Number 674 - 4 October 2014
The government’s attacks on health and safety, including swingeing cuts to the Health and Safety Executive’s budget and the erosion of its inspection and enforcement functions, could jeopardise long-term improvements in standards at work, retail union Usdaw has warned. Speaking on the 1 October 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act taking effect, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said the law was “one of the most important pieces of legislation” ever introduced. “This legislation has stood the test of time, with much of it still used regularly by our army of Usdaw health and safety reps,” he said. But he warned: “Today our concerns lie in enforcement and inspection of workplaces. The current government is obsessed with deregulation, claiming that health and safety inspections are not needed for ‘low risk’ workplaces such as shops and offices. It simply isn’t true that it’s only people who work in ‘dangerous’ industries who are at risk. Cuts and political interference from ministers mean that most workplaces are no longer being inspected.” The union is directing its safety reps to a Hazards Campaign ‘Don’t pimp our watchdog’ initiative, which is calling for an end to the “commercialisation” of HSE. “Hazards Campaign shares the concern of unions and health and safety experts that the new focus on commercial services will divert scarce resources from HSE's role as a regulator,” Usdaw notes. “It wants union safety reps and workers to send a blizzard of emails and letters to the new HSE head telling him we want HSE to use its powers to enforce the law instead of selling its services to anyone who can pay.” Usdaw says the campaign includes “a cool graphic that can be used on workplace noticeboards and a model letter” safety reps can send to incoming HSE chief executive Richard Judge.
The Health and Safety Executive’s board must halt plans to close vital health and safety advisory committees and to replace them with “experts”, Unite has said. The union says internal HSE papers reveal the regulator wants to close committees dealing with toxic substances and that have been instrumental in developing the HSE’s policy on hazards including asbestos (Risks 673). One committee dealing with chemicals - WATCH - has already been told it has been disbanded. Unite says its parent body, the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS), also appears to be under threat. The union warns substituting academics for committees that include the on-the-ground knowledge of both employer and union representatives will be damaging. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “It seems the HSE is trying to eliminate trade unions from giving advice on workplace ill-health. According to HSE, involving the workforce is a key component of good health and safety – maybe they only say that when it suits them.” He added: “Trade unions know about work, and they know all too much about work related ill-health. It is trade union members and other workers who are killed, injured or made ill by work. Trade unions must continue to have a key role in advising HSE about how to prevent those deaths, injuries and diseases. I call on the HSE to halt these plans and ensure trade unions are included in all talks concerning the health and safety of workers.”
The TUC is urging football’s governing body to make a stand against the deadly form of ‘modern slavery’ in Qatar, FIFA’s pick to host the 2022 World Cup. A new ‘Playfair Qatar’ campaign warns that the low wages and high risks endured by the migrant labour force, combined with the tied labour ‘kafala’ system, make the oil-rich nation an unfit venue. The campaign to move the event to a more suitable host nation received unexpected support last month from a top FIFA official. Executive member Theo Zwanziger told Sport Bild: “Fans from around the world will be coming and travelling in this heat and the first life-threatening case will trigger an investigation by a state prosecutor. That is not something FIFA Exco members want to answer for.” He said: “I personally believe that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar. Medical experts say that they cannot accept responsibility for a World Cup taking place under these conditions.” According to the TUC, Dr Zwanziger – the FIFA executive member charged with addressing the issue of the appalling conditions under which the 1.4m strong migrant population is building the World Cup infrastructure – made no reference to the deaths of hundreds of construction workers. “Instead, a man whose investigations will have shown him the evidence that 4,000 people will die working on the World Cup before the tournament starts, appears more concerned about the effect of heat on queuing fans than he is on its effect on a construction worker putting in a 10-hour shift in a 50 degree August heat wave,” TUC’s Stephen Russell observed. He said TUC’s Playfair Qatar campaign aims “to bring together British opposition to Qatar’s modern slavery”, adding it will “build a powerful voice to force government, business and sporting bodies – here and internationally – to talk about the only thing that really matters: saving workers lives and giving them back their rights.”
Ÿ Daily Mail.
Ineos must demonstrate to workers and the community its commitment to safety after a butane leak at its Grangemouth plant, the union Unite has said. Fire, police and ambulance crews were called as part of a multi-agency response to the butane gas leak at the central Scotland terminal shortly after 10am on 30 September. Part of the site was evacuated and road closures were put in place until noon. Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “Grangemouth is Scotland’s premier industrial site so it is vital that the workforce, the local community and the contractors can have every confidence that it is being run with maximum emphasis on safety. This morning’s butane leak is not a minor incident, the lock-down of the site and the surrounding areas, including the need for local schools to keep children indoors until the all-clear was given, was a reflection of the severity of this incident.” He added: “Unite has stressed time and again that the best way to maintain the highest safety standards at the site is to work with the union and our expert safety reps. It is no secret to the company that we are seriously concerned that the number of safety specialists on the site has been cut to level that we regard as unacceptable and so I stress again to Ineos, work with us to rectify this situation.” The union leader said: “When we sit down with the Health and Safety Executive, as planned for later in October, we will also be looking for their commitment to delivering world class safety at the Grangemouth site. Scottish and UK taxpayers have invested in this plant; at the very least they must have confidence in its operations.”
Ÿ The Herald.
Teaching union NUT has welcomed a commitment from the government to reduce teacher workloads. Education secretary Nicky Morgan, addressing the Conservative Party conference on 30 September, described teachers as the “heroes” of the education system, and promised she would make a priority of reducing their workload. She said she sympathised with teachers “working late into the night marking books, planning lessons, preparing for inspections that may or may not come.” And she told delegates: “I don't want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well.” Mrs Morgan said she would work with teachers’ unions and representatives to discuss problems with workload - and to “treat them as the professionals they are.” NUT general secretary Christine Blower, welcoming the minister’s workload pledge, said the union’s new survey results show “that teachers are at breaking point with 90 per cent saying they had considered giving up teaching during the past two years because of workload. The education secretary needs to address this issue urgently. The NUT can provide solutions.” The union leader said much of the workload “is completely unnecessary” and is driven by the teaching standards watchdog Ofsted. “Nicky Morgan recognised today in her comments that an exhausted, dispirited teacher is not what children or parents want or deserve. Over the next few weeks the NUT will see what action Nicky Morgan is prepared to take to bring about very significant change.”
A train driver who suffered psychological trauma after he hit a member of the public who stood in front of his moving train in an apparent suicide has been one of the last to secure compensation from an official criminal injuries scheme. The ASLEF member, employed by Cross Country Trains, was driving through a railway crossing at speed when a person stood on the tracks in front of his train. The driver was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and travel anxiety. His mental illness was so debilitating that he was unable to work for six months, and when he returned, he could do so only on limited duties. Supported by his union, he was awarded compensation under the old rules of the government-run Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority Scheme (CICA), which compensates the innocent victims of a crime of violence. The sum of £8,200 is one of the highest ever secured from the CICA in suicide cases but will be one of the last, following changes by the current government in 2012 that excluded train drivers and many other workers from claiming compensation for physical or mental injuries sustained during the course of their employment (Risks 653). Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, said: “There are on average more than 200 suicides a year on the railways and these incidents cause huge trauma for the driver involved and their families.” He warned “this government’s shameful changes to CICA mean protection for other drivers will simply not be there. Vulnerable train drivers will no longer get the compensation they deserve.”
Working long hours in ‘low status’ jobs can increase your risk for diabetes, a new study suggests. Researchers examined data from earlier studies involving more than 222,000 men and women in the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia who were followed for an average of 7.6 years. The initial analysis revealed no difference in the risk of type 2 diabetes among people who worked more than 55 hours a week and those who worked 35 to 40 hours a week. However, further analyses showed that people who worked more than 55 hours a week at manual labour or other types of ‘low socioeconomic status jobs’ were 30 per cent more likely to develop diabetes than those who worked 35 to 40 hours a week. This increased risk remained even after the researchers accounted for diabetes risk factors such as smoking, physical activity levels, age, sex and obesity, and after the researchers excluded shift work, which increases the risk of obesity and diabetes. Commenting on the findings, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, lead author Mika Kivimäki, a professor of epidemiology at University College London, said: “Although working long hours is unlikely to increase diabetes risk in everyone, health professionals should be aware that it is associated with a significantly increased risk in people doing low socioeconomic status jobs.” A July 2014 study linked shiftwork to type 2 diabetes (Risks 665). This risk factor, which is excluded from the new analysis, could compound the risks in the sections of the low status job group associated with shiftwork.
Ÿ Mika Kivimäki and others. Long working hours, socioeconomic status, and the risk of incident type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of published and unpublished data from 222,120 individuals, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Early Online Publication, 25 September 2014.
Ÿ Orfeu M Buxton and Cassandra A Okechukwu. Long working hours can be toxic, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Early Online Publication, 25 September 2014.
Ÿ CBS News.
Two-thirds of scientists advising the European Union on the safety assessments of controversial substances have industry links, new research has found. Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) looked at the assessment process for four substances - parabens, nano-titanium dioxide, nano-silver and mercury dental amalgams. Its report, ‘Chemical conflicts’, concludes there are “inadequate independence policies” governing the operation of scientific committees under DG SANCO, the European Commission's directorate in charge of consumer issues. These committees’ opinions guide European Commission regulators, who decide which chemicals are safe and at what levels, and which should be banned. CEO’s Pascoe Sabido said “these assessments don't just affect public health, they also help dictate the financial fortunes of companies involved in producing and using the substances. This means that the independence of the scientists providing the expert advice needs to be above and beyond any suspicion of industry influence – which is not the case.” CEO’s review of the annual declarations of the interests of all 57 members involved in the scientific committees’ opinions on the four substances found two-thirds (67 per cent) of the scientists had links with industries with a direct or indirect interest in the assessed chemicals. An editorial in the journal Nature this year warned that industry had too influence over the regulation of substances and there was a need for greater transparency over conflicts of interest (Risks 646).
Workers at a UK nuclear submarine manufacturer received a gamma radiation dose up to 32 times the annual limit after discovering a misplaced radioactive source. Rolls Royce Marine Power Operations Ltd, which has been fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £176,500, lost track of the radioactive source at its plant in Derby. The firm uses radioactive sources containing Ytterbium 169 in their industrial radiography work to test that welds are perfect. Leicester Crown Court heard a capsule the size of a small screw went missing for five hours on 3 March 2011. Unknown to the radiographers using the source, the capsule fell from its enclosure and ended up inside the component being tested. Welders subsequently working on the component in a clean room spotted the capsule and removed it for examination, passing it amongst themselves. The radiographers returned for their next shift at this point and after some initial confusion, which involved some of them directly handling the capsule, they identified the object as a radioactive source. The room was then cleared, the radioactive source recovered and the area made safe. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency found the workers’ hand exposure to radiation was considerably in excess of the annual permitted dose of 500 millisieverts. In some cases it was exceeded by up to 32 times the permitted amount. The investigation also found that the company failed to ensure that an adequate risk assessment was in place for the gamma radiography work carried out on site. Gamma radiation exposure is linked to cancer and other adverse health effects.
A port operator has been fined £650,000 for criminal safety failings, seven years after the deaths of three crewmen on board a tug that capsized on the River Clyde. The Flying Phantom rolled over in thick fog as it towed a bulk carrier on the river near Clydebank. Stephen Humphreys, 33, Eric Blackley, 57, and Robert Cameron, 65, all died when the tug overturned on 19 December 2007. Only one crew member, Brian Aitchison, 37, survived the tragedy. Clydeport admitted a criminal safety offence in failing to have prepared an adequate contingency plan in the event of fog while a large vessel was being towed. It also admitted failing to provide a safety management system. Andrew Henderson, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors who represented the victims’ families, called for a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) to commence immediately. “Now this prosecution is at an end the Crown Office must, without delay, begin an FAI into the Flying Phantom's sinking. This is the only way we can learn lessons from this awful accident to make sure something like this never happens again.” The tug’s owner, Svitzer Marine, was fined £1.7 million in November last year (Risks 631).
Ÿ The Herald.
Construction workers kept the Labour Party conference a blacklister-free zone after a senior manager of a firm linked to the illegal practice was a no-show at a conference fringe meeting. The Morning Star reports that Lend Lease residential chief Richard Cook had been due to speak at a 22 September meeting on house building organised by Labour List. But a planned protest by UCATT delegates angered over the construction firm’s alleged links to blacklisting led Cook to opt out. Lend Lead has not signed up to an employer-run blacklisting compensation scheme launched because it strongly denies allegations it took part. The firm is contesting blacklisting claims in the High Court.
Ÿ Morning Star.
A Scottish haulage firm has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker was seriously injured when an unsecured barrel fell from a lorry onto his head. McPherson Limited employee William ‘Dougald’ Sim, then 60, was unloading the vehicle at Speyside Cooperage when the incident happened on 14 January 2013. Elgin Sheriff Court was told Mr Sim had driven the three-level vehicle loaded with 210 empty bourbon casks from the company’s Aberlour depot to Speyside Cooperage, where the casks were to be unloaded for repair. A landing sponge was placed at the rear of the lorry to catch loads if they fell but no restraints were put in place to prevent the barrels falling from the third tier other than wooden chocks. A Speyside Cooperage employee opened the right hand side door of the lorry and, walking backwards, pulled the door around and secured it to the side of the van. Mr Sim started to do the same with the left hand side door, but when it was open by about a foot, one of the bourbon casks, weighing more than 40kg, fell from the top level of the van and struck him on the head, knocking him to the ground. Mr Sim, who had worked for the company for 27 years, suffered fractures to his skull and right eye area as well as a fractured vertebrae. He needed 14 stitches to his skull and to his lower left leg and had to wear a ‘halo’ frame neck brace for six months, to be replaced afterwards with a soft neck collar. Mr Sim was unable to return to work until mid-October 2013 when he needed a phased return to work. He was initially placed on light duties. McPherson Limited, of Aberlour, Moray, was fined £8,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE principal inspector Niall Miller said: “Mr Sim still suffers a constant dull pain in his neck and head and gets dizzy if he moves too fast.” HSE says unsafe loads on vehicles injure more than 1,200 people a year and cost UK businesses millions of pounds in damaged goods.
A recycling firm has been prosecuted after an employee almost lost his right leg when it became trapped in a machine at a Swinton factory. Nearly a year after the incident, doctors still do not know whether the 41-year-old from Middleton, who has asked not to be named, will ever regain the full use of his leg. Roydon Polythene (Exports) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found workers at the plant were routinely put at risk when they tried to remove blockages. Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard that the employee had been trying to clear a jam in a glass sorting machine on 16 October 2013. He was lifted in a mobile elevating work platform, similar in appearance to a cherry picker, before climbing out of the basket and onto a conveyor belt, more than four metres above the ground. As he tried to clear the blockage, his right leg was drawn into the machinery. His leg remained trapped for more than two hours while emergency services tried to cut him free. He sustained significant crush injuries, requiring multiple operations. Roydon Polythene (Exports) Ltd was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,221 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005. HSE Inspector Jackie Worrall said: “This wasn’t a one-off incident. Instead, workers were routinely expected to climb onto the conveyor belt to clear blockages from an unguarded part of the machine, putting their lives at risk. It was therefore almost inevitable that someone would be injured, either by becoming trapped in the machine or falling to the ground below.”
A Basingstoke engineering firm has been sentenced for criminal safety breaches that led to a 42-year-old man being crushed between a telehandler and a steel post at a workshop in West Drayton. The man, from Berkshire, suffered life-threatening injuries when he was trapped by the machine against the post as he acted as a lookout for the vehicle. He had to have his spleen and most of his pancreas removed and was in hospital for four months after the incident on 25 September 2013. He has yet to return to work. Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told that an impromptu operation had been taking place to enable workers to shunt a broken-down telehandler into the RVC workshop. It was agreed that an HGV would be reversed up to the vehicle to push it just the few feet it needed to end up within the unit. The injured man was asked to act as a lookout but became trapped between the moving telehandler and the post. He was freed within a few minutes but had suffered severe crush injuries. RVC Engineering Ltd was fined £6,600 and ordered to pay £1,087 in costs after admitting a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Pete Collingwood said: “A worker suffered a very serious injury from what was perceived to be an innocuous operation. It was an entirely preventable injury as the manoeuvre could have been conducted without the need for his involvement.”
Manchester City Council has been fined £15,000 after a worker suffered serious injuries whilst litter picking on a city road. The 60-year-old, who has asked not to be named, had been trying to cross a busy road with a 40mph speed limit, when he was struck by a car on 9 July 2013. He sustained serious injuries including four broken ribs, a punctured lung, a cut to the liver, a fractured right eye socket, fractures to his face and a broken pelvis. His injuries were so severe that he has not been able to return to work. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Manchester City Council did not have a safe system of work in place and had not identified being struck by a car as a risk associated with litter picking work. Staff had not been given any information about measures to minimise the risks of working on or near the road. Following the incident, HSE served an improvement notice requiring the council to look again at its risk assessment and control procedures. Manchester City Council was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £3,830 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector Emily Osborne commented: “As a result of the incident and the improvement notice, the council has implemented further controls including updating health and safety training, providing more signs and implementing a new monitoring and review process.”
A Scottish sawmill has been fined for criminal safety failings after a worker was seriously injured when he fell eight feet through a fragile roof light. Tony Heron, then 56, was employed by Penkiln Sawmill Company Ltd and was putting tin sheets on the roof of a lean-to shed at the company’s Wigtown premises when the incident occurred on 1 February 2013. Stranraer Sheriff Court was told the company had not carried out a risk assessment for the task and had failed to put any control measures in place to minimise the risk of a fall from height. While walking along a shed roof to fix a tin sheet on to the lean-to roof, Mr Heron fell through a fragile PVC roof light to the ground below. He suffered multiple back and rib fractures and a cut to his head which needed 14 stitches. His injuries meant that he had to wear a back brace for up to 24 hours a day for several weeks and despite taking painkillers, he remained in constant pain. He has been unable to return to his job and now suffers impaired mobility in his spine. His back injury is not expected to improve. Penkiln Sawmill Company Ltd was fined £10,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. The Health and Safety Executive says falling through fragile roofs and roof lights accounts for almost a fifth of all the fatal incidents which result from a fall from height. On average, seven people are killed every year after falling through a fragile roof or roof light.
The number of health workers killed by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has reached 211, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported. Its 26 September situation update says 375 workers are known to have been infected. The overall death toll has passed 3,000, the UN agency said. The latest figures indicate that more than 6,500 people are believed to have been infected in the region. Some studies have warned that the numbers of infected could rise to more than 20,000 by early November. Global union IndustriALL is encouraging affiliates to work with and support Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the agency which has provided the most comprehensive medical response. Commenting on action by its North American affiliate USW, IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said: “The Steelworkers Humanity Fund has contributed US$25,000 for Ebola support in West Africa, providing funds to both MSF and a local NGO with ties to the labour movement that will undertake a public health education campaign.” He added: “United Steelworkers (USW) members contribute to the fund through clauses negotiated into collective agreements and in some cases employers make matching contributions.” IndustriALL says the economic impact of the outbreak on affected nations could amplify the human hardship caused by the disease.
Ÿ WHO Ebola situation report update, 26 September 2014.
Trade union organisers in the ready made garment (RMG) sector in Bangladesh have received a week of training designed to increase their effectiveness on occupational health and safety issues. The training programme, which received funding from Canada, the Netherlands and the UK, was provided by the International Labour Organisation’s workers’ bureau, ACTRAV. ILO said that during interactive training sessions, 35 union organisers studied how to identify hazards in the workplace and also gained an understanding of standards and guidelines on safety and health policies and systems. ILO country director Srinivas B Reddy said: “Following the Rana Plaza collapse occupational safety and health has become the number one priority in the RMG sector. Unions have a vital role to play in this regard as they are able to pass on skills to the workforce while also engaging with the employers regarding safety concerns. These training events will help build capacity of union staff and organisers and we look forward to replicating this type of training on a wider scale in the future.” The programme to improve working conditions in the sector, which also included training to increase the participation of women in garment union leadership, will run until December 2016.
A young Chinese worker struck down with leukaemia while working in a factory that makes Apple’s iPhones has died – days after his mother pleaded in a UK newspaper for Apple chief executive Tim Cook to help save her son’s life. The Mail on Sunday says Yi Long is at least the sixth worker to die of leukaemia after falling ill at the factory complex in Shenzhen, southern China, in a cluster of cases families believe were caused by the chemicals handled by workers. Yi was buried on what would have been his 26th birthday. His parents said they had been refused financial help by the factory, run by Apple contractor Foxconn, to pay for his cancer treatment and were unable to afford a bone marrow transplant. The Mail on Sunday reports that four of the other five fatal leukaemia cases it identified worked at a dedicated iPhone factory. Yi was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2011, 20 months after he started work at Foxconn. Two weeks ago his mother Cheng Fuying issued an appeal through the paper to Apple CEO Tim Cook, saying: “If you have a conscience, Apple should at least make sure my son’s disease is treated.” A spokesperson for Apple, which says conditions at its phone factories are not to blame for ill-health, said: “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain and work tirelessly to ensure their right to a safe and healthy work space. We were saddened to hear of the Yi family’s loss and wish to express our deepest condolences.” In August this year, Apple agreed to stop use of benzene, a chemical known to cause leukaemia and other blood disorders, in some factories producing its products but indicated the measure would not apply across its entire supply chain (Risks 668).
Workers are being made seriously ill by a toxic chemical introduced at a Swazi textile factory, their union has warned. Dozens of workers required hospitalisation last month after the plant began using the dangerous solvent butyl acetate to remove stains from clothes. The workers, who went to the hospital at their own expense, reported chest pains, severe headaches, vomiting and bleeding, and some collapsed. Yet despite the severity of the symptoms and the number of workers affected, their union says management denied workers sick leave and ordered them back to work before a thorough health investigation was completed. Butyl acetate is a flammable liquid that targets the central nervous system, and can cause headaches, breathing problems, skin and eye irritation and unconsciousness. Union shop stewards report that the dangerous working conditions have not been addressed and workers continue to become sick, with some vomiting blood. The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) warns the Taiwan-owned Tex-Ray plant has played down the severity and extent of the illnesses and has under-reported cases. In June, the United States suspended trade benefits to Swaziland, citing the country’s serious worker and human rights violations.
COURSES FOR 2014
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Issued: 2 October, 2014