Risks 482 - 13 November 2010

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy

Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

Union News

Tube job cuts hit London terror targets

A new analysis of London Underground Ltd's (LUL) plans for station job cuts has revealed major terrorist targets are in the front line of the proposed reductions in Tube staffing numbers, the union RMT has warned. Worst hit locations include Oxford Circus, which would lose 42 per cent of its staff and Bank, facing a 28 per cent reduction. Canada Square, the station serving Canary Wharf, would lose a quarter of its staff (25 per cent) and Victoria, London's busiest station, would lose almost 1-in-5 staff (19 per cent), the union analysis shows. The flagship Eurostar terminal at Kings Cross would lose almost 1-in-6 staff (17 per cent). RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'At a time of heightened terrorist alert it is gross negligence on the part of LUL to be hacking back the numbers of station based staff at key targets like Canary Wharf, Parliament and the Bank of England.' Referring to the current enquiry into the 7 July 2005 terrorist bombings in London, where the Tube system was a major target, he added: 'The 7/7 inquiry has shown that those very same staff played a vital and heroic role in that emergency situation and taking them out will clearly compromise the ability of the Underground to identify terrorist threats, safely evacuate stations and deal with the aftermath of any incident. This is yet more evidence reinforcing the safety case against LU's cuts plans and we repeat our call for that cuts process to be brought to an immediate halt and for discussions on a long term, safe and secure future for the Tube to begin.'

Fire cover cuts a threat to London's safety

Firefighters' union FBU fears a review of the number of fire engines operating in London could lead to 500 job cuts and a criminal breach of safety law. An investigation into the feasibility of removing 27 appliances from the fleet was ordered by London's fire authority chair Brian Coleman. It comes after the vehicles were handed over for use by private contractor AssetCo during the recent strikes (Risks 481). FBU says Coleman's investigation into whether there is 'an over-supply of appliances' in the capital vindicates the union's claim 'that the cuts agenda is at the heart of London firefighters' dispute.' Permanently removing the 27 appliances would result in the loss of 500 firefighters serving London, FBU warned. The call for appliance numbers to be scrutinised came in a last-minute emergency amendment tabled to a London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority budget committee meeting on 8 November. FBU London regional organiser Ben Sprung said: 'Coleman has denied our dispute had anything to do with cuts in the service for Londoners. This proves that has been the agenda all along. He seems willing to put his vendetta against firefighters above the safety of London. This man is clearly not fit for office.' Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, indicated any move to cut cover would be a criminal breach of safety law. He said: 'To change fire cover, the Fire Authority would have to go through a rigorous risk assessment process. This has not been done.'

Xmas shoppers urged to keep their cool

Retail union Usdaw is urging seasonal shoppers to not take out their frustrations on shopworkers. Speaking on the 8 November launch of the union's Respect for Shopworkers Week, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said the campaign aimed to 'highlight to shoppers the problems shopworkers can face, particularly during the festive season, a period when incidents of verbal abuse can increase dramatically. In the run up to Christmas, customers are stressed, stores are really busy and sometimes things can boil over. That's why we are asking shoppers to show respect for shopworkers and to 'Keep your cool at Christmas'.' A key problem highlighted by the union is abuse targeted at shopworkers when they ask for proof of ID (Risks 481). Its survey findings show over 75 per cent of shopworkers have experienced problems asking for proof of age ID from customers and that most shopworkers are worried about facing criminal prosecution or disciplinary action from their employer if they get a decision about a sale wrong. Usdaw says a 'shocking' 65 per cent of shopworkers have been subjected to verbal abuse asking for ID, while over 16 per cent have been threatened with violence and more than 2 per cent have been physically assaulted. 'Nearly half of all incidents of abuse result from shopworkers asking customers for proof of age ID or refusing a sale of an age-restricted product such as alcohol,' said John Hannett. 'We'll also be letting shoppers know that shopworkers asking for ID are only doing their job and protecting themselves from a fine, possible criminal prosecution or disciplinary action from their employer.'

Call for action on work stress

The risks of stress are far greater than you might suppose, public service union UNISON has warned. The union was commenting on the 3 November National Stress Awareness Day. A report issued by mental health charity Mind on the day revealed millions of British workers have felt compelled to lie to their bosses about the cause of their stress-related sick leave. 'Stress is clearly one of the biggest health issues facing our members today, and we want employers to focus more on the health of our staff and less on the bottom line to ensure that workers - who are after all their greatest asset - remain healthy and safe at work,' said UNISON national health and safety officer Hope Daley. 'Moreover, stress can be a killer, and coupled with the massive cuts to jobs and services, it could have a major impact on both individuals and society as a whole.' She said a UNISON stress guide is designed to show stress is a serious problem and a management issue. The Mind survey found that almost one in five workers (19 per cent) have taken stress-induced sick leave, but virtually all of them (93 per cent) said they lied to their boss about the real reason for not turning up. Mind spokesperson Julia Lamb said: 'Work induced stress can happen for a number of reasons - relationship problems such as being bullied at work can be a big stress factor, but often stress is about unrealistic expectations being placed on people to perform more than they are capable of. This could be anything from having too much work for one person to perform, there being a mismatch between someone's skills and what they need to do at work.'

Other news

Don't base policy on deadly lies

The business lobby both sides of the Atlantic is using 'bogus arguments' and 'rigged statistics' to push for health and safety deregulation, a new report reveals. 'Don't base policy on deadly lies', published this week on the green jobs/safe jobs blog supported by the global union federation ITUC, warns that even though the business argument is fatally flawed, it is 'a clarion call that gets heard by frequently uncritical government agencies'. Rejecting government and business analyses from the UK and US that claim regulatory costs are excessive and increasing, the report presents evidence that the business argument relies on inflating its estimates of the costs of regulation and ignoring the human and economic costs of health and safety failures. It describes this as a toxic, but very deliberate, combination of bad science and bad sums. 'So, instead of common sense policing of the business world's safety villains, the rigged and lop-sided business costings get repeated as fact and form a core part of the deregulatory arguments that shape governmental policy,' the report notes. Coming as the UK government is embarking on a programme of measures to weaken workplace safety rules, and with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) coming to terms with an unprecedented 35 per cent cut in its budget (Risks 479), the report concludes: 'Business over-estimates costs and ignores benefits with a purpose. It doesn't want regulations and it doesn't want enforcement. In the deadly scheme of things, lying so they can leave their workforce in the firing line is the least of their money-motivated crimes. Somewhere down the line, people die when regulatory protection is removed. That's the ultimate capital crime.'

Asbestos illnesses killing more women

There has been an alarming increase in the number of women dying of an asbestos-related cancer, with low level exposures in non-industrial jobs suspected as the cause. Latest official figures show that mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, is the most rapidly increasing cancer in women. Consultant surgeon John Edwards, an asbestos disease expert who has studied the figures, said: 'We need further research to determine the risk of low level exposure to asbestos. The increase in males is more steady and the fact that the ratio has changed suggests that the pattern of exposure has changed.' The Sheffield lung surgeon told the Mirror newspaper many of the victims had not worked in industries normally associated with asbestos exposure and said the ''perception amongst clinicians'' was that the deadly cancer, which attacks the lining of the lung or abdomen, was the result of ''low level'' exposure', for example exposure to asbestos present in wall and ceiling panels in buildings. The latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that mesothelioma was mentioned as the cause of death for 384 women in 2008 compared with 1,865 men. In 2007, it was 347 women and 1,826 men. In 2005 it was 289 women and 1,759 men. The official statistics for 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, show a record 2,249 people died of mesothelioma that year. This is up 46 per cent in the decade from 1998, when 1,541 mesothelioma deaths were recorded.

Farming safety gains 'wiped out'

A sharp rise in the number of people killed or seriously injured on British farms has wiped out previous safety gains. New figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in Britain between April 2009 and March 2010, the number of reported major injuries, such as broken bones or amputations, rose to 640, up from 599 the previous year. The watchdog says the number of major injuries has now increased by more than 40 per cent in the last three years. In June it was announced that 38 people died as a result of work on farms last year - up from 25 the preceding year and above the average of 37 for the previous five years. HSE says with a rate of fatal injuries to workers in 2009/10 of 8 per 100,000, agriculture remains Britain's most dangerous industry. The provisional stats show agriculture has one of the highest rates of reported major injuries. In 2009/10, there were 242.1 major injuries per 100 000 employees in agriculture compared to 203.1 in 2008/09. HSE board member Sandy Blair said 'these figures show the reality of what we are dealing with - deaths have returned to previous levels and serious injuries are still steadily increasing.' But he added the situation is even worse than the statistics suggest, noting: 'More worrying is the estimate that only around 30 per cent of agricultural injuries are reported.' HSE says although only around 1.5 per cent of the working population is employed in agriculture, it accounted for 1-in-4 work-related deaths last year.


A quarter of small sites shut down

Safety inspectors have been forced to stop work on 1-in-4 small building sites during an inspection blitz across London. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors are to continue the enforcement blitz of small refurbishment sites over the next few weeks. So far, close to 25 per cent of the 150 small construction sites visited have had prohibition notices served on them. These stop some or all of the site activities because of an immediate risk to workers. HSE principal inspector Andrew Beal said: 'Finding such poor work practices that we had to issues prohibition notices on nearly one in four sites is unacceptable, especially when many of the incidents are completely avoidable by taking common sense actions and precautions.' HSE figures show there have been 59 fatalities in London between 2004/2005 and 2009/2010, 30 resulting from falls. Over 70 per cent of the deaths caused by a fall occurred on small sites, says HSE. Government plans to reform health and safety regulation and enforcement include measures to exempt small firms from certain risk assessment and other requirements. Unions have argued this is a dangerous mistake as small firms are over-represented in the most hazardous sectors, notably construction, agriculture and transport, and are frequently the ones that benefit most from the support of a properly resourced health and safety enforcement agency. It is feared drastic cuts in HSE's budget will mean the volume of preventive inspections will fall dramatically.

Hard up firm escapes teen burns fine

A West Midlands company has admitted failing to protect its employees after two teenage workers suffered chemical burns - but the firm has been spared a fine because it is broke. Rugby Magistrates' Court heard that Fretus Ltd was contracted to carry out a service on an air-conditioning unit at an office in Leamington Spa in October 2009. The workers given the job, one aged 17 years and one 18, suffered serious burns to their hands. The court heard the injured men had been cleaning air-conditioning coils with phosphoric and hydrofluoric acid. Their employer, Coventry firm Fretus Ltd, pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences. Magistrates decided against imposing a fine because of the firm's financial situation. Instead, Fretus was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay the full £4,500 costs of the prosecution brought by Warwick District Council. Speaking after the hearing, Councillor Michael Coker, the council's portfolio holder for the environment, said: 'It was clear that the use of this highly corrosive cleaner, without appropriate control measures, would result in serious injuries. This case clearly demonstrates that companies must ensure that hazardous substances are used safely.'

Safety alert on Britain's unseen sweatshops

Union, safety and anti-poverty campaigners are urging the government to stamp out sweatshop labour in Britain. The call comes after an undercover investigation by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme revealed the conditions suffered by workers employed in factories in Leicester making goods for high street retail giants. A reporter worked undercover for three months in workshops in the city, stitching garments destined for British retail chains including BHS, New Look, Peacocks, C&A and Jane Norman. She found 'dangerous, pressurised sweatshop conditions,' pay at half the legal minimum wage, and staff forced to work faster under threat of the sack and in cramped, overheated conditions with poor hygiene standards. The undercover reporter received no training or safety guidance, and sewing machines were not equipped with appropriate safety guards. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'It is a scandal that people are working in these dangerous, pressurised sweatshop conditions. Workers in the UK have a legal right to be paid at least the minimum wage, and are entitled to carry out their jobs in decent and safe workplaces with clean, modern lavatories.' He warned: 'The deep cuts in spending announced by the government will make it easier for employers to avoid their obligations under the law to protect their staff at work. The Health and Safety Executive has just seen its funding cut by 35 per cent and that - combined with a 28 per cent cut in local government funding - will have a very damaging impact on safety in UK workplaces.' Richard Jones, policy director with safety professionals' organisation IOSH, said the programme 'highlighted that small business does not necessarily equate to a safe or low-risk business. The documentary claimed workers shown were exposed to significant risk from machinery and fire hazards.' He added: 'It's disturbing if these standards are being allowed to pass under the radar of enforcement inspections.' War on Want executive director John Hilary said: 'High street retailers cannot be trusted to clean up their own act. We need government action to end this scandal.'

Firm with £1bn sales gets £6k fine

A multinational foam manufacturer with global sales worth over £1 billion in 2009 has been fined £6,238 after a lorry driver's back was broken when a pile of insulating board fell on him. Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates heard that on 21 October 2009 Colin Ball, a 52-year-old lorry driver, was delivering a consignment of insulation board to Recticel Limited's warehouse in Stoke on Trent when a separate stack toppled onto him and knocked him back into his trailer. The driver suffered multiple spinal fractures and a serious head injury and is likely to need long term rehabilitation. The company, which has 11,000 employees in 20 countries, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £6,238 and ordered to pay £11,762 costs. HSE inspector Lyn Mizen said: 'This incident serves to highlight the need for companies to ensure that their stacking arrangements are properly planned, managed and controlled. This incident could easily have been prevented had the company implemented a suitable and sufficient safe system of work to effectively manage the risks posed by stacked materials in their warehouse.'

Welcome for Potters Bar crash prosecutions

The decision to prosecute Network Rail and maintenance company Jarvis Rail over the 2002 Potters Bar crash in which seven people died has been welcomed by rail union RMT. Bob Crow, the union's general secretary said: 'RMT has campaigned for criminal proceedings against those responsible for the avoidable and tragic disaster at Potters Bar for eight long years,' adding that the decision to prosecute was 'better late than never. We will also be watching closely for any attempts by the directors of Jarvis Rail, including former Tory minister Steven Norris, to avoid being called to account for their actions following the collapse of the company.' Mr Crow added: 'This prosecution also sends out a clear warning to those currently responsible for rail maintenance, and the government, in this climate of cuts to transport budgets that anyone caught playing fast and loose with rail safety can expect to feel the full force of the law.' A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report had concluded poor maintenance was to blame for the crash. The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) announced this week its intention to prosecute the firms. ORR's director of rail safety Ian Prosser said the recent conclusion of the inquest into the crash deaths had paved the way for the prosecution (Risks 468). 'I have decided there is enough evidence, and it is in the public interest, to prosecute Network Rail and Jarvis Rail for serious health and safety breaches,' he said. 'For the sake of the families involved, we will do all we can to ensure the prosecutions proceed as quickly as possible.' The case - over alleged safety breaches - is due to be heard at Watford Magistrates' Court in January.

Worker injured by electrical flame

A Teesside worker suffered burns when he hit an 11,000 volt underground electricity cable while planting trees. Robert Stubbs, 24, was planting trees in Redcar for social housing landlord Coast and Country Housing Ltd when the incident happened. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the social landlord for breaching health and safety law following the incident on 19 November 2009. Mr Stubbs was using a five-foot steel bar to create a hole for a support stake for a tree, when the bar hit the underground cable from a nearby substation. The contact created a short circuit which caused a flame to shoot up thirteen feet from the underground cable, injuring Mr Stubbs. Teesside magistrates heard that Mr Stubbs had let go of the bar he was holding before it hit the cable, but still suffered minor burns. He was taken to hospital and although released he was off work for two weeks suffering from headaches. The court heard if he had been touching the bar at the time he could have been killed. Mr Stubbs said: 'When the bar hit the cable my hands were not on it. I know things would be a lot different if I was touching it. I try not to think too much about that.' He was working as part of a new group set up by Coast and Country Housing called the shrub bed maintenance team. HSE's investigation showed that the incident could have been avoided if a suitable and sufficient assessment had been carried out and the proper safety systems put in place by his employer. Coast and Country Housing Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined £8,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £2,939.20.

Cement giant fined after fireball horror

Lafarge Cement has been fined £130,000 after an electrical engineer was engulfed by a fireball. Electrical engineer Paul Ridings, 39, had been contracted to work for the company when the incident occurred at the firm's site at Thurrock Marine Terminal, Grays, Essex. Basildon Crown Court heard that on 10 October 2008 Mr Ridings was investigating a fault with an energy meter when he inadvertently disturbed a loose connection and exposed a strand of wire, leading to an electrical explosion. His clothes caught fire and he sustained burns to his face, neck, chest, arms and hands. He received emergency treatment and spent 19 days in the Specialist Burns Unit at Broomfield Hospital. Since the incident he has undergone numerous skin grafts and operations to remove scar tissue. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had failed to ensure adequate maintenance of electrical systems. Lafarge Cement UK plc was fined £130,000 and ordered to pay costs of £29,742. HSE inspector David King said: 'Every year approximately 20 people die from electrical shocks or burns following incidents at work. Mr Ridings could easily have been killed in this incident. It's clear that in this case the overall arrangements for maintaining electrical assets were inadequate and the health and safety of both staff and contractors were put at risk.'

Worker gassed inside a machine

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has prosecuted a Black Country recycling firm after nitrogen gas, used to stop explosions, made a worker pass out. Halesowen Magistrates Court heard that it was usual for workers at Overton Recycling to climb into the chute of a fridge recycling machine. On 1 June 2009, Stephen Barnes, 47, working on the machine used to recycle fridges. A chute fed the fridges inside the machine to be broken up, but as they have the potential to explode, the machine contained nitrogen gas to help reduce the risk of a blast. Sometimes the fridges would twist and get stuck and it was usual for workers to climb in to clear the blockages. When Mr Barnes did this on the day of the incident, the nitrogen inside the chute made him pass out so he had to be rescued by a colleague. He was taken to hospital and was off work for three days. Although he made a full physical recovery, he has since suffered from a lack of sleep, flashbacks and mood swings that are only now subsiding. An HSE inspection found the presence of the nitrogen in the chute had not been assessed before people got inside to clear blockages. The company had also failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment that would have identified the risks of climbing into a confined space. The company should also have had a system in place for clearing blockages that did not require entry in to the chute. HSE inspector Angela Gallagher said: 'Companies need to ensure all machinery and processes are properly assessed. Had this been done, the nitrogen would have been identified as a hazard and the chute recognised as a confined space with the right safety systems installed.' She added: 'All too often in cases like this we see multiple fatalities as people try to rescue a colleague from a confined space without taking precautions themselves. It is fortunate that no one was more seriously harmed on this occasion.' The firm pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of safety law and was fined £13,000 and ordered to pay £6,107 costs.

Fit notes are not working

The system of GP-issued 'fit notes' introduced on 6 April is not working, a survey had found. The fourth annual 'Health of the workplace' report from Aviva, which surveyed GPs, employers and workers, found almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of the 200 GPs questioned felt 'ill-equipped' to provide fit notes, up 1 per cent on last year's survey figure, prior to the introduction of fit notes. A similar proportion (68 per cent) didn't believe that the new system would cut absence levels. This shows a marked loss of faith in the approach, with the response up from 54 per cent in the previous year's survey. The reaction from employers was more damning still; 95 per cent of the employers thought the fit note system will not be effective. Employees too, were unimpressed. Of the 1,000 employees canvassed, 57 per cent did not think their GP was in a position to say whether or not they could return to work. The fit note system, which replaces GP-issued sick notes, was introduced in a bid to reduce sick leave. Instead of just signing workers off sick, GPs have the option to say a patient is either 'not fit for work' or 'may be fit for work taking account of the following advice.'

International News

Canada: Shiftwork is bad for you

Canadians who work night shifts and rotating shifts are almost twice as likely to be injured on the job as those working regular day shifts, according to a study by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The study, published in the current issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, examined data on more than 30,000 Canadians and compared results between workers involved in different types of shiftwork from 1996-2006. It shows that while the overall rate of work injuries in Canada decreased during this time, the rate of injuries did not decline for night shiftworkers. The study also found that the risk of work injury associated with shiftwork was more pronounced for women, especially if they work rotating shifts. 'The disruption of normal sleep patterns due to shiftwork can cause drowsiness or fatigue, which can lead to workplace injuries,' said lead author Imelda Wong, of UBC's School of Environmental Health. 'Our research shows that people working rotating and night shifts are more likely to experience an injury than those who work regular day hours.' The researchers suggest that because women are more likely to be responsible for childcare and household work, they may have more difficulties adjusting to shiftwork and maintaining regular sleep schedules. 'As more and more workers become involved in non-daytime shiftwork, we may see an increase in injuries, especially among women,' said co-author Chris McLeod. 'Regulatory agencies and employers need to consider policies and programmes to help reduce the risk of injuries among shiftworkers.'

  • Wong IS, McLeod CB, Demers PA. Shift work trends and risk of work injury among Canadian workers. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 2010, online first. Science Daily. Vancouver Sun.

USA: USW calls for lung cancer screening

The US steelworkers' union USW wants routine occupational lung cancer screening for all workers in high risk jobs. The call came after the National Cancer Institute (NCI) released the results of a 10 year national study involving over 53,000 people that demonstrated annual medical screening with a low dose helical chest CT scan lowered mortality due to lung cancer by 20 per cent. 'We are now presented with an enormous opportunity to save workers from dying from lung cancer,' said USW international president Leo W Gerard. 'Millions of workers have been exposed to asbestos, silica, chromium, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel and combustion products - and all of these exposures are firmly established as causes of human lung cancer.' USW currently sponsors the largest occupational lung cancer screening programme in the United States, apart from the NCI trial. The programme, funded by the Department of Energy (DOE), uses the same CT scan technique as the NCI trial and screened over 10,000 nuclear weapons workers between 2000 and 2010. USW says some 70 lung cancers, threequarters of which are at an early stage, have been detected. 'Union health and safety leaders and others need to meet in the very near future in Washington DC to devise a strategy for assuring that high risk workers are among the first to obtain the benefits of this new screening method,' said Gerard. Steven Markowitz, the occupational physician who directs the USW's Early Lung Cancer Detection Programme, said; 'The goal is straightforward but urgent. Workers at high risk of lung cancer should have rapid access to a high quality, appropriate, comprehensive CT scan-based lung cancer screening services without financial barriers. We can save many lives.'

USA: President's panel slams complacent oil firms

Three major companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill lacked a safety culture and made serious mistakes ahead of the catastrophe, an official inquiry into the disaster has said. The White House oil spill commission said there was a culture of complacency at BP, Transocean and Halliburton. 'There was not a culture of safety on that rig,' committee co-chair Bill Reilly said. The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and polluted hundreds of miles of coast. Mr Reilly called for 'top-to-bottom reform' at the companies involved in the well, known as the Macondo well, and faulted a 'sweep of bad decisions' by the three companies. 'There appeared to be a rush to completion of the Macondo well and one has to ask where the drive came from that made people determine they couldn't wait for sound cement or the right centralisers,' Mr Reilly said. Commission investigator Fred Bartlit had said the previous day he had found no evidence BP had made risky decisions to save money. There was 'no evidence at this time to suggest that there was a conscious decision to sacrifice safety concerns to save money,' he said. 'We see no instance where a decision-making person or group of people sat there aware of safety risks, aware of costs, and opted to give up safety for costs.' The White House commission is not due to report for another two months.

USA: Safety enforcement is the efficient choice

Barriers to enforcement of safety regulations should be removed and enforcement agencies imparted with a sense of urgency, a top US law expert has said. University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor believes enforcement is not just the more effective option, it is the more efficient option. Calling on the Obama administration to impart 'a sense of urgency to regulatory agencies' protecting health, safety and the environment, she notes: 'By far the most important initiative is to reinvigorate enforcement across the board, especially with respect to criminal violations. Enforcement - especially criminal enforcement - produces tremendous bang for limited bucks because it gives white collar executives ample incentive to prevent practices that, quite literally, kill people.' She adds beefing up enforcement switches the emphasis from the 'burdens' of regulation to the real-life crimes of regulation evaders. 'Taking cases of wrongdoing to court pulls the debate down from the ideological stratosphere of 'big' government arguments to the hands-on practicality of the ways that greedy executives injure actual men, women and children with impunity.' A string of catastrophes have shown the need for proactive government, she concludes, adding President Obama could make great strides by simply infusing the health and safety agencies with a sense of urgency and 'clearing away barriers to regulatory progress.'


The story of (electronic) stuff

'The story of stuff' project has become an international phenomenon. The project's short and witty video analysis of how we produce stuff in a wasteful, damaging and unsafe fashion, has in less than three years been viewed over 12 million times. And it has spawned offspring, the latest of which is 'The story of electronics'. In under eight minutes, the video lets you 'learn about the electronics industry's 'design for the dump' mentality.' The 'stuff' team say: 'Join us in championing product take back to spur companies to make less toxic, more easily recyclable and longer lasting products.' The story of electronics film has been produced with groups campaigning around the world with unions and electronics workers suffering cancer and other ill-effects resulting from workplace exposures. The groups are also prominent in the campaign to stop dumping of toxic e-waste on developing nations.

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