TUC - Risks 699 - 25 April 2015

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TUC Risks E-Bulletins
 
Number 699 - 25 April 2015
 
Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]
 
Contents

UNION NEWS

OTHER NEWS

RESOURCES

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

 

UNION NEWS

Grave reminder of the daily risks faced by workers

International Workers’ Memorial Day serves as a reminder to workers across the globe that many of them are at daily risk of accidents, injury and illness at work, says the TUC. The 28 April annual event is an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, injured or disabled by their work. This is the 23rd year it has been commemorated in the UK, and will be marked by a record number of activities nationwide. The 2015 theme is removing exposure to hazardous substances. To reflect this theme, the TUC is highlighting the results of its online questionnaire on hazardous substances at work. Of the 500 respondents, 71 per cent said they are exposed to, or at risk from, potentially dangerous substances at work. This included asbestos (49 per cent), hazardous chemicals and gases (49 per cent), radiation sources (35 per cent) and biological agents such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and other pathogens (27 per cent). TUC say asbestos alone is responsible for 5,000 UK deaths a year. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Many of these substances could be removed from the workplace or their use reduced, but where this is not possible, workers need much better protection. That means stronger regulation, and, more importantly, proper enforcement.” She added:  “On International Workers’ Memorial Day in workplaces across the world and in the UK, trade union health and safety representatives will consider what can be done to stop unnecessary deaths, injuries and illness. We need employers and governments to do more too.” Referring to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013 which killed almost 1,200, mostly women, workers, she said: “The appalling loss of life that resulted from the Rana Plaza collapse shows just what can happen when workers do not get the health and safety protection they need at work. It was a tragic reminder that complacency about health and safety is deadly.” Ahead of the second anniversary of the disaster, TUC called for all clothing companies that source from Bangladesh to make an adequate and immediate contribution to the Rana Plaza Fund created to compensate victims and their families.

Ÿ  TUC News Release on Workers Memorial Day  and UK 28 April events listing.

Ÿ  ITUC/Hazards global 28 April events, news and resources webpages.

Ÿ  TUC news release on Rana Plaza.

Ÿ  Rana Plaza Fund.

TUC guide to epilepsy at work

New guidance to help trade union representatives support members with epilepsy has been published by the TUC. ‘Epilepsy in the workplace – a TUC guide’ was written for the TUC by Epilepsy Action and is based on the social model of disability, which means epilepsy is not seen as a barrier to work. However, it points out there may be external barriers to accessing work in the form of ignorance, prejudice and failure by employers to make workplace adaptations. The guide educates trade union members about epilepsy, and provides guidance on reasonable workplace adjustments and making workplaces ‘epilepsy-friendly’. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Despite legal protection, workers with epilepsy still encounter ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. Trade unions challenge all such attitudes and behaviour and this guide will help them to do so from a position of understanding and strength.” Epilepsy Action’s chief executive, Philip Lee, said: “We often hear from people with epilepsy who have experienced a range of problems in employment. Epilepsy is often misunderstood and, as a result, people with the condition can face discrimination and have difficulties finding employment and keeping a job.” He added: “I have no doubt that this new guide to epilepsy in the workplace will be a valuable resource for trade union officials who are supporting members with epilepsy. I hope it will help to tackle some of the myths about epilepsy and enable trade union advisers to encourage more employers to become epilepsy-friendly workplaces.”

Ÿ  TUC news release and Epilepsy in the workplace – a TUC guide.

Sellafield construction workers back strike action

Unite construction members employed by Sellafield Contractor Group Limited have backed industrial action overwhelmingly in a dispute over union representation and safety. Unite said it had been trying for 10 months to have a union official appointed to a health and safety role at Sellafield, adding that talks have now broken down. It said union safety representation is essential at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, to ensure the safety of employees and the public. Over 1,200 Unite members “voted 98 per cent in support of industrial action against the contractor”, the union said. Negotiations to resolve the dispute between Unite, Sellafield Contractor Group Limited and the Engineering Construction Industry Association (ECIA) broke down last week. Unite said it is urging Sellafield Contractor Group management to get back around the negotiating table in a bid to find a reasonable settlement that addresses its employees’ concerns. Unite regional officer Steve Benson said: “Our members have lost patience with Sellafield management who have steadfastly continued to ignore our very reasonable request. All they are asking for is their rights for a co-worker to become a union shop steward at the Sellafield site to represent construction workers and keep them safe.” He added: “Unite members have no wish to take action but are being forced to do so by a company unwilling to take our members’ concerns seriously. Unite has a proud track record of working with employers to resolve disputes and is urging Sellafield to get back to serious talks.” A Sellafield spokesperson said: “Sellafield Ltd is not directly involved in the potential dispute, which does not involve any of our employees, but we will be monitoring the issue closely. We hope all parties can reach agreement.”

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Ÿ  Irish Times.

Unite calls for an inquiry on cabin air safety

Airline cabin staff union Unite is calling for a public inquiry into the health effects of ‘fume events’ on airliners, amid warnings that there is insufficient monitoring and research into ‘aerotoxic syndrome’.  Speaking to ITV News, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that more needed to be done to understand illnesses caused by exposure to contaminated cabin air on jet aircraft, adding that airlines should be required to monitor air quality during all flights. He said Unite had set up an aerotoxic syndrome helpline for its 20,000 cabin crew members, and said the union was also establishing a fume event register to monitor and collect data on fume incidents. The union was speaking out amid mounting concern among its members following the death of Unite member Matthew Bass. Matthew, who worked as cabin crew for two airlines in a 15 year career, died suddenly last January, aged 35. The union is supporting his family through the inquest into his death. Len McCluskey said it is Unite’s “intention to make certain that aerotoxic syndrome doesn’t become a silent killer… literally all of our cabin crew members will have experienced a fume event at some time. It occurs not regularly, but it occurs sufficiently often for people to be concerned about.” He added that “we want debate and discussion, we want to make certain that manufacturers looking to the future of aviation start to develop new methods of producing aeroplanes.” The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner removes the problem because instead of recirculating bleed air it has a system that supplies air directly from the atmosphere and not through the engines.

Ÿ  Unite news release.

Ÿ  ITV News.

Ten shopworkers attacked every hour round the clock

An average of 241 shopworkers are assaulted every day, a survey by the shopworkers’ union Usdaw has found. The survey of over 5,000 retail staff, which forms part of the union’s Freedom from Fear campaign also found that a third of shopworkers (33 per cent) were threatened by customers and over half were verbally abused. John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary said: “Our survey shows that life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them.” He added: “All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, and those who are often receive derisory sentences.” The union leader welcomed a Labour manifesto commitment to “ensure staff who work with the public are given greater protection, with tougher penalties for those who assault them.” Hannett said: “Retail crime remains too high and there needs to be action to protect shopworkers. On four occasions in the current parliament, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs combined to defeat Labour amendments to legislation that would have provided stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers. It is time for the government to act and the record shows that a Labour government will deliver. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.” Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “I can assure everyone that a Labour government will make sure staff working with the public get greater protection from attacks, with tougher penalties for criminals. Labour proposed this measure in the last parliament on four occasions, but Conservative and Lib Dem MPs voted against us. So the choice is clear, for workers to get additional protection from violence, threats and abuse at work they will need to vote Labour.”

Ÿ  Usdaw news release.

Ÿ  Daily Mail. Morning Star.

Risks mount from unsafe nurse staffing levels

Nursing staff to patient ratios have seen no improvement over the past year, despite government claims of increased nursing numbers, according to a survey of more than 5,000 nursing staff by UNISON. Newly published findings of union’s annual snapshot study, carried out on 10 February, “paints a worrying picture of an overstretched and demoralised workforce”, with almost half of those surveyed (45 per cent) revealing inadequate staff numbers to deliver safe, dignified and compassionate care. UNISON said this is despite 70 per cent working through their breaks on that day to make up for the lack of staff. UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “UNISON has carried out this survey for the past four years and it is deeply worrying that little has changed. Staff are still not able to see all their patients – despite working through their breaks and doing lots of unpaid overtime.” She added: “Demands on the NHS are at an all-time high, but despite the government’s promise, the NHS is operating in a financial straitjacket. With not enough money to fund adequate staffing levels, nurses and midwives are running themselves into the ground as they struggle to keep the health service going.” She added “we desperately need nationally set mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios based on patient needs.”

Ÿ  UNISON news release and survey report, Red Alert – Unsafe Staffing Levels Rising. Daily Mail.

Seafarers demand action after enclosed space deaths

Seafarers’ union Nautilus is calling on the UK to lead a “new and concerted drive to end the appalling litany” of seafarer fatalities in enclosed spaces. The union has written to shipping minister John Hayes following a 13 March incident, in which two seafarers died in the cargo hold of the Isle of Man-flagged Carisbrooke Shipping general cargo vessel Sally Ann C. Investigations into the incident – which took place off the coast of west Africa - are underway, but it is known that the chief officer and chief engineer died after entering a hold where timber was stowed and the second officer had to be rescued after losing consciousness when he went to the aid of his colleagues. In a letter to the minister, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said the case followed a “very familiar pattern of one crew member collapsing in an oxygen-deficient area, and two more being overcome after entering the space without personal protection equipment in an attempt to rescue their colleagues”. He said there is evidence to show that more seafarers die or are injured in enclosed spaces than through any other onboard work activity. “Changes in ship design and operation, the nature of cargoes, the increasing amounts of chemicals being carried, along with reduced manning levels and radical changes in crewing practices are all factors which have driven the increase in such incidents,” he added. He warned the minister that simply continuing to warn seafarers of the dangers is not sufficient and he urged the UK to lead European and international efforts to develop fresh approaches to the issue.

Ÿ  Nautilus UK news release.

Race hate crimes up as rail staff fall

Rail union RMT has demanded an end to staffing cuts after new figures revealed the number of suspected race hate crimes taking place on the railways has continued to rise, with four incidents reported to police every day last year. British Transport Police have confirmed that they recorded a total of 1,468 allegations of racially or religiously aggravated offences in 2014 - a rise of more than 100 compared to the 1,364 in 2013 and a further increase from the 1,351 in 2012. The figures, obtained by the Press Association, confirm that the number of reports of incidents has increased 8.7 per cent over the past three years. They show that 232 of the suspected offences involved violence, including 185 racially aggravated common assaults and 42 racially or religiously aggravated assaults causing actual bodily harm. Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “These are shocking new statistics which show a marked increase in racially aggravated incidents, exposing the sheer complacency of rail and Tube bosses despite a weight of recent evidence suggesting that the safety of passengers and staff is being compromised. De-staffed stations and trains, alongside over-stretched and over-crowded services, are core factors in this increase in racially motivated incidents as far as our members are concerned.” He added: “Only action will reverse this trend and with the prospect of savage staff cuts from the next phase of rail franchises, and with all night Tube running only months away, RMT will continue to fight for the resources required to turn the tide on this relentless increase in racially motivated assaults on our railways.”

Ÿ  RMT news release.

Ÿ  Daily Mail.

Ÿ  Morning Star.

Essex firefighters face deadly choices

Fire crews across Essex have been understaffed consistently with nearly a sixth of all shifts last year having fewer than the minimum recommended number of firefighters, new figures have revealed. Firefighters’ union FBU said members were being left the ‘horrendous’ choice of delaying lifesaving operations or risking their own lives. ITV Anglia revealed that in 2014, when Essex firefighters responded to over 14,000 emergencies, fire crews were understaffed on 16 per cent of these occasions, raising concerns over the safety of the public and firefighters. Keith Handscomb, of the FBU in East Anglia, said: “Sending enough firefighters without delay to 999 emergencies can mean the difference between life and death and the difference between thousands or millions of pounds in damage.” He added: “Firefighters who arrive at an incident first face the horrendous moral dilemma of delaying lifesaving operations or putting themselves at serious risk by going in without the equipment or back-up they need. Routinely sending firefighters to fires and other dangerous emergency situations under-resourced and under-equipped is a gamble. The more you gamble, the more likely you are to pay the price.” He warned: “Frontline cuts mean fewer firefighters spread more thinly across the county and that is putting the safety of the public and firefighters at risk.”

Ÿ  FBU news release.

OTHER NEWS

Union welcome Labour’s plan to end exploitation

Construction union UCATT has welcomed a Labour commitment to introduce measures to crackdown on the exploitation of migrant workers in industries such as construction. Labour said it will establish a special Home Office Enforcement Unit with more than 100 staff to root out illegal exploitation that undercuts wages and conditions. The proposed new unit will bring together teams from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, specialist police units and Home Office enforcement staff. It will investigate and increase prosecutions and fines against bad employers and gangmasters who exploit workers. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “This commitment demonstrates that Labour is serious about ending the misery caused by the exploitation of migrant workers and rightly targets the employers who profit through the mistreatment of workers.” He was commenting after Labour leader Ed Miliband announced the plan in a speech. He said: “Too often, this is an anything-goes economy,” he said. “It’s exploitation of the worst kind. But it isn’t just bad for those people directly affected, it drives down standards for everybody else, undercutting local workers, and making life harder for responsible employers. It is an epidemic of exploitation and we will end it. This Labour Party will fight exploitation wherever we find it.” UCATT’s Steve Murphy commented: “These plans demonstrate that Labour is on the side of all workers and is dedicated to ending exploitation in construction and all workplaces.”

Ÿ  Labour Party news release.

Ÿ  UCATT news release.

Worker crushed to death by steel tubes

A steel company has been sentenced after its criminal safety failings led to a 42-year-old worker being killed when he was knocked off his lorry and then crushed by a three-tonnes load of steel tubes. Father-of-three Robert Ismay, from Thirsk, was delivering two bundles of 7.5-metre-long tubes to Daver Steels Ltd in Sheffield when the incident happened on 6 December 2012. Sheffield Crown Court heard from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) what should have been a straightforward unloading operation was beset by errors and failings. Mr Ismay, a visiting delivery driver, had parked his lorry on the road opposite the site. No checks were made by Daver Steels to see what was to be offloaded or how the load was positioned. A trained but inexperienced forklift truck driver was then told to lift the steel tubes, but the forks’ reach was too short so when they were raised, the bundles fell off and struck Mr Ismay. He was pushed off the trailer onto the pavement and was hit and fatally wounded by the bundles of steel tubes as they crashed down behind him. The court was told an inspection by Daver Steels of what was being delivered would have shown the only safe way to unload was to use a crane, which the company had, and to put the truck in the loading bay rather than leaving it on the busy road outside. Daver Steels Ltd was fined £62,000 and ordered to pay £38,000 in costs after admitting a criminal safety breach. HSE inspector Chris Gallagher said: “What happened to Robert Ismay was a tragedy that has had devastating consequences for his wife, children and wider family.” He added: “There was a series of safety failings by Daver Steels in this case. Key was its failure to put in place adequate control measures, which includes the provision of suitable instructions to employees and visiting workers so such tasks could be completed safely.”

Ÿ  HSE news release.

Ÿ  Construction Enquirer.

Worker dies at animal crematorium

The owner of a pet and equine crematorium has been fined after a self-employed worker died falling through a roof while carrying out repairs. Paul Hoskin, a self-employed agricultural engineer, was asked to repair holes in a cement fibre roof at the crematorium in Newton Abbot on 6 September 2013, when he fell 6.6 metres to the floor. The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Sally Williams, trading as Cremtor, at Exeter Crown Court. The court heard that Mr Hoskin, who was 49, was employed to fix holes in the crematorium roof with the help of a Cremtor employee. Neither Mr Hoskin nor the Cremtor employee had any training or expertise in carrying out roof work. Mr Hoskin was lying on the fragile roof and reaching for a drill when the roof gave way and he hit a wooden pallet and metal frame before hitting the floor. The wooden pallet, held in place below the roof by a forklift truck, was intended to break any fall but was entirely inadequate for the job, being over a metre below the level of the roof. There was no evidence of proper equipment which could have prevented or lessened the effect of Mr Hoskin’s fall, such as crawling boards, work platforms, harnesses or lanyards. Instead the workers were allowed to walk on the roof, despite a sign on the building saying ‘Danger – Fragile Roof’. Sally Williams, of Greycote Lane, Forches Cross, Newton Abbot pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay £8180 in costs.

Ÿ  HSE news release and work at height webpages.

Recycling firm sentenced over worker’s severed hands

A recycling firm in Southampton has been sentenced for serious criminal safety breaches after a worker had both hands severed while cutting metal strips on an industrial baler. Spanish-born Ivan Menendez, then 38, had been employed as an operative for seven months by Metal Processing Ltd at its site in Northam when the incident happened on 8 January 2014. West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court was told Mr Menendez’ hands were severed at the wrists when they got caught in the shear point as a hydraulic-powered baler lid lowered and met the corner of the baler. The lid had a maximum shear force of 76 tonnes. Surgeons at Salisbury hospital successfully reattached both hands. Mr Menendez, who has since returned home to Spain, will need further treatment and will never regain full use of his hands. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served an immediate enforcement notice on the company after the incident stopping any more hand-feeding of metal for shearing on the baler. The court heard the routinely used system was fundamentally flawed. Crucially, there was no direct line of sight between the operator who closed the baler lid and the hands of the worker loading the metal strips. The court heard that a month later there was a second criminal safety breach at the company. A 24-year-old worker, employed as a burner and scrapyard operative, was diagnosed with lead poisoning after spending two days cutting up a section of lead boat ballast. The worker, from Southampton, was treated over a period of several weeks and later resigned from the company. Metal Processing Ltd was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £3,000 in costs after admitting criminal offences relating to Mr Menendez’ incident, and a further two criminal breaches in connection with the lead poisoning incident. HSE said waste and recycling accounts for only about 0.5 per cent of the employees in Britain, but 2.6 per cent of reported injuries to employees.

Ÿ  HSE news release.

‘Incompetent’ brothers jailed after building collapse

Two Sheffield brothers have been jailed for their ‘greed’ and criminal safety failures after a building collapse left three injured, up to 20 people temporarily homeless, and nearby properties evacuated. Naveed and Rizwan Hussain were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Sheffield Crown Court following the collapse of a three-storey terrace in Brook Hill on 23 March 2013. Two residents and a builder suffered minor injuries and the immediate area had to be evacuated when the front of the property and the flats on the two upper floors caved in. HSE told the court it was ‘remarkable’ that no one had been killed given the extent of the collapse. The property was so dangerous after the incident it had to be demolished by Sheffield Council. The court heard the two ‘incompetent’ brothers had destabilised the structure while refurbishing the basement. Rizwan Hussain, 39, was given a 12 month custodial sentence and a fine of £42,000 with £40,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, a breach of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 and a breach of the two Prohibition Notices issued on 15 May 2013. Naveed Hussain, 33, was given a 12 month custodial sentence and fined £40,000 with £60,000 costs after admitting a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and a separate breach of the same Construction Regulations. HSE principal construction inspector Dave Redman said: “All three people injured in this avoidable incident were fortunate not to have been killed. One was saved by a table that had fallen across his body and shielded him from falling debris.” He added that the Hussain brothers “acted incompetently in dealing with the project and fell woefully below acceptable standards.” His Honour Judge Murphy, sentencing, remarked: “It was little short of a miracle that more people were not seriously injured or killed. This was a very serious incident caused by your arrogance and greed.”

Ÿ  HSE news release and construction webpages.

RESOURCES

Make use of the best ever 28 April toolbox!

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has pulled together an impressive toolbox of resources for 28 April this year. ITUC coordinates activities worldwide, pulling together national listings of events to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day on a www.28april.org website, together with related news, a poster gallery, videos and guides. Events in over 40 countries are already featured on this year’s ITUC listing, with more coming in all the time. This year there is also a special issue of ITUC’s occupational health and safety e-news, mirroring the 28 April 2015 hazardous substances theme.

Ÿ  ITUC occupational health and safety e-news. To subscribe free, email ITUC.

Ÿ  ITUC/Hazards 28 April events listings and resources.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Bangladesh: Two years After Rana Plaza, problems remain

Garment workers in Bangladesh face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers including assaults on union organisers, a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed. It says in the two years since more than 1,100 workers died in the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on 24 April 2013, although efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer, the government and Western retailers can and should do more to enforce international labour standards to protect workers’ rights, including their right to form unions and advocate for better conditions. “If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labour law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s Asia deputy director. “If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions, the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers.” The 78-page HRW report is based on interviews with more than 160 workers from 44 factories, most of them making garments for retail companies in North America, Europe and Australia. Workers report violations including physical assault, verbal abuse – sometimes of a sexual nature – forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, and failure to pay wages and bonuses on time or in full. Despite recent labour law reforms, many workers who try to form unions to address such abuses face threats, intimidation, dismissal, and sometimes physical assault at the hands of factory management or hired third parties. Human Rights Watch called on the Bangladesh government, factory owners, and Western retailers to ensure respect for workers’ rights to end the unlawful targeting of labour leaders by factory owners and supervisors.

Ÿ  Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most’: Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories, Human Rights Watch report, April 2015 and news release.

Ÿ  IndustriALL news release.

Ÿ  The Guardian.

Europe: Action call on workplace cancer risks

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has condemned the European Commission for delaying since October 2013 the adoption of legally binding exposure limits for chemicals that cause cancer and other serious health effects because it is conducting a review of ‘red tape’. The union body says this means that 150,000 have died while EC evaluates ‘better regulation’. A statement issued ahead of International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April notes: “The ETUC does not believe that the European Commission so lacks humanity that measures to protect people from cancer, people from fertility difficulties, or babies in the womb from toxic chemicals, could be considered a cost to business which needs to be reduced to improve competitiveness; that human life could be just another line in the balance sheet alongside the cost of raw materials, transport and energy.” It adds: “The ETUC demands legally enforceable exposure limits for a priority list of 50 of the most harmful chemicals as a first step. We call on the European Commission to unblock the revision of the Directive on Carcinogens or Mutagens at work and include substances that are toxic for reproduction.” ETUC general secretary Bernadette Ségol will be in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 28 April “to bring International Workers’ Memorial Day to the attention of MEPs, and has meetings scheduled with Parliament President Martin Schulz and European Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen,” ETUC notes. ETUC deputy general secretary Józef Niemiec will speak at a Latvian Presidency conference in Riga on health and safety. The ETUC and Belgian trade unions also plan a commemoration outside the European Commission’s Berlaymont HQ in Brussels.

Ÿ  ETUC 28 April webpages and priority list of 50 of the most harmful chemicals.

Global: If you expose us, we’ll expose you

Imagine a killer that strikes more than once every minute. Most of these deaths could be stopped with minimal effort, but preventive measures are being blocked. Well, warns International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow, that killer is occupational cancer and “a mixture of toxic marketing and regulatory failure has already condemned another generation to an early grave.” The union leader notes that occupational cancer isn’t a mystery disease. She says there’s decades of evidence about the causes, and enough early warnings to avoid introducing a new generation of killers. “But instead of prevention, we are facing a toxic cocktail of denial and deceit that means more people than at any time in history will develop tumours caused by their job.” She says “the reason is as straightforward as it is shocking. As long as there’s money to be made, industry will retain its fatal attachment to some of the most potent killers in history.” A new ITUC guide, ‘Toxic work – stop deadly exposures today’, sets out why unions want to remove toxic exposures from the workplace and how. At the centre of the union strategy is active, union-supported workforce participation, in finding problems and implementing solutions. ITUC’s Burrow warns: “Some of the world’s most profitable companies are not just defending their toxic products, they are defending weak exposure standards that mean they profit and you pay. It is not ethical, it is not healthy and it is not what we bargained for.” And she adds: “We make this pledge - if they expose us, we will expose them.”

Ÿ  ITUC article and ‘Toxic work – stop deadly exposures today’ guide.

Ÿ  Annotated occupational cancer bibliography.

Ÿ  ITUC/Hazards International Workers’ Memorial Day 28 April webpages.

Global: ITF resolves to tackle toxics in transport

The global transport unions’ federation ITF is backing the ITUC theme for 28 April, removing exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. The global unions says it will be integrating this into ongoing campaigns on container safety for dockers, truckers, seafarers, railway workers, warehouse workers – essentially along the entire supply chain. Toxic gases and fumigation in containers is one campaign focus, as are container weights, packing and loading. ITF is asking its affiliated unions to get involved on 28 April by, among other things, raising awareness about the issue of toxic gas and fumigation in containers with their members.  It says “this is an increasingly important topic for us given the tragedy in the port of Antwerp.”  Three experienced dockworkers died on Saturday 11 April in Antwerp, Belgium, after entering a ship’s hold to unload coal. ITF president and chair of its dockers’ section, Paddy Crumlin, said: “Dock work is dangerous work and everyone involved must always do everything possible to minimise the risks. This is a timely reminder of the importance of Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, whose message is ‘Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living’.”

Ÿ  ITF news release and statement on the Antwerp tragedy. ITF campaigns on container safety for dockers.

Taiwan: Workers win RCA cancers case after 15 years

The owners of a Taiwan-based electronics firm have been ordered to pay millions in compensation to workers who developed liver, lung and other cancers after working on its production lines. On 17 April, a Taiwan district court ordered the parent firms of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to pay US$18 million in damages to the former workers and their families, who the court heard were the victims of worst work-related health scandal in the country’s history. More than 200 former workers at an RCA plant in Taoyuan have died of liver and lung cancers since the 1990s. The plant in the northern county of Taoyuan (now Taoyuan City) shut down in 1992, a few years after RCA's takeover by General Electric, an American multinational conglomerate, and its subsequent sale to the French owned Thomson Consumer Electronics. The court ruled that RCA and four related companies’ usage of chemicals including the solvents trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethene and dichloromethane, had a direct correlation to many of the former employees' cancer diagnoses. “The workers have a partial victory today but this is belated justice,” said Joseph Lin, the lead lawyer with the plaintiffs' legal team. “We hope this case will set up a precedent against irresponsible international and Taiwanese corporations and help protect workers.” RCA set up the factory in 1970. It was later acquired by US firm General Electronics (GE) and then France's Thomson Consumer Electronics (Bermuda) Ltd (TCEB) before closing in 1992. TCEB was also held liable for compensation. Around 80 former RCA workers and their families gathered outside the courthouse in downtown Taipei after the ruling, displaying a white banner reading ‘poisoned workers, immediate compensation’.

Ÿ  China Post.

Ÿ  Taipei Times.

Ÿ  Taiwan News.

Ÿ  GoodElectronics.

TUC COURSES FOR SAFETY REPS

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Ÿ  Course dates now appearing at www.tuceducation.org.uk/findacourse/

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