Risks 492 - 5 February 2011

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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

Injury reporting downgrade 'makes no sense'

A formal consultation looking at reducing injury reporting requirements on firms 'makes no sense' and only considers the cost implications for business, not the impact on injured workers and safety, the TUC has charged. The Health and Safety Executive this week opened a three month consultation on proposed changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995. The changes were recommended in Tory peer Lord Young's report on health and safety, published in October last year and which became the government's workplace safety blueprint (Risks 479). The proposed amendment increases the reporting requirement from any injury requiring over three days off work, to over seven consecutive days. But both a discussion paper from HSE on the consultation (Risks 488) and the current consultation document frame the discussion in terms of burdens on business, and not the consequences for workers. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'This proposal to change the reporting requirement to over seven days makes no sense and will reduce the ability of employers to learn the lesson from injuries that have occurred. It is also clear that any change would have a significant effect on the ability of regulators to investigate incidents, yet the consultation paper ignores this, and instead looks only at the 'savings' to employers. It also ignores the fact that employers will still be required to record all incidents that occur over three days.' He added: 'When proposals for changing health and safety law are made without any reference to the benefit to either the health or safety of workers, it is clear there is something very wrong with the way that the government sees regulation.'

Government enforced asbestos silence will kill

Workers will die as a result of the ban on official campaigns introduced by the government, construction union UCATT has warned. The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) award-winning Hidden Killer campaign was launched in 2008 after figures showed asbestos disease was killing 20 construction tradesmen every week (Risks 379). At the time HSE's Steve Coldrick warned: 'We need to educate tradesmen about how asbestos and its dangers are relevant to them. We want them to change the way they work so that they don't put their lives at risk.' The latest phase of the high profile media campaign, fronted by celebrities including former England footballer Ian Wright, was timetabled for an October 2010 roll out, but this £1.2m next step has been disallowed as part of the government's clampdown on communications expenditure. UCATT says in November 2010 it was told by HSE the campaign was 'under discussion', but has now been informed by the watchdog: 'There is no intention to run the Hidden Killer campaign again.' However, top HSE officials are reported to be urging work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to allow the initiative to restart. UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie, who has requested a meeting with the secretary of state, said: 'The cancellation of the Hidden Killer campaign will cost the lives of construction workers. This is directly a result of the government's cuts. I challenge Iain Duncan Smith who is ultimately responsible, to look me in the eye and tell me cutting this campaign is justified and will not endanger the lives of workers.' HSE is denying the campaign has been cancelled. However, the government communications moratorium means it is barred from conducting any campaigns.

Unite links farm pay claim to 28 April holiday

Farmworkers don't just deserve better pay, they should be given a day off on 28 April to mark Workers' Memorial Day, their union has said. In a pay claim submitted on behalf of 154,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales, Unite also calls for a public holiday to commemorate Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April. The union submitted the preliminary claim to the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) this week. Unite national officer for agriculture, Ian Waddell, commenting on the inclusion of a call for an extra public holiday on 28 April in the pay claim, said: 'The farming industry must do more to improve health and safety as agriculture leads a league table of shame in having the highest number of deaths per 100,000 workers in UK industry. This shocking position shows no sign of improvement and masks an even bigger problem in terms of serious injuries, which are commonplace in farming.' He added: 'Our claim for an extra day's leave linked to Workers' Memorial Day is designed to drive home the message that the carnage going on in agriculture is not acceptable and must be tackled. It will be an annual reminder that we must do more to ensure the health and safety of agricultural workers and ensure they return home safe and sound from their work every day.' In January 2010, the previous administration announced official government recognition in the UK of the 28 April event (Risks 441).

Union calls in HSE in student safety row

East Surrey College could face an investigation from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a union discovered students were being sent to work placements without the necessary safety checks being undertaken. Further education union UCU reported the college to HSE after it failed to provide copies of risk assessments requested three weeks previously. UCU said that it was particularly concerned at the college's 'laissez-faire' approach to its students' safety. The college told UCU that it had not been able to respond to its request because of other pressing matters, prompting the union to ask what could be more pressing than students' safety? The union lodged the complaint with HSE after it discovered 36 students, including 10 below the age of 18, had been placed in workplaces without proper safety checks being carried out by the college. Some students had been in their placements for almost a year without the checks being completed. UCU regional support official Adam Lincoln said: 'We are astounded at the college's apparent laissez-faire approach to the safety of its students. Why does it take up to a year in some cases to carry out the required checks? Why is the college still not able to provide verification that all checks have now been completed? We hope the HSE will take our complaint seriously and get the answers to serious questions that the college appears to be avoiding at present.'

Pilots will fight dangerous work hours move

Pilots' union BALPA is warning an extension of allowable working hours would increase the risk of fatigue-related air disasters. The union has launched a 'Wake up - Pilot fatigue risks lives' campaign against European plans to increase the working hours of pilots, warning safety would be put at risk. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) wants to increase allowable pilot working hours from 10 hours 15 minutes to 13 hours 55 minutes over a two-day stint. 'Pilot fatigue is a growing problem, as more and more demands are made of pilots,' said BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan. 'What worries us the most is that in the proposals ignore years of scientific and medical evidence - most of it drawn up in Britain. These EU proposals, if they are not amended, risk the lives of passengers and crew.' The BALPA pilot fatigue campaign was launched last week and will run throughout the 18 months that the EU has set aside to get the rules adopted.

Other news

Register of safety consultants kicks off

Health and safety consultants are being invited to sign up to a new independent register, which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says is intended to become a benchmark for standards in the profession. The Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) is being set up in response to recommendations in 'Common sense common safety, Lord Young's government-commissioned report on the UK health and safety system. The Tory peer's findings, which were strongly criticised by unions (Risks 479), have been adopted as the government's workplace safety policy blueprint. The voluntary register requires a registration fee of £30, rising to £60 in May. It has been established by professional bodies representing general safety and occupational health consultants across the UK, with support from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE chair Judith Hackitt commented: 'This register offers a level of assurance to businesses that those consultants on the register have met set standards within their professional body. It will be an independent way of demonstrating professional competence in occupational health and safety consultancy and should also encourage those who have not yet met these standards to do so.' HSE says the register will be 'freely accessible and searchable' from early spring.

Recycling firm fined after worker dies

A recycling company has been fined £200,000 after a defective machine tipped and the loading bucket hit a man, causing fatal injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Ling Metals Ltd for a criminal breach of safety law. Canterbury Crown Court heard on the 19 March 2007, Darren Baker, 35, was helping to lay a new horseriding surface of crumbled rubber at Brambles Stables in Minster. A colleague was driving a telescopic materials handler, a forklift truck with an extendable arm or boom commonly referred to as a telehandler. The vehicle was fitted with a loading bucket containing the rubber and it had extended its boom more than six metres. Mr Baker walked across the path of the boom just as the telehandler reached its balance point and tipped forward. The bucket hit him on the head and forced him to the ground. The operator managed to bring the vehicle upright by lowering the front stabilisers, but Mr Baker died in hospital two days later from multiple injuries. A 'Safe Load Indicator' device was not properly calibrated and was unusable. The telehandler's safety certificate had expired and engineers who came on two occasions to inspect and repair the machine could not complete the work because of its poor condition. Ling Metals Ltd pleaded guilty to safety offences at a 30 November 2010 hearing at Canterbury Magistrates' Court. It was sentenced last week at Canterbury Crown Court and fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £11,384.11 in costs.

Site boss fined for subbie's injuries

A partner in a Nottingham construction firm has been fined after a sub-contractor suffered permanent leg injuries when falling under a telehandler. John Handley, a partner in J&C Handley, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at a housing construction site in Carlton on 2 July 2009. Nottingham magistrates were told that when a consignment of breeze blocks were delivered to the site they were not packaged in such a way that a telehandler with forks could pick them up. Mr Handley instead used a telehandler with a hydraulic grabber attachment to move the load across the site, but this meant the blocks were swaying as they were being transported. He then asked sub-contractor David Cotterill to walk alongside the vehicle and steady the load with his hands. Mr Cotterill, 31, slipped and fell under the front wheel of the telehandler. He broke his right foot, ankle and leg and has been off work ever since. His injuries mean he will not be able to work in construction again and is now retraining for an alternative career. His injuries have also forced him to move from his three-storey house to one with fewer stairs. HSE inspector Lee Greatorex said: 'Had Mr Handley taken the time to think through a safe system of work then a man may not have suffered such serious injuries.' John Handley admitted a criminal safety breach and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,000.

Firms sentenced after steeplejack's death fall

Two companies have been fined a total of £85,000 after a steeplejack fell 50 metres to his death from an Edwardian chimney in Bolton, and a colleague was left clinging on for his life. John Alty and another worker were at the top of the disused chimney at Swan Lane Mills when scaffolding collapsed. The 40-year-old father-of-one from Blackburn was pronounced dead at the scene but his colleague survived by clinging to a ladder on the outside of the chimney. Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court heard that Mr Alty's employer, Bailey International, had been hired to carry out repairs to the brickwork on the chimney, and its two employees had been taking down the scaffolding when it gave way. The Macclesfield-based firm, which employs around 30 people, also failed to check the scaffolding design and to test the fixings before they were used. The court was told the scaffolding had been damaged on a previous job, and that Heywood-based Ken Brogden had been hired to repair it. But instead of grinding out the joints and welding them back together, the company welded over the weakened joints. Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd and Ken Brogden Ltd were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following Mr Alty's death. Bailey International Steeplejack Company Ltd was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 towards the cost of the prosecution at Manchester Crown Court. Ken Brogden Ltd was fined £10,000 with costs of £16,000. Angela Alty, the mother of his 19-year-old daughter, Jamie Lea, had recently separated from Mr Alty before his death. She said: 'Things have been very difficult since John passed away. A big hole has been left in both our lives. Moving on is hard and not one day passes where we don't think about him and what might have been.'

Worker seriously burned by 11,000 volts

An electrical engineering company has been fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £8,000 costs after an employee suffered serious burns from equipment carrying 11,000 volts. Powersystems UK Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after Stephen Martin Edwards, 52, a high voltage cable jointer, was injured while working in Stroud on 18 September 2009. Cheltenham Magistrates' Court heard he was working under the supervision of an electrical engineer to connect a cable between a circuit breaker on a ring main unit and a nearby transformer. He was told the cable connection box he was working on had been isolated and earthed, but was told to open the wrong box by mistake. The three terminals inside the box were in fact still live at 11,000 volts. When Mr Edwards began work, the current arced between one of the live terminals and his spanner, and the resulting flash ignited his clothes. He was badly burned on his hands, arms and chest and has been unable to return to work. The HSE investigation found a number of failings by Powersystems UK. Mr Edwards' supervisor allowed him to start work on a part of the equipment he believed to be dead, without first checking with suitable test equipment that this was the case. Mr Edwards should also have been wearing suitable personal protective equipment, particularly flameproof overalls. The company also failed to carry out a risk assessment for the work, to pass on detailed information about the system, and to make sure the person supervising Mr Edwards' work had adequate knowledge and understanding of how to work safely on the system.

Firms prosecuted after farm roof fall

A young construction worker suffered life-changing injuries after falling six metres through the roof of a farm building, a court has heard. Richard Cooke, who was 26 at the time of the incident, was dismantling the roof of a cow shed at Manor Farm, Corston near Bath, on 7 July 2008. Self-employed Mr Cooke was sub-contracting for Martock-based Clive Pearce - trading as CW Pearce - who was subcontracted to DB Gibbons (Construction) Ltd of Bristol. Mr Cooke suffered severe spine and head injuries when he landed on a concrete floor after the roof sheeting he was standing on collapsed under his weight. Bath and Wansdyke Magistrates Court heard last week that Mr Cooke is now an incomplete paraplegic and requires the use of a wheelchair to move about. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there were no safeguards in place to prevent Mr Cooke or his fellow worker falling through the roof, or from the edge of the building. HSE's also found the work could have been arranged without the need to go on the roof. CW Pearce pleaded guilty and was fined £12,000 with £500 costs. DB Gibbons (Construction) Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined £14,000 with £3,500 costs at the same hearing. HSE inspector Annette Walker said: 'Mr Cooke is a young man who has suffered dreadful injuries as a result of this incident which could have resulted in his death. He and his family are still coming to terms with the lasting effects of what has happened yet this situation could so easily have been prevented.'

Businessman fined after worker breaks back

A Lancashire businessman has been fined £4,000 after one of his employees broke his back in a fall from a ladder. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Michael Wilson following the incident at Roadferry Transport Yard in Leyland on 3 March 2010. South Ribble Magistrates' Court heard that the man, who has asked not to be named, had climbed up a ladder at the commercial vehicle garage to reach the release mechanism for a lorry cab. The employee fell to the ground when the ladder slipped, causing him to break a vertebrae in his spine. He is still unable to return to work, nearly a year after the incident. The HSE investigation found the ladder had missing feet at both ends, the bottom rung was damaged and it appeared to have been cut off at the top. Michael Wilson, trading as M Wilson Commercials, admitted a criminal safety breach and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2,000. Matt Lea, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'One of Mr Wilson's employees was badly injured because he was given an unsafe ladder to use. It should have been checked in advance to make sure it was suitable.' He added: 'The employee had not received any training on working at height or with ladders, despite regularly needing to do it as part of his job. He therefore simply used the nearest available ladder.' HSE says, on average, 12 people a year die after falling from ladders in British workplaces and more than 1,200 suffer major injuries.

Man loses fingers at bagel factory

A man severed two of his fingers while operating unsafe machinery at a London bagel bakery. Raakesh Patel was attempting to clear a dough blockage at the Ixxy's Bagels factory in November 2007, when a moving blade severed the middle and ring fingers on his right hand down to the knuckle. City of London Magistrates' Court heard that Ixxy's Bagels Ltd was aware the equipment was faulty at the time of the incident. The rotating blade in the bagel dividing machine continued even when the rear doors were opened. Despite being aware of this fault, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Ixxy's failed to take adequate steps to prevent Mr Patel, 26, from using the machine. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £2,250 with £9,719 costs. After sentencing, HSE inspector Jack Wilby said: 'Ixxy's Bagels were aware of the fault on the machine, at least two days before the incident and failed to take adequate steps to protect their staff. This is another unfortunate reminder to employers, that you have a duty to maintain your work equipment. Failure to do so can result in serious personal injury as we have witnessed with this young man.'

International News

Europe: Work violence and harassment up

Violence, bullying and harassment are becoming more common in European workplaces, according to a new report. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) found 'third party' violence and harassment affects from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of European workers. Its report, 'Workplace violence and harassment: a European picture',includes international statistics collected by its European Risk Observatory. Its recent pan-European workplace survey ESENER found 40 per cent of European managers are concerned by workplace violence and harassment, but only around 25 per cent have implemented procedures to deal with it. The problem is even more acute in health and social work and in education, with more than 50 per cent of managers identifying it as a health and safety problem. 'Both violence and harassment represent serious but under-reported threats to the safety and well-being of workers in Europe', said agency director Jukka Takala. 'Workplace harassment can lead to stress, long-term sick leave, and even suicide. Economic consequences are reduced productivity, increased sickness absence, higher turnover of staff and premature retirement due to disability at often early ages.'

Philippines: Union reps could be deputised

A labour group in the Philippines has urged the government to deputise union presidents and officers as labour inspectors to strengthen the enforcement of employment standards and safety rules. The call came after reports suggested a construction site where 10 construction workers died on 27 January was ignoring employment and safety rules. Judy Ann Miranda, secretary general of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM, or labour party) said: 'From 240 labour inspectors, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) now just has some 190 to cover around 800,000 establishments nationwide. This number can easily be increased several fold by deputising union officers as labour inspectors. Even if just 10 per cent of the 17,000 local union presidents are accredited, this is about 10 times the present number of inspectors.' She added: 'Aside from the responsibility of the principal employer Eton and its subcontractors to the labourers who were killed, the government must make policy changes regarding enforcement of labour standards and occupational health and safety so that the workers have not died in vain,' she said. DOLE secretary Rosalinda Baldoz responded: 'DOLE currently has a limited number of inspectors because of budget constraints. We welcome their suggestions and urge them to take the required training at DOLE so they can qualify for the position.' The 10 construction workers plunged 25 storeys to their deaths when a cable holding a platform lift snapped at a building site in Manila. The men had been installing windows on a high-rise apartment building when the platform gave way and sent them crashing from the 32nd to the 7th floor.

USA: Worker involvement is key to safe work

Despite 40 years of regulatory and voluntary programmes by the USA's workplace safety watchdog, worker protections have not kept up with technological or scientific advances, according to a new report. Researchers at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production conducted a year-long analysis of successes and failures of four decades of regulation and identified strategies to improve workplaces by making them safe, healthy and productive. Six case histories, covering issues from immigrant workers killed by flammable floor finishes (Risks 465) to health care and hotel workers disabled by back injuries, informed the research. 'We found that ineffective workplace health and safety protections are not simply the result of limited enforcement,' said Professor David Kriebel, the lead author of 'Lessons learned: Solutions for workplace safety and health' and chair of the Department of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell. 'They are the result of multiple overlapping factors, including conflicts between agencies, lack of worker participation in decision-making processes, the politicisation of science and the conflicts between economic and political interests.' The report identifies 'seven high priority strategies' that could have important impacts on making workplaces safer. These include comprehensive workplace injury and illness prevention programmes that tap worker and employer knowledge and measures to systematically identify and control workplace hazards. The report also advocates 'Prevention through Design' initiatives to design-out hazards and make jobs, products and materials inherently safer.

USA: New York shuts killer tortilla factory

The Brooklyn tortilla factory where a Guatemalan worker died last week after he fell into an industrial dough mixer has been shut down by authorities. New York State officials said the move was because it has been without workers' compensation insurance for nearly a year. Brian Keegan, a spokesperson for the state Workers' Compensation Board, said the insurance for the company, Tortilleria Chinantla, ran out on 28 March last year and the business has since accrued $56,000 (£34,600) in penalties for non-compliance. Following the death of the worker, Juan Baten, 22, inspectors from the state board went to the factory and issued a stop-work order, forbidding it from operating until it obtains workers' compensation insurance and pays its fines, officials said. Joe Cavalcante, another spokesperson for the board, said Mr Baten's death 'got us there immediately.' The company's owner, Erasmo Ponce, told reporters the death was 'human error,' not a result of poor workplace conditions. But Daniel Gross, the founding director of Brandworkers, an advocacy group that represents workers in the food processing and retailing industries, accused Mr Ponce of overseeing 'sweatshop conditions' at Tortilleria Chinantla. 'The tragedy of Mr Baten's death will only be compounded if we miss the systematic nature of the exploitation in the sector,' he said. 'This is the inevitable consequence of cutting the corners on worker safety.'

USA: Shouldn't deadly bosses fear jail time?

Wouldn't work be a lot safer if dangerous negligent company executives feared jail time? It's a question asked in the latest edition of US magazine Labor Notes. It says in the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Act provides only for misdemeanour penalties - six months maximum behind bars - 'but even such minimal criminal penalties are almost never pursued. The Mine Safety and Health Act includes harsher penalties, up to five years in prison, but enforcement is no better.' Why are punishments so hard to exact? Partly because a budget-starved OSHA is 'hopelessly overmatched,' and partly because executives can pay fines and escape prosecution, said Tom O'Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a coalition of unions and health and technical professionals. But across the border in Canada, the law is more robust, allowing prison terms for senior management, corporate directors and company owners who fail to follow safety law and cause a worker's death. And when prosecutors proved reluctant to take cases to court, a union stepped in. The steelworkers' union USW is pursuing a case involving the 2004 death of Lyle Hewer, a 55-year-old worker who was ordered inside a wood hopper and killed (Risks 450). Police called to the scene recommended that criminal charges be brought against Weyerhaeuser, but prosecutors declined to press the issue. That's when the Steelworkers brought a rare private prosecution. The last hearing is expected on 8 February and a decision on criminal penalties is expected soon after that.


New HSE nanotechnology webpages

A new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) nanotechnology webpage provides advice on the nature and use of nanotechnology and highlights on the 'benefits of nanotechnology.' Potential health concerns are relegated down the webpage. This section does, however, repeat HSE's earlier warning: 'Where nanomaterials have an uncertain or not clearly defined toxicology and unless, or until, sound evidence is available on the hazards from inhalation, ingestion, or absorption a precautionary approachshould be taken to the risk management.' In other words, if they can't demonstrate it is safe, you shouldn't go near it.

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