Risks 643 - 22 February 2014
- Firms should be sympathetic to flood victims
- TUC warning on fracking dangers
- PCS calls for end to ‘demeaning work tests’
- Safety probe at Alder Hey construction site
- Safety cuts ‘calculated on the back of an envelope’
- Jack failure led to career-ending facial injury
- RMT repeats its opposition to driverless trains
- ‘Outrageous’ vessel held over safety concerns
- Violence at work isn’t going away
- Tipper driver crushed to death at concrete block plant
- Farming firm in court after wetland deaths
- Engineer and firm fined over crush deaths
- Security firm fined for generator death failings
- Cold storage firm done for multiple failings
- France: Cancer plan includes workplace prevention push
- Qatar: We can prevent the World Cup carnage
- Global: Industrial chemicals are damaging our brains
- Tanzania: Deaths mine 'had a fantastic year'
The TUC is urging employers to be sympathetic to the problems being faced by the thousands of employees affected by flooding. New guidance from the union body says employers should be offering extra support to staff whose homes are either already partially submerged or are at risk from the rising floodwater. Allowing staff to use showers and washing facilities at work as well as giving affected workers time off to cope with the problems they face would be an enormous help, notes the TUC. It adds that workplaces situated in flooded localities must be safe before anyone returns to work, warning that flood water brings with it serious safety and infection risks. The TUC guide says before any return to work in buildings hit by the floods, union safety reps should meet employers to check first that workplaces are safe. This means checking that any affected factory, shop or office is not only dry, but has also been cleaned and disinfected. TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said “employers whose workplaces have escaped the floodwater or that are in unaffected areas should be sympathetic to the problems being experienced by their employees and allow them time away from work. And when the water finally starts to recede, although employers and their staff will be keen for a return to normal as soon as possible, it’s important not to risk avoidable injuries and accidents by doing things in a rush. Employers need to check that their workplaces are safe before asking their staff to come back to work.”
Known dangers of shale gas exploitation and the poorly understood risks of fracking processes mean the industry must be tightly regulated, the TUC has warned. In a submission to an inquiry by the House of Lords select committee on economic affairs it notes “there are very limited data regarding occupational health hazards from exposure to the chemicals, proppants and processes used in high volume hydro-fracking.” Risks include exposures to a range of toxic and carcinogenic substances, as well as more typical hazards found in the extractive industries. “The way forward involves good management of risks supported by tight regulation and full transparency,” the TUC submission notes. “The TUC would want to ensure tight regulations across a range of health and safety at work issues, developed in consultation with trade unions. The onset of potentially high volume shale gas fracking across many parts of the country represents a new industrial, environmental, and land use development pattern with significant potential for impacts on public and employee health.” The submission concludes: “The implementation of new natural gas extraction technologies, continual changes in the gas development industry, rapid growth of drilling operations in new areas, the need for transparency and disclosure of the full range of chemicals used in fracking, and variations in operations between companies pose significant challenges for occupational health which have yet to be comprehensively addressed.”
The government’s ‘demeaning’ fitness for worker tests should be scrapped and Atos, the private contractor conducting them, should be sacked, Jobcentre union PCS has said. Commenting ahead of a 19 February national day of action against Atos called by disability groups, PCS said support to help sick and disabled people find work if they can should be brought back in-house. It said the tests “carried out by Atos on behalf of the government are designed solely to cut entitlements and have no place in our social security system.” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is a scandal that the likes of Atos are profiting from this government's cold and calculating assault on sick and disabled people. The demeaning tests should be scrapped and the work to provide the kind of professional and caring support that disabled people need and deserve should be brought back in-house.” The protests are also being backed by the union Unite. Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The government’s own figures last year showed that 10,600 people died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos. This alone should have set alarm bells ringing that the assessments were not fit for purpose. We are calling on the government to stop this degrading policy and introduce a fairer transparent system that restores dignity to the sick and disabled.” The day of action was organised by disability campaign groups Disabled People Against the Cuts and Black Triangle.
Construction union UCATT has welcomed a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announcement that it is to conduct inspections on the £237m Alder Hey Hospital site in Liverpool. The HSE’s decision to inspect comes a week after UCATT raised safety concerns about the site. HSE said following an approach from UCATT, it was investigating five incidents, including one where a worker suffered a crushed pelvis and another where a worker suffered a crushed hand on site. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “We welcome the HSE’s decision to investigate our safety concerns at Alder Hey. However this is retrospective action and we want to prevent accidents occurring in the first place. To achieve this it is vital that workers are engaged in their own safety with the appointment of site based UCATT health and safety reps.” UCATT said it had been attempting to undertake meaningful dialogue with Laing O’Rourke, the principal contractor at Alder Hey hospital, for some sometime without success. Mr Murphy added: “I requested a meeting with Laing O’Rourke last autumn to no avail. I would welcome a meeting to try to resolve our safety concerns and the ongoing industrial relations matters.” Andy Fisher, regional secretary for UCATT’s North West region, said: "This is clearly a very unhappy site which has now got serious safety issues.” Liverpool's mayor Joe Anderson and local MP Stephen Twigg have also raised concerns with Laing O'Rourke.
Government cuts to proactive Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections were imposed without an impact assessment and without any investigation of increased risks to workers or the general public, the construction union UCATT has found. The union said the government’s 2011 safety strategy “effectively ended proactive inspections in many sectors: including agriculture, quarries and docks,” and means “the number of proactive inspections being undertaken by the HSE is effectively capped at 22,000 per annum.” The union made freedom of information requests to the Department of Work and Pensions and HSE, asking for documents detailing the formula used to reduce the number of inspections, a copy of the impact assessment used in making the decision and any papers detailing any potential increased risks to workers or the general public from reducing the number of proactive inspections. Both DWP and HSE said they did not hold the information requested. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “This is disgusting the government have gambled with people’s lives with calculations basically made on the back of an envelope.” He added: “The cuts in proactive inspections are making workplaces more dangerous for workers and the general public. People will have been injured and possibly have lost their lives due to this decision and yet there is no evidence or research to identify the risks. The government must explain why they did this.” ‘Low life’, a January 2013 Hazards magazine analysis of HSE’s official fatality figures, showed that 53 per cent of deaths occurred in those workplaces no longer subject to unannounced preventive inspections (Risks 643). Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said: “This is clear evidence that the decision is a purely ideological deregulatory response, with no evidence to back it up, but much evidence that this is harmful to workers and may be deadly.”
Ÿ Morning Star.
A welder from Manchester suffered a facial fracture so severe it ended his career and left him on benefits and needing to wear a prosthetic mask when outdoors. The 49-year-old Unite member, whose name has not been released, was working for the Hulme Group repairing commercial vehicles. He was attempting to join two pieces of steel together when the hydraulic jack he was using to hold the metal in place gave way and struck him in the face. The force of the impact shattered his left eye socket and severed the nerves in his left cheek. He has since undergone five operations to rebuild his eye socket. He has also had spinal cord stimulation surgery and deep brain stimulation surgery in an attempt to control the pain in his face. He now cannot leave home without wearing a bespoke prosthetic mask to protect the left side of his face from the elements. In a union-backed compensation case, the Unite member was awarded a £500,000 payout. Unite regional secretary Mick Whitley said: “This case shows how important it is for employers to provide safe work equipment and a safe system of work. The Hulme Group failed to provide our member with a safe workplace which has caused unimaginable consequences for him.” He added that the payments would allow the Unite member to obtain “specialist therapies including psychological, speech and language therapy, and equipment that has helped with his rehabilitation.”
Rail union RMT has said driverless trains will not come to the London Underground. London mayor Boris Johnson has raised repeatedly the prospect of driverless trains, but the RMT general secretary Bob Crow said “it’s not going to happen.” He said driverless trains were unsafe and unsuited to the Victorian rail system. Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics show last week, the RMT leader said: “Driverless trains are not coming in because we’re not having driverless trains... we’re not having it. It’s not safe.” He said comparisons with other driverless train systems, including the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), were not valid. “These are brand new lines that have been built, so when the train breaks down people can evacuate and walk down the tunnels. Would you want to be stuck on a train with 800 people on a summer’s day, on the Northern Line, yards upon yards below the surface of Britain - a pregnant woman on there who can’t get off the train, absolute panic that takes place? The reality is pretty simple, it’s a no - it’s not going to happen because it’s a Victorian network.” He added that driverless trains were only possible on the DLR network because it was above ground.
A union ship inspector has criticised conditions onboard a Panamanian-flagged vessel detained in the UK over safety and welfare concerns. Tommy Molloy, who inspects ships for the union Nautilus and global union ITF, said the conditions onboard the livestock carrier Express 1, owned by Sun Light Shipping Co SA, were ‘outrageous’. The 25 crew of the Express 1 - including 15 Syrians, eight Filipinos and two Romanians - are being cared for by the Mission to Seafarers in Fowey, Cornwall, where their vessel has been held after suffering engine failure. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) served a detention notice because of a number of ‘safety issues’ — including concern over the crew’s emergency training, the fire detection systems and deficiencies in the crew accommodation, with a lack of hot water and heating. This notice, which prevents the Express 1 from sailing, will remain in place until the necessary improvements are carried out by the vessel’s owners, said the MCA. “Panama have consistently failed to live up to the expectations of a flag state, even though they have signed up to the Maritime Labour Convention,” said Mr Molloy. He praised the work of the Mission to Seafarers as “tremendous, but it is outrageous that the crew's employers have let the Mission to take on its responsibilities.”
The long term drop in violent incidents at work has stalled over the last four years, latest statistics for England and Wales have confirmed, with violent incidents rising by 1 per cent last year. Findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) confirmed that in 2012/13 the risk of being a victim of actual or threatened violence at work had plateaued, with an estimated 1.4 per cent of working adults the victims of one or more violent incidents at work. There were an estimated 649,000 incidents of violence at work according to the 2012/13 CSEW, comprising 332,000 assaults and 317,000 threats. This compares to an estimated 643,000 incidents in 2011/12, an increase of 1 per cent, a change the Health and Safety Executive said “is not statistically significant.” The 2012/13 CSEW found that 1.2 per cent of women and 1.6 per cent of men were victims of violence at work once or more during the year prior to their interview. An estimated 60 per cent of victims reported one incident of work related violence whilst 16 per cent experienced two incidents of work related violence and 24 per cent experienced three or more incidents in 2012/13. The survey found 51 per cent of assaults at work resulted in injury, with minor bruising or a black eye accounting for the majority of the injuries recorded.
Ÿ HSE alert.
A concrete block manufacturer has been fined £100,000 after a worker was crushed to death when a tipper truck overturned. David Astley, 56, was crushed when a trailer full of limestone dust fell on him at the Widnes plant as it was being emptied on 13 July 2013. Block maker Plasmor (Halton) was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the company failed to have a safety system in place for the delivery of raw materials, despite several tipper trucks coming onto the site every day. Liverpool Crown Court heard David Astley was tipping the limestone on to the site when another driver arrived at the plant with a second load. The second driver was told to empty his truck in the same place but, as he lifted the trailer, it overturned and fell on top of Astley’s cab. The court was told the tipper trucks arriving on the site could weigh up to 44 tonnes and the risk of vehicles overturning is well known in the manufacturing and construction industry. Plasmor (Halton) was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £28,634 after pleading guilty to criminal safety breaches. HSE inspector Jane Carroll said: “Mr Astley sadly lost his life because Plasmor hadn’t considered the risks facing drivers who arrived on the site. The company should have known there was a danger of tipper trucks overturning, and created exclusion zones to minimise the risk of anyone being injured. Instead, two drivers were allowed to empty their trailers next to each other.” She added: “Plasmor has since changed its procedures so staff are properly trained and tipper trucks are kept at least 20 metres apart. If this system had been in place at the time of the incident then Mr Astley’s death could have been avoided.”
A Cambridgeshire farming partnership has been sentenced for a criminal safety offence following the death of a student undertaking pest control work. Trainee gamekeeper Luke Yardy, 17, drowned in a lake at Kingfishers Bridge Wetland in Wicken on 11 September 2011 when he fell from a small boat while trying to retrieve the carcass of a culled goose. His step-brother, Ashley, also drowned while attempting a rescue. Luke had been engaged to work on the site by AC, PC, & RC Green, a farming partnership managing the wetland on behalf of the Kingfishers Bridge Wetland Creation Trust. The teenager had not been provided with a life jacket and had not received any training in the use of boats or water craft. He quickly got into difficulty when he fell into the water. Ashley, 22, who was watching from the lakeside, also drowned while trying to save Luke. Their bodies were recovered a significant time later after the emergency services were called. AC, PC, & RC Green, of Wicken, Ely was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £31,252 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Peter Burns said: “Had Luke been wearing a simple floatation aid, like a life jacket, then he would not have drowned, and Ashley would not have needed to attempt a rescue.” He added: “Those in control of lakes that people are allowed to access by boat should ensure that lifejackets are worn at all times unless there are specific grounds for not doing so. That wasn’t the case here, and a jacket should have been worn.”
A building firm and an engineer have been fined after two workers died when a wall collapsed on them at a building site in Suffolk. Matthew Skeet, 19, and Kevin Ruffles, 57, died at Worlingworth on 21 October 2010. Elliston Steady & Hawes (Building) was fined £45,000 and Barry Potts, 65, fined £15,000 at Ipswich Crown Court. Both the firm and Potts had previously admitted a criminal health and safety breach. The court heard the men were digging a trench on a farm at Worlingworth, near Eye, when a barn wall gave way. Post-mortem examinations found both men died of multiple injuries after being buried under rubble. The judge ruled the building company must pay the fine within six months and pay prosecution costs of £15,000. Potts was told he must pay his fine within a year or face 12 months in prison. He was also ordered to pay £5,000 in costs. Det Ch Insp Andy Smith of Suffolk Police, said: “This was a tragic incident in which two men lost their lives. In the case of Potts it was confirmed that the evidence demonstrated his conduct fell far below that which could be expected of a competent engineer. He failed to inspect and test the foundations underpinning the wall and gave advice to Kevin Ruffles which was grossly negligent.” He added: “Unfortunately, at the time this incident occurred, Elliston Steady and Hawes (Building) Limited were not managing the Malting's building project as they should have been. They missed an opportunity to challenge Potts' negligent advice, they failed to secure written method statements and did not appoint a temporary works co-ordinator.” This tragedy was investigated by the Joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team, working closely with the Health and Safety Executive.
A security company has been fined for criminal safety failings after a lone working security guard was killed by carbon monoxide fumes from a petrol generator. Arthur Ebirim, 45, was overcome by the killer gas on 28 October 2011 as he kept a night-time watch over a disused nursing home in Taunton Vale, Gravesend, that was awaiting demolition. His employer Anchor Services (GB) Limited was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation identified serious flaws with how the generator was used. Dartford Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Ebirim and colleagues had been assigned to security at the nursing home since early August 2011. The guards were initially stationed outside the building before moving into a lobby area inside as the weather cooled. The petrol generator, which was designed for outdoor use, belonged to one of the workers and was also placed inside the lobby to provide a power source. On the evening of 27 October 2011 Mr Ebirim was asked to guard the home alone because the usual night-time guard was unavailable. His wife raised the alarm when he failed to contact her at the end of his shift the next morning. Emergency workers discovered Mr Ebirim slumped in a chair. He was pronounced dead at the scene before a post mortem later confirmed carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause of death. The court was told that Anchor Services (GB) Limited failed to assess the risks posed by the generator and also failed to implement its agreed lone working procedures on the night of Mr Ebirim’s death. The company, now in the hands of Sutton-based liquidators Turpin Baker Armstrong, was found guilty in absentia of a criminal safety breach and was fined £20,000, the maximum penalty available to magistrates, and was ordered to pay a further £35,656 in costs.
A Nottinghamshire cold storage firm has been fined for criminal safety failings after one worker was injured by falling equipment and several others developed a disabling condition of the nerves and joints. In the first incident, an agency worker was struck and trapped by a section of falling portable cold storage at Dawson Rental Portable Cold Storage Ltd, of Huthwaite, on 26 October 2010. Kevin Rodgers, 37, was trapped under the L-shaped section of cold store while breaking up smaller sections of the equipment. He broke several bones in his foot and also suffered an epileptic seizure, which kept him off work for some time afterwards. Nottingham Crown Court heard the firm failed to properly assess the risks involved in the dismantling process, staff training and supervision was inadequate, and there was no safe system of work in place. A separate Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation was conducted after several employees were reported to be suffering from various stages of Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) after working for the company. One case was shown to be so severe that the worker, Paul Straw, 47, from Mansfield Woodhouse, was unable to do his job any longer and is now on benefits. HSE discovered that workers were using power tools for significant periods of time, without the legally-required controls. Dawson Rental Portable Cold Storage Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
The French government’s new national cancer prevention plan includes an explicit aim to reduce the toll of occupational cancer through regulation, enforcement and substitution. Objective 12 of the action plan for 2014-2019 is ‘Preventing cancers related to work or the environment.’ Launching the plan, French president François Hollande said: “There are work-related cancers, which hit at least 14,000 people each year. Two million are regularly exposed to carcinogenic chemicals. The State will ensure compliance with regulations, policies on substitution will be encouraged with the participation of social partners.” The president noted: “The chances of dying from cancer between the ages of 30-65 are two times higher for the working class than for managers.” He told medical professionals the plan aims to give “the same chances to everyone everywhere in France” in preventing and fighting cancer. The strategy also includes measures to protect the employment of cancer sufferers, to be worked out in consultation with employers and unions. The president said “we know very well, a third of people in business, when the diagnosis is issued to them, lose their jobs after two years. This is unacceptable. We must encourage time management work for people with cancer, develop enhanced rights in terms of vocational training, educating businesses about the risks discrimination on the conditions for a return to work... I have asked the Minister of Labour to implement, with social partners, these guidelines.”
Ÿ President François Hollande’s news release (in French).
If the 2022 Qatar World Cup organisers thought they would escape scrutiny by publishing revised Workers’ Safety Standards last week - and misleadingly claiming they had the backing of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - they were wrong. The Observer reported last Sunday that 400 Nepalis had died in Qatar in the last year, a finding followed up by statistics obtained from the Indian Embassy in Qatar that revealed more than 450 Indian migrants had died in Qatar in the last two years. This compares to the London 2012 Olympic record of no fatalities at all, and an injury record well below the UK construction rate. According to Owen Tudor, head of the UK TUC’s international department, this contrast owes much to the role played by unions. Writing in TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he noted “union organised workplaces are safety than ones without. In Qatar, where raising safety concerns can leave you unemployed and trapped, workers need the protection and confidence of unions to speak out.” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said: “Qatar is choosing to prolong the system of modern slavery which is the root cause of the incredibly high death toll for workers. It doesn’t have to be that way but there is no political will for workers’ rights. Qatar is building its modern nation with the labour of migrant workers and deliberately chooses to maintain a system that treats these workers as less than human.” She added: “Charters which are not enforceable and rely on company self-audits have been proven not to work. Without legal rights and free trade unions, workers will not be able to speak openly about safety concerns without fear and will continue to pay with their lives.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
Ÿ The Observer.
Industrial chemicals including some common pesticides and solvents may be behind the increasing number of cases of neurodevelopmental disabilities among children, researchers warn. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York, published their findings online last week in the journal Lancet Neurology. They concluded voluntary controls are not working, and a precautionary approach should be adopted internationally to stem the “silent epidemic” of neurological and other disorders caused by chemical exposures. The new study follows similar research by the authors published in 2006 in which they reviewed clinical and epidemiological studies and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic and toluene. Grandjean and Landrigan's current review updates that list and adds six other developmental neurotoxicants: manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (often used as flame retardants). Manganese has been linked to diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills, and solvents have been linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour, the authors write. The effects of neurotoxicity can be society-wide, the authors note, as loss of IQ points may bring down earnings thereby affecting GDP. “The presumption that new chemicals and technologies are safe until proven otherwise is a fundamental problem,” the authors write, adding: “Voluntary controls seem to be of little value.” The call for an international strategy that takes a precautionary approach to fully evaluate new chemicals before they hit the markets. Testing on industrial chemicals and pesticides already on the market should also take place, they say. “The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international,” Grandjean said.
Ÿ Philippe Grandjean, and Philip J Landrigan. Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity, The Lancet Neurology, volume 13, issue 3, pages 330-338, March 2014, published online ahead of print 14 February 2014 [Summary].
Ÿ CNN News.
At last week’s launch of the African Barrick Gold plc (ABG) 2013 financial results, chief executive officer Brad Gordon said that its North Mara gold mine in Tanzania “had a fantastic year last year.” The company, though, made no mention of the multiple deaths and injuries to local villagers that have occurred over the past year, including four deaths at the mine in the past month alone. Instead, ABG reported its North Mara mine had 'zero fatalities'. According to Brad Gordon: “North Mara had a fantastic year last year. As far as I am concerned, North Mara is a great asset. You won’t get many better assets than North Mara in Africa. We produced 256,000 ounces at North Mara at reasonable costs.” At current rates, 256,000 ounces of gold would fetch over US$331m (£201.4m). ABG is being sued in the High Court of England for deaths and injuries of villagers at the North Mara mine between 2010 and 2012. UK law firm Leigh Day, which is acting for 11 Tanzanian villagers who issued proceedings against ABG and its 100 per cent subsidiary, North Mara Gold Mine Limited (NMGML) in the UK High Court in 2013. Villagers often try to gather rocks in the vicinity of the mine in the hope of finding small amounts of gold. The claim alleges that the companies are liable for attacks on villagers, including the killing of at least six by police, effectively acting as security at the North Mara mine. “It’s sickening that a company that talks about respecting human rights can claim one of its mines had a ‘fantastic year’ at the same time as people are regularly being killed and injured at the mine,” said Leigh Day partner, Richard Meeran. Tanzania’s gold industry has been criticised for the widespread employment of child labour, who face risks from mercury, silica and other exposures (Risks 620).
The TUC webpages for Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April 2014 are now up, ready and waiting to list your planned activities. This year the theme for the annual event is 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights.' The TUC 28 April webpage notes: “The TUC believes that we should use the day to highlight the need for strong regulation at national, European and global level. We need to stop companies in the UK from benefiting from the lack of health and safety standards that lead to disasters such as the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed over 1,100 workers.” It adds: “We also need a strong strategy on health and safety from the European Commission which will raise standards throughout Europe, while in the UK we need an end to the cuts in enforcement and regulation and instead action to tackle the huge number of occupational diseases and injuries.” Among other activities, the TUC will be urging people to contact candidates in the European elections scheduled for Thursday 22 May 2014 to press the case for better workplace health and safety standards.
The theme for Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April this year will be: 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights'. ITUC, the global union body coordinating the event worldwide, says it is also encouraging unions to use the slogan, 'Unions make work safer' on their materials.
Ÿ For news, resources and updates on UK Workers’ Memorial Day 2014 activities, see the TUC 28 April webpages.
COURSES FOR January to March 2014
The person responsible for the Risks e-bulletin is Hugh Robertson
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Issued: 21 February, 2014