Risks 490 - 22 January 2011

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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

Family continues its fight for justice

The family of a young factory worker who died in a workplace explosion wants his employer to admit its role in his death. Unite member Peter Reynolds was just 28 when he died from head injuries after he was blasted out of the factory in January 2008, falling 10 metres to the ground. The plant operative for Cemex in Rugby was trying to unblock a piece of faulty machinery when the explosion happened. He is survived by his wife Kerry and their daughter Kayleigh, who is now five. The family has just received a 'substantial' sum in compensation in a union-backed claim, just days before the third anniversary of his death. But Cemex did not admitted liability for the deadly incident. The company is facing a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution related to the explosion on a known problem machine which had caused an injury to another worker in 2006. Peter's mum, Jane Reynolds, said: 'This wasn't just about the money, but about Cemex accepting their part in Peter's life coming to such an abrupt and tragic end. Peter was a kind and loving father, husband, son and brother. We all miss him terribly and we are anxious to keep his memory alive for his daughter Kayleigh.' Peter had followed the correct procedures to restart the machine but it had become heavily pressurised and exploded. Adrian Axtell from Unite said: 'It is only just that Mr Reynolds' family is compensated for his tragic untimely death. He was forced to work with a machine which had caused the company problems time and again. This was an accident waiting to happen.'

Heavy recycling work caused hernia

A GMB member needed surgery to correct a hernia which could have been avoided if his employer had undertaken and acted on a simple risk assessment. Andrew Kelly, 47, needed the major surgery after moving several objects weighing up to 40kg during an eight-hour shift. The yard supervisor for global recycling giant Sims Group UK, who has worked for the firm for 31 years, was unable to access lifting equipment when instructed to move heavy objects like lorry batteries and fridge motors to various parts of the yard for collection. He said: 'I knew that it would take me several weeks to recover from the operation so contacted the union because I was worried about what it would mean for me and my family financially.' He added: 'The hernia was painful and it slowed me down a lot. I wasn't able to lift and found walking difficult. Since the operation I have been able to return to work but I still suffer from some discomfort.' Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to handle a compensation case, argued the Sims Group should have risk assessed the task and provided either equipment to move the objects or assistance from other employees. Mr Kelly has now received an undisclosed sum in compensation from the firm. Andy Worth from the GMB said: 'Long established employers like these really have no excuse not to think ahead when they ask employees to lift heavy weights with no help. Mr Kelly's losses and pain lie at their door when a simple risk assessment could easily have avoided the accident.' The company's safety record has been called into question recently. Sims Group UK has been prosecuted twice by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in last three years for criminal breaches of safety law, the latest in April 2010 following a workplace death and resulting in a six figure fine (Risks 453).

Steel union concern over punitive policies

Unions at a global steel producer are warning that a 'heavy handed' safety policy should be ditched. The ArcelorMittal Joint Global Health and Safety Committee, which brings together union reps and managers from the company's plants around the world, met at Unite's training college in Esher this month to review results from 2010 and plan its activities for 2011. Trade union participants raised concerns over the company's decision to implement a 'safety violations policy.' The unions present 'outlined the belief that workers should be seen as part of the solution to safety problems, and not the problem themselves,' reports the global union federation IMF, which coordinates the union-side. It added: 'Union participants informed management that hazard identification and correction including workers being able to report near misses without fear are potentially at risk if the policy is implemented in a heavy handed way without dialogue and consent from the local union representatives and joint safety committees.' The policy is based around behavioural safety approaches, and treats breaches of 'golden' safety rules by employees as automatic disciplinary offences, without considering the management factors and failings that commonly lead to problems. IMF executive director Rob Johnston said: 'Although the committee does not have a mandate to negotiate policies or agreements, we do have a responsibility to speak out if we feel management's strategy is wrong, we have voiced our concerns on this issue and need to find a solution.' Since the joint committee was formed, the injury rate in ArcelorMittal has fallen by more than 50 per cent, says IMF. But 2010 fatality figures were up on 2009.

Attack exposes folly of unstaffed Tube stations

A serious assault on a member of the public highlights the dangers of operating unstaffed London Underground (LU) stations, rail union RMT has said. The union was commenting after a person was attacked and beaten up by five youths in the early hours of 16 January. West Finchley station in London was left unstaffed from 22.50 hours on Saturday 15 January. The union says its safety reps have established there was no cover for the usual employee, who was on annual leave, as a consequence of LU's staffing cuts. RMT says that at just after 12.30am on Sunday 16 January a fight broke out on a train, leading to the assault on a 32-year-old man. It says as a result of the station being unstaffed the train was on the platform for some time before assistance could be raised. RMT recently leaked internal LU papers it says show that the company is planning to leave nearly a third of tube stations unstaffed for part of the working day from next month, increasing the risk of assaults on passengers (Risks 489). RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Throughout our dispute TFL [Transport for London] have accused RMT and TSSA of scaremongering over the safety dangers of station staff cuts. In the light of this incident they should now withdraw that slur, halt the cuts programme and Boris Johnson should stop the political posturing and meet direct with the Tube unions before more passengers are put at risk of violent assault as a result of the station de-staffing programme.'

Network Rail pays damages to rail widow

The widow of a rail worker who died in April 2007 when he was struck by a fast-moving train has been awarded a 'substantial' sum in compensation by Network Rail. Charles Stockwell, 50, was killed whilst welding a track as a train approached the busy Ruscombe Junction in Berkshire. Because of the job he was doing, Mr Stockwell could not see or hear the train coming. Rail union RMT backed the compensation claim on behalf of Mr Stockwell's widow, Karen. 'My husband always said it was a dangerous job and that things needed to change, yet Network Rail always insisted that safety was their number one priority. Despite this, Charles died doing the job he enjoyed, and I am still left wondering how it could have happened,' she said. 'My husband's death has affected the whole family, and it's something we'll never get over. When Charles died I lost a part of my life.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This tragic case reinforces RMT's continuing campaign for a safe working environment on Britain's railways. Our thoughts are with Mrs Stockwell and Charles' family and friends and we hope that the legacy of his totally unnecessary death will be a renewed focus on safe working practices out on Britain's railways.'

Usdaw welcomes fall in shop crime

Usdaw has welcomed the overall fall in shop crime and an increased investment by retailers in crime prevention. The shopworkers' union was commenting on publication this week of the British Retail Consortium's (BRC) annual survey of retail crime, which reports an 11 per cent reduction in the number of criminal offences in the retail sector in 2010. Reported incidents of violence, threats and abuse against shop staff were down by 50 per cent and incidents of shoplifting down by 10.6 per cent. According to the survey, retailers spent over £210 million on crime prevention measures last year, a 10 per cent increase on 2009. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett commented: 'Usdaw works closely with employers to improve workplace safety and we welcome the increased investment retailers are making to protect their staff and property. The downward trend in the number of recorded incidents in the survey is also very encouraging.' However, he said the union agreed with the BRC finding that 'there remains a significant problem of under-reporting which is driven by the myth that shop crime is 'victimless' and the belief shared by many shopworkers that little if any effective action will be taken against perpetrators. Shop crime is not victimless, our own annual survey showed that last year more than a million shopworkers were abused, threatened or assaulted at work.' He said shoplifting was a 'major flashpoint' for violence, but added 'our members suffer most abuse and threats when asking for proof of age ID from customers buying age-restricted products such as alcohol.' Mr Hannett added that Usdaw 'is lobbying government to improve the regulation of age-restricted products and we will continue to work closely with the BRC, police and other agencies to reduce all incidents of shop crime, to create safer workplaces and to ensure offenders are brought to justice.'

Other news

Deterrence a victim of enforcement failures

A failure to impose meaningful penalties for criminal safety breaches means the courts and regulators are still failing to create a level playing field for employers that do not break the law, a safety expert has warned. Howard Fidderman, editor of Health and Safety Bulletin, says despite a decade which has seen legal pronouncements, sentencing guidelines and corporate manslaughter and safety offences legislation, all supposed to deliver greater accountability for safety crimes, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions have hit a record low. Fines have followed a general upward trend, but still average under £25,000 for each HSE case. Fidderman's examination 110 cases where a death occurred, found only 46 resulted in a fine greater than 1 per cent of the offender's annual profits. Death fines only exceeded 1 per cent of turnover in six instances. He concludes company directors 'remain unaccountable,' with just 36 prosecuted for safety offences in 2009/10, out of which 27 resulted in a conviction. He adds 'the new offence of 'corporate manslaughter' (and 'corporate homicide' in Scotland) has to date proved a damp squib. Far from the anticipated dozen cases a year, there has been only one since the Act came into effect on 6 April 2008, and even this is proving problematic, despite involving a small firm. There have been no other charges and we still await a trial involving a medium-sized or large employer.' Fidderman argues that the failure of the regulatory and enforcement authorities to make sure safety crime doesn't pay penalises safe employers. He says 'appropriate sanctions are not just about justice, deterrence and punishment; they are also about creating a level playing field so that those employers that strive to comply with the law are not disadvantaged while others get away with flagrant breaches.'

TUC slams business lobby's unhealthy attitude

The TUC has criticised a business group's drive to block new protections from some of the most serious occupational health risks of modern workplaces. EEF, the lobbying group for manufacturing employers, is urging the government to block possible European Union-wide measures to improve protection from workplace stress and strain injuries. It also says the government should 'build an alliance with other EU member states to reduce the burden of health and safety legislation and remove unnecessary bureaucracy.' EEF said its annual safety survey revealed 'concern at proposals for yet more legislation. In contrast, the survey revealed a strong appetite for case study guidance as the best means of improving control of key risks.' Threequarters of those surveyed were opposed to any moves by the European Commission to require that stress and work pressure be considered as part of risk assessments for back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders. EEF head of safety Steve Pointer said 'whilst there is pressure in the UK to reduce legislation and remove unnecessary bureaucracy, the European Commission is moving in the opposite direction, continuing to propose new legal requirements.' However, Hugh Robertson, Pointer's equivalent at the TUC, said: 'The need for new regulation on occupational health issues is obvious to any observer. Although the rate of injuries has come down in recent years, the number of cases of occupational diseases has remained steady throughout Europe. We clearly need strong and robust regulation to tackle the huge epidemic of stress and musculoskeletal disorders that are responsible for around threequarters of all work-related sickness absence.' He added: 'We should not be surprised by the results of the survey. Employers' organisations have always called for guidance rather that regulation, despite overwhelming evidence that guidance has almost no effect at all in changing behaviour.'

Inflexible and stressful work bad for kids

Inflexible, stressful and emotionally demanding jobs can undermine parenting confidence and contribute to emotional withdrawal from children, a new report had claimed. The Demos study found that while educational background has little effect on parenting style, work conditions did have an impact. The think tank polled 1,017 parents and found work impacted negatively on parenting when it was characterised by inflexibility - in terms of hours and culture in the workplace. 'The home front' report found parents in well-paid but highly stressful jobs experienced as much negative impact as those in mundane, low paid and low-skill jobs, because of the lack of choice about working long hours and emotional demands of the workplace. The ability to be creative at work, as well as flexible with hours, had a positive impact on parenting. Kitty Ussher, director of Demos, said: 'Our working lives are inextricably bound up with our home lives and the ability of parents to support their children will be shaped by their freedom to balance care with their responsibilities at work. But work does not have a straightforward relationship with parenting. It's not only the number of hours worked, but also the flexibility of a parent's schedule and the quality of their work that makes a difference to children.'

Teen worker loses fingers on first day at work

A Walsall metal company has been prosecuted after a teenage worker lost parts of two fingers on his first day at work. The 19-year-old, who did not wish to be named, had only started work three hours earlier for Goscote-based JKL Industrial Services Ltd, when his hand became trapped in a power press. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted JKL Industrial Services Ltd following the incident on 28 October 2009. Walsall Magistrates' Court heard that the injured man, from Sutton Coldfield, was feeding strips of steel through a power press, punching 10cm shapes from the metal when his hand became trapped in an unguarded part of the machine. As a result of his injuries, his middle and ring fingers had to be amputated at the first joint. JKL Industrial Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The company was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,534 costs. HSE inspector Eve-Marie Edwards said: 'This young man has suffered permanent and debilitating injuries from an incident that should never have happened.' She added: 'JKL Industrial Services did not provide adequate guarding for the power press, failed to maintain the machine properly and failed also to ensure it was thoroughly examined by a competent person. Furthermore, the company had not given the worker sufficient information, instruction, training or supervision to operate the power press safely.'

Chicken poo screw fine for egg packer

A Banff-based egg packing business has been fined for exposing its employees to the risk of serious injury. Workers employed by the James Gammie partnership were required to use a screw conveyor to clear away chicken manure from each of the company's three sheds at its premises in Leightonhill Farm, Brechin. In November 2008, an inspector from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspected the sheds and noted that the guarding on each of the screw conveyors did not adequately prevent access to the moving parts of the machinery. As the screw conveyor was used two or three times a week, this placed employees at significant risk of serious injury. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £3,000 at Forfar Sheriff Court. HSE principal inspector Peter Dodd said: 'Unguarded machinery continues to be a major cause of serious incidents. This case shows that where HSE inspectors find blatant disregard for the law they will not hesitate to take action against those responsible for creating the risk. In many cases, including this one, simple and inexpensive solutions are readily available to protect those who have to work with machinery and there is no excuse for them not to be in place.'

Litterpicker injured falling into well

A Mansfield District Council worker was lucky to survive when he fell six metres down a dry well, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. The council employee, who does not wish to be named, was clearing litter from the White Lion Yard in the town on 28 April 2009 when the incident happened. Three workers were asked to clear litter that had collected between a metal grid and a mesh cover over the well. Two workers removed the grid, while the third stood on the mesh, believing it to be solid underneath, and fell into the well. He dislocated his elbow and cut his head, arms and leg and was off work for six months. Mansfield Magistrates' Court heard that the council had failed to ensure that the work was properly planned or carried out safely. The council pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £5,000. It was also ordered to pay £5,700 costs. HSE inspector Stuart Pilkington said: 'This worker was extremely lucky to survive but he was quite seriously injured. Falls from height are the biggest causes of workplace deaths and it's crucial that employers make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out to protect staff from these risks.'

Window firm failed welfare test

A London window manufacturer has been prosecuted for ignoring two improvement notices requiring the firm to bring employee welfare facilities up to a clean and hygienic standard. City of London Magistrates' Court heard that on 20 May 2010, at a routine inspection of the TLC Glazing Ltd factory, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the toilets in a poor state of repair. They were very dirty, with no supply of hot water, no soap for hand washing and no means of hand drying. The inspection also found that the area where employees were supposed to take rest breaks and eat lunch was not properly equipped, and was covered in dust and debris from the adjacent workshop. HSE served two improvement notices on the company, giving them a month to bring the employees' welfare facilities up to a decent standard. When an inspector returned a month later on 18 June, TLC Glazing Ltd had taken no action to comply with the notices, and the toilets facilities and rest area were in the same poor state. HSE inspector Clare Hawkes said: 'The law requires employers to provide a minimum basic standard of clean and hygienic welfare facilities for workers. There's no excuse for not providing them.' She added: 'Failure to provide decent facilities or to comply with enforcement notices are serious matters. TLC Glazing showed complete disregard for the welfare of its employees and for the law.' The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,968 costs.

Son's battle for justice for his dad

The son of a former employee of the Longbridge car plant, who died after being exposed to asbestos, has launched a search for former colleagues who may be able to help in his battle for justice. John Amos, from Rednal, Birmingham, was diagnosed with the incurable asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in May 2009, just days before he died aged 79 on 22 May 2009. An inquest into Mr Amos's death in December 2009 recorded a verdict of death from industrial disease. Mr Amos was a tool setter and worked for the company for most of his working life. He started working at the British Motor Corporation Austin Division, Longbridge in September 1968 and finished work at Rover Cofton Hackett in May 1992. Workplace illness expert Alida Coates, from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, is representing Mr Amos's family. She said: 'We have pursued a number of successful claims against The Rover Company for asbestos-related illnesses, but we ideally need someone who worked with Mr Amos to confirm the circumstances in which he came into contact with asbestos.' She added: 'I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone who worked for Rover, at their Longbridge plant, who has knowledge of the use of asbestos on site which Mr Amos is likely to have come into contact with, whilst employed by the company.' Mr Amos' son, Lindsay, said his father had always been fit and active. 'At first we didn't think it was anything to worry about but then he started to get chest pains,' he said. 'He underwent a series of tests and finally, in May 2009, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. We were all absolutely devastated by the news and his death has come as a huge shock to the whole family.'

International News

France: Postal worker suicide '71st in a year'

The suicide of a French postal worker has prompted fears about working conditions in the country's Post Office. A 56-year-old worker killed himself on 8 January in Bouches-du-Rhône, in southeast France. It is the fifth in the region in a year and the 71st nationwide, according to trade unions. The Post Office has disputed this number. 'All the suicides are linked to the way people feel in the company,' CGT union member Jean-Luc Botella told journalists. He added that one had left a note for his wife which backed up this theory. The worker who died this month was being subjected to an audit after making a 160 Euro accounting error. His wife told the AFP news agency her husband had been worrying about work for the last six months and said she may take the Post Office to court. The Post Office has started an independent internal enquiry. France Télécom was hit by a similar problem in 2008 and 2009. A total of 35 workers killed themselves, in a scandal that led to the resignation of the company's chief executive and to dramatic changes in work methods (Risks 431).

Global: Call to drop worn jeans

Unions this week told major garment companies and retailers they should stop selling sandblasted jeans. The process, which is used to give denim a fashionable worn and faded look, causes an often fatal lung disease in exposed garment workers (Risks 485). Patrick Itschert, general secretary of the global union federation for unions in the garment sector said: 'Sandblasting is an extremely harmful process which can cause silicosis.' Speaking ahead of a 20 January meeting in Brussels of unions and major brands and retailers, he said: 'In Turkey, the world's third largest exporter of jeans and the only country so far where the impact of sandblasting on the health of workers has come under scrutiny, 550 former sandblasting workers have been diagnosed with silicosis since 2005 and 46 have so far died of the disease. These officially-documented cases are just the tip of the iceberg both in Turkey and globally.' Calling on the companies to act, he added: 'Even if brands and retailers adopt rigorous standards regarding sandblasting, there will always be suppliers that do not enforce those standards, thus putting unsuspecting workers at risk. Therefore the best policy is to ban sandblasting altogether in the garment industry. Several leading brands have already done so and we believe others should now do the same' (Risks 474). Crystalline silica exposure can cause silicosis, lung cancer and autoimmune diseases. Many of the health problems caused by today's exposures may only emerge in later life.

Global: End made-in-Canada deaths in Asia

Plans to expand asbestos production in Canada will result in an estimated 30,000 deaths in Asia, public health experts and campaigners have warned. A spate of protests in Asia, North America and Europe late last year have continued into 2011, with events in India, Korea and Canada highlighting the human consequences of any decision by authorities that would allow an expansion of asbestos mining in the Canadian province of Quebec. A consortium seeking Quebec government funds to underwrite the cost of a new mine plans to produce 5 million tons of asbestos over the next 25 years. Experts from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health calculated in 2004 that there was one asbestos related death for every 170 tons of asbestos produced, suggesting the Quebec mine plan could result in tens of thousands of additional deaths. Representatives of the Canadian asbestos industry have admitted the mine's entire production would be destined for Asia. Speaking at an 18 January protest outside the Canadian embassy in Seoul, Ye-Yong Choi, executive director of the Ban Asbestos Network Korea (BANKO), said: 'For this reason, we are demonstrating today to demand that the Quebec government listen to the Quebec people and not finance the export of death.' While the Quebec government has been subjected to intense lobbying by pro-asbestos groups seeking a massive injection of public funds, the proposal does not enjoy the support of local communities. A poll commissioned by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment showed that 76 per cent of Quebeckers are opposed to provisional government financial support for the mine. Only 14 per cent were in favour. On 17 January, the Raging Grannies - a women's campaign group that originated in Canada but has now spread to the US and beyond - pinned as asbestos manifesto calling for an end to Canada's asbestos production and exports on the door of Quebec premier Jean Charest.

USA: Farmworkers act on strawberry poison

During his final days in office, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger bid the state's farmworkers farewell by approving the use of a strawberry pesticide deemed so toxic that it is used to create cancer in lab mice used for research. Now a coalition of environmental groups is hoping newly inaugurated California governor Jerry Brown will rescind the decision to approve the use of methyl iodide. They submitted 53,000 comments from members of the public urging the new governor to prevent the use of the chemical. And they have also started a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court to block the decision from taking effect. The suit was filed by Earthjustice, an environmental justice organisation, and California Rural Legal Assistance, a farmworkers' advocacy group, against the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, the agency's director and Arysta LifeScience - the company manufacturing the pesticide. The suit represents a host of plaintiffs including Pesticide Action Network North America and the farmworkers' union UFW. It challenges the 'unlawful' emergency regulation used by the Department of Pesticide Regulation to approve the registration. Erik Nicholson, national vice-president of the UFW, commented: 'Farmworkers are on the front lines of methyl iodide use and will suffer the most tragic consequences. If this decision is allowed to stand, strawberries may very well become the new poster child for giving farmworkers cancer and late term miscarriages.'

Events and Courses

Women and health and safety seminar, 3 February

A TUC seminar on the topic of 'women and health and safety' will take place at its London HQ on Thursday 3 February 2011. The half day event is aimed at union officers and workplace reps with responsibility for health and safety, equality and women's rights in the workplace, or any union researchers or officers with an interest in gender and occupational health. The afternoon event will include a presentation on the impact of the menopause on women at work by Professor Amanda Griffiths of Nottingham University's Institute of Work, Health and Organisations. There will also be speakers from unions and the Health and Safety Executive. Workshop discussions will focus on identifying the barriers to women becoming health and safety reps and devising strategies to increase the number of women health and safety reps.

  • Women and health and safety seminar, TUC, Congress House, 3 February 2011. To express an interest in attending or to get further details, email TUC.

TUC courses for safety reps


Useful Links

  • Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
  • Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
  • HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
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