The cost of hearing aids can run into thousands and even then will not provide perfect hearing for the wearer - meaning other adaptations need to be made, such as specially developed telephones, doorbells and alarm systems. Joseph is now unable to hear properly through no fault of his own so we hope the settlement will give him the opportunity and funds to improve his quality of life.'

International news

Global: Low labour standards blight hi-tech industries

When China's largest exporter teamed up with arguably the world's most prestigious hi-tech brand, there was one clear loser - the workers whose suicide-inducing, intensified labour fed the success of the two multinationals. This is the conclusion of a special issue of the academic journal New Technology, Work and Employment. Papers in the latest issue examine the production of electronic consumables by Foxconn, the Taiwanese-owned multinational supplier, which is China's leading exporter and a major supplier to Apple. In 2010, Foxconn attracted worldwide notoriety when a spate of worker suicides occurred at its factories in China (Risks 459). One paper relates the testimony of Tian Yu, a young female migrant worker, who attempted suicide by jumping from the fourth floor of her dormitory accommodation. An editorial in the journal notes that her despair stemmed 'from endless hours of assembly line toil in a harsh factory regime driven by escalating targets, manufacturing component for Apple iPhones.' She worked more than 12 hours each day, six days a week. She was compelled to attend early work meetings for no pay, and to skip meals to do overtime. Toilet breaks were restricted; mistakes earned you a public dressing down. Another paper examines the system driving the abuse, 'the buyer-driven value chain, in which Apple establishes parameters and control over price-setting, production processes and product delivery from its suppliers, notably Foxconn.' According to the journal editors, UK-based academics Debra Howcroft and Phil Taylor: 'As the scale of production has ramped up, Apple's 'value capture' and profits have soared while Foxconn's margins have flatlined, the outcome being massive intensification of work and a harsh workplace managerial regime.' After her suicide attempt, Yu received a one-off "humanitarian payment" of ¥180,000 (£18,000) to help her go home. The Guardian reports that last year Apple boss Tim Cook received wages of $4m - a big drop on the package he took in 2011.

Global: Call for phase out of killer pesticides

Highly hazardous pesticides should be phased out because it has proven 'very difficult' to ensure proper handling, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said. The UN body was commenting in the wake of a July tragedy in Bihar, India, where 23 school children died after eating a school meal contaminated with the pesticide monocrotophos. FAO said the incident was an important reminder of the need to speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from markets in developing countries. FAO noted: 'Experience in many developing countries shows that the distribution and use of such highly toxic products very often poses a serious risk to human health and the environment... The entire distribution and disposal cycle for highly hazardous pesticides carries significant risks. Safeguards are difficult to ensure in many countries.' It concludes: 'FAO therefore recommends that governments in developing countries should speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from their markets. Non-chemical and less toxic alternatives are available, and in many cases Integrated Pest Management can provide adequate pest management that is more sustainable and reduces the use of pesticides.'

USA: Treating workers fairly is good business

Fair working standards for construction workers and financial profit for developers aren't incompatible, according to a new report from the Workers Defense Project. Instead the report from the Texas-based advocacy group concludes consumers are willing to pay more to live in places built on principles of safety, economic justice and dignity. 'Green jobs for downtown Austin: Exploring the consumer market for sustainable buildings', a collaboration with the University of Texas Center for Sustainable Development, studied consumer attitudes toward sustainable construction. In an interview published in The Pump Handle public health blog, Greg Casar, business liaison at the Workers Defense Project, noted: 'We wanted to understand quantitatively just how much consumers did care (about sustainable jobs), and we found out that they really did.' The researchers found over two-thirds of residents and tourists were willing to pay more to stay in buildings certified by the Project's Premier Community Builders programme. The programme was created to address serious safety and labour rights issues in the state's booming construction industry. Texas has the highest construction worker fatality rate in the country.

USA: Respirators don't protect you from fracking dust

Workers involved in 'fracking' are being exposed to levels of carcinogenic silica up to 10 times the US recommended limit, a study has found. The US study of worker exposures during hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations found that the most commonly used type of respirator, the half-mask air-purifying respirator, might not provide enough protection for workers. Researchers from the US government's occupational health research institute, NIOSH, examined worker exposure to crystalline silica during directional drilling and fracking operations, a process to access oil or gas captured in rock. 'Certain work in this industry requires employees to be in areas where respirable silica levels may exceed defined occupational exposure limits like the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit or the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits [RELs],' said researcher Michael Breitenstein. 'However, our study found that in some cases, full shift personal breathing zone exposures exceeded 10 times the REL.' Co-author Eric J Esswein added: 'Although half-mask, air-purifying respirators are most commonly used at hydraulic fracturing sites, due to the magnitude of the silica concentrations measured, half-masks might not be sufficiently protective. In some cases, silica concentrations exceeded the maximum use concentration for that type of respirator.'


New union safety website for journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has launched a website dedicated to the safety and protection of media. The global union says the website will provide a one stop portal for all IFJ activities to promote the safety of journalists and to combat the apparent impunity for violence targeting media. 'With the continued onslaught on journalists in trouble spots around the globe, hundreds of reporters, editors and their support staff face persecution, intimidation, torture and even death simply for doing their job,' said IFJ president Jim Boumelha. 'The International Federation of Journalists now plays a unique role in safeguarding the lives of journalists everywhere. The launch of the IFJ safety website marks a new chapter in our history, making it a vital tool for journalists and their unions to manage risk, raise awareness, provide safety training and advice, create a culture of safety and join the campaign to end impunity.' The website provides information on the strategies, programmes and activities related to the safety and human rights of journalists, including details on the IFJ International Safety Fund. IFJ says there will be regular updates on safety for journalists who need to work or travel to regions affected by conflicts, political instability and outbreak of diseases as well as natural disasters.

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