Risks 493 - 12 February 2011

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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk

Union News

Safety fears at Olympic Village

A construction union has warned that extra vigilance is needed at the Olympics 2012 site, after discovering workers building the Olympic Village which will house competitors are more than twice as likely to suffer a serious injury as those on the main Olympics 2012 park. UCATT says the rush to complete the facilities on time must not lead to excessive hours and corner-cutting. The main construction phase of the Olympic facilities is due to conclude this summer. The union says 'in recent weeks there has been growing reports of workers working excessive hours on the Olympics, especially on the Olympic Village.' It adds that despite the Olympic Village 'being a much simpler construction project' it has an Accident Frequency Rate (AFR) of '0.24 for every million man hours worked, compared to an AFR of 0.11 on the Olympic Park.' Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'It is essential that everyone involved in the Olympics makes every effort to ensure that accidents do not increase during the final months of this project. While accident rates are currently not high, it is all too common for these rates to increase dramatically in a rush to finish a project. That must not be allowed to occur on the Olympics.' He added that a binding agreement between the Olympic Delivery Authority and construction unions guarantees direct employment and adherence to strict standards on the main Olympic park project. But the union said: 'Despite the Olympic Village also now being a publicly funded project the same rules do not apply to it, creating a more casualised environment, which impacts on safety levels.' Alan Ritchie added: 'The Olympics demonstrates categorically that there is a clear link between casual working practices and accidents in the construction industry. It is essential that measures are taken to improve safety and working conditions on the Olympic Village.' The Olympic Development Authority launched a new site safety campaign on 1 February.

Concern as headsets deafen workers

Over 1,500 workers who believe their hearing has been damaged by the use of high pitched noise fed through workplace headsets are taking action against their employers. Tony Rupa, head of legal services at the communication workers' union CWU, the union backing compensation cases on behalf of affected workers, said: 'People traditionally associate hearing damage with heavy manufacturing and music industries, but there are many people who work in the communications sector who are exposed to loud, continuous and high pitched noises.' He added: 'This noise can cause lasting damage and it's essential that we take steps to cut out the noise at source. If this can't be done then workers need to be given equipment to protect their ears.' Isobel Lovett, an industrial illness specialist at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, is representing around 130 clients who suffered hearing damage working at British Telecom. These include both current and former BT employees who believe their hearing was damaged by 'green set' and 'yellow set' oscillators - devices which transmit a constant high pitched sound through a headset, allowing the user to listen for changes in tone to track cable faults. BT has already admitted that these oscillators have caused hearing loss and tinnitus to a large number of users, and has now replaced them with an adapted model. But Lovett says other businesses must follow suit and take action to protect their workers. She said: 'Workers have the right to expect to go to work and carry out their duties without any adverse effects on their health, and employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees.' CWU is assisting over 1,500 members with claims arising from the use of these oscillators or amplifiers in their work, many of whom are suffering with tinnitus.

Union outrage at seafarer 'execution'

Seafarers' union Nautilus has said it is outraged at the execution of a seafarer onboard a merchant ship. The Beluga Nomination was captured by Somali pirates 390 nautical miles north off the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean on 22 January. Three seafarers were reportedly taken aside for 'punishment' after an attempt by the Seychelles coastguard to free the crew resulted in the death of a pirate. Reports suggest the pirates retaliated by killing a seafarer. Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the United Nations (UN), which last week announced a joint action plan to fight piracy, must 'deliver an effective response in the light of these latest reports of torture and the murder of captured seafarers.' He said: 'It has been anticipated that pirates would get increasingly violent and the lack of effective intervention by governments has had this and a number of other adverse consequences - including shipowners having to resort to private armed security.' The union leader added: 'Nautilus has joined other organisations in the international shipping industry in expressing grave concern at reports that pirates are mentally and physically torturing seafarers and this latest incident represents a deeply disturbing escalation in the violent behaviour of Somali pirates which demands a response. We are fast approaching the critical point where shipowners should seriously consider refusing to trade into high risk areas until governments act effectively. Shipowners have an obligation to exercise a duty of care towards their employees and Nautilus expects employers to take that responsibility seriously.'

Unite holds out for fair deal on farms

Farming employers should drop the insults and back a union claim for fair wages and a day off for Workers' Memorial Day (Risks 492), agriculture union Unite has said. The union, which represents 154,000 agricultural workers, voiced its 'disappointment' after the industry lobby group NFU described Unite's pay claim, which includes the call for a 28 April public holiday, as 'outrageous'. Unite national officer, Ian Waddell, said: 'The NFU's response to our claim is disappointingly familiar. No matter what agricultural workers ask for the NFU responds with hyperbole and inflammatory language before it has even heard the reasons behind the claim. It's time to stop shooting the messenger.' He added: 'I urge the NFU to rise above petty squabbles rooted in the past and work with us to tackle the unsustainable structure of the food supply chain. Together we can tackle the retail giants and build a farming industry with fair pay, reasonable hours and a professional career structure.' In January 2010, the previous administration announced official government recognition in the UK of the 28 April event (Risks 441).

Ministers urged to oppose pilot hours increase

Airline pilots from across Britain lobbied ministers and MPs in parliament last week in a bid to block what they believe is an unsafe plan to increase pilot flying hours across the European Union (EU). Members of the pilots' union BALPA told transport secretary Philip Hammond and other ministers that the British government should stand firm against the EU which wants to increase UK pilot flying hours above the levels deemed safe by scientists and medical experts (Risks 492). BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said flight safety across the world has stopped improving. With the number of flights expected to double by 2030, he said there was now a real threat that, after 50 years of steady improvement, the accident rate would start climbing again. McAuslan points to studies showing that 15 to 20 per cent of all fatal air accidents have pilot fatigue as a contributory factor and that the relative accident risk increases by three times when a pilot has been on duty for more than 12 hours and continues to increase as the duty period lengthens. 'Yet the EU now wants to bring in legislation that increases pilot flying hours,' he said. Current UK rules limit the maximum hours a pilot can operate to 10 hours 15 minutes but the EU plans to increase this to 13 hours 55 minutes. 'This is a disaster waiting to happen and we are asking the government, and indeed every MP, to oppose it. It is madness, even truck drivers' maximum is capped at 10 hours,' McAuslan added.

Prove coastguard cuts would not risk lives

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been challenged to prove its plans to cut coastguard stations would not put lives at risk. Coastguards' union PCS has called on agency bosses to run a live test of a proposed centralised control system before an MCA consultation about closing 10 of the UK's 19 stations ends on 24 March (Risks 488). The union, which represents 750 MCA staff, says it has serious concerns about the loss of resources and local knowledge. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'These cuts could literally be a matter of life and death. We are deeply concerned that closing these stations would leave our coastlines a more dangerous place to be.' He added: 'If the MCA and the government are confident in their assertion that the cuts won't cost lives, they should be prepared to put it to the test. Without that, people will rightly conclude that officials and ministers haven't successfully made their case and the consultation should be stopped.' Jeremy Gautrey, PCS negotiations officer for the MCA, said: 'What is clear from talking to coastguards from Shetland down to Falmouth is the level of anger among staff that these proposals have been drawn up with no consultation with operational coastguards or having been trialled in a live situation to test their resilience.'

Injury forced nursery worker to give up job

A nursery worker was forced to change her career after she was badly injured in the workplace. The GMB member, whose name has not been released, slipped on a freshly mopped floor at the Foleshill Children's Centre's crèche in Coventry. The 43-year-old had just arrived at work when the incident happened in March 2007. The member, who worked with babies aged under two, landed badly on her left hip, causing a serious strain. She also suffered a soft tissue injury to both her thumbs as she fell. She had to take a week off work and when she returned she was unable to crouch down to make eye contact with the babies - an integral aspect of her job - and was unable to change nappies or hold the children. She felt she could no longer work effectively in the job, so had no choice but to apply for more suitable work with secondary school pupils. She said: 'In the end I felt I had no alternative but to rethink my career and apply for a job working in secondary schools because I couldn't continue to work with the under two's to the best of my ability. It is difficult to believe that what may sound like a minor accident has forced me to change my entire career.' No wet floor warning signs had been put out by the cleaner. Coventry City Council admitted liability and agreed a £7,500 out of court payout. Pauline Hinks from the GMB said: 'Warning signs have an important health and safety role and it was the council's job to make sure its staff used them rather than leaving an unmarked skating rink.'

Union secures six figure crash payouts

The union Unite has secured six figure payouts for two members injured in road traffic accidents. One, a 53-year-old pedestrian, suffered horrific crush injuries to his face after he was hit by a car when crossing the road. The driver of the parked vehicle reversed into him, trapping him under the car and causing multiple fractures to his face, left arm, ribs and spine. His eye was displaced. The former bus driver, who had to give up work because of his injuries, now walks with a stick and has double vision. His face is severely scarred and he has post traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia, meaning he finds it difficult to leave his home. He received more than £200,000 in damages. The driver admitted liability and the member received the damages in an out of court settlement. In a second case, a 62-year-old Unite member had to have his leg amputated after he was hit by a car while cycling. The auditor for an insurance company had just started a personal challenge to cycle the length of Britain off road when the incident happened. His bike was hit from behind by a car, catapulting him onto the car's windscreen. He suffered head injuries and his leg was broken in five places, needing five operations straight after the incident and a further nine in the eighteen months afterwards. Eventually surgeons conceded defeat in saving his right leg and decided to amputate the limb below his knee. In the union-backed case, the driver admitted liability and a £750,000 settlement was agreed.

Other news

BP put North Sea rig workers at risk

UK-based oil multinational BP is failing to perform enough safety checks on operations in the North Sea, putting the safety of rig workers at risk, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. The company has until 31 May to remedy the criminal safety breaches identified in an HSE improvement notice. The notice tells the company: 'You are not carrying out suitable and sufficient assessments of the risks to the safety of your employees and other persons working on your offshore installations.' The notice cites 'recent examples' where HSE has operated unsafely, including one incidence where only one, rather than the required three, lifeboats was available. In another, a lubricant leak led to fire detection and suppression equipment being disabled. The absence of an operational risk assessment when performing a hazardous job on a third rig led a line to fail 'catastrophically' on 24 September 2010 'discharging approximately 27 tonnes of fluid at 123 degrees centigrade.' BP spokesperson Robert Wine commented: 'We have already taken a number of actions to improve this aspect of risk management and will ensure all lessons are shared and implemented.' He added: 'BP's safety performance in the North Sea during 2010 improved considerably and we continue to pursue all opportunities to reduce and minimise safety and operational risk.' BP was one of eight offshore operators to receive an improvement notice after an HSE investigation into rig maintenance (Risks 488). It's Magnus offshore installation had rusting walkways, stairways, gratings and handrails, putting staff at risk.

Asbestos lobby resorts to threats

Shady asbestos industry lobbyists are running a campaign of intimidation targeting key campaigners seeking to ban the deadly fibre. The UK-based International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), which coordinates a network for campaign groups worldwide, says in recent weeks 'the internet has been flooded by accusations against individuals and groups campaigning to ban asbestos.' IBAS says 'it seems more likely than not that the current public relations offensive originated in Russia, the country with the highest earnings from asbestos production and exports.' It adds: 'The latest industry diatribes, most of which focus on the work of IBAS, were not unexpected. Threats to the asbestos industry have traditionally been met by verbal attacks, legal action or physical intimidation.' IBAS says the latest round of attacks brands ban asbestos campaigners as eco-terrorists and pseudo-environmentalists who are part of the 'powerful industry of the international anti-asbestos lobby... a supranational industry of money-pumping.' In an online rebuttal of the pro-asbestos attacks, IBAS notes: 'Whether or not the asbestos defenders are ready for the demise of the asbestos milch cow is irrelevant. Progress is represented by those mobilising around the world to end the decades of destruction wrought by this industry and not by those desperate for yet one more asbestos dividend. While attacking their critics might be cathartic for the old guard, it will not change the course of history. There is no place in the future for this dying industry.'

Warning on carbon nanotubes dangers

Carbon nanotubes (CNT) may cause serious diseases, but a lack of adequate information means safety datasheets are likely to be of little or no use, a new publication from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests. 'Risk management of carbon nanotubes' notes: 'The toxicity of CNTs has not yet been fully investigated. However it is clear that Safety Data Sheets for CNTs that are based on conventional graphite or graphene will NOT provide suitable adequate information to assess the risk from CNTs.' The guide advises: 'Since there is uncertainty about the risks of being exposed to CNTs, the regulatory and safe response is to take a precautionary approach.' According to HSE: 'Emerging data indicates that when CNTs are breathed in they can cause lung inflammation and fibrosis... It is also not clear if inhaled CNT have a role in the development of adverse health effects at other sites in the body. There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that CNTs and other nanomaterials with a long, thin and straight shape (referred to as high aspect ratio nanomaterials or HARN) may be particularly hazardous. However, there are insufficient data to confirm the health consequences of long-term repeated exposure.' The HSE guide adds there is 'some evidence' CNTs 'may be able to provoke inflammatory reactions in the skin.' It concludes: 'In view of the evidence for lung damage and lack of information on the effects of long-term repeated exposure a high level of control is warranted for CNTs.' Simon Pickvance, an occupational health specialist at Sheffield University, criticised HSE's 'passivity.' He said: 'HSE should take a positive role as the guarantor of the quality of safety datasheets. If the information on datasheets cannot be relied on, then they are more dangerous than informative. Neither HSE nor chemical firms should be operating a cross-your-fingers-and-hope version of risk assessment.'

New nuke safety regulator stays in HSE

A decision to keep regulation of nuclear safety within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been welcomed by unions. The government announced this week that a new Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) would be an HSE agency. ONR, whose creation will require legislation, is due to take over relevant functions previously undertaken both by HSE's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Department for Transport. A written statement from work and pensions minister Chris Grayling said: 'The ONR would be a new independent regulator, formally responsible in law for delivering its regulatory functions. The creation of the ONR would consolidate civil nuclear and radioactive transport safety and security regulation in one place.' The statement added: 'Pending the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive is taking steps to establish the ONR as a non-statutory body from 1 April 2011, signalling our commitment to securing an appropriately resourced and responsive regulator for the future challenges of the nuclear sector.' There had been pressure within government to spin off ONR from HSE, but this idea was finally rejected by ministers. Prospect, the union representing 230 nuclear safety specialists, welcomed the government announcement. Negotiator Mike Macdonald said: 'Our members are experts in their field and they believe the creation of this independent body will give a better focus for nuclear safety regulation.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'The TUC welcomes strong independent regulation for this sector and we are pleased the new Office for Nuclear Regulation is to be established as an agency of the HSE.' A statement from HSE said: 'HSE will take all necessary steps to assist the government in the implementation of its decision in relation to the creation of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Our immediate focus is to establish the ONR as an Agency in the wider HSE, and we will make a further announcement about this shortly.'

Jobs link to women's lung cancer risk

Significantly higher rates of lung cancer deaths - sometimes double what would be expected - occurred in US women who worked in more than 40 occupations between 1984 and 1998. The large scale occupational health surveillance study published in the February edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine is the broadest analysis of occupation, industry and lung cancer among US women to date. More than 40 industries were identified as having excessive lung cancer deaths, including manufacturing, transportation, retail trade, agriculture, forestry and fishing and nursing/personal care. Many jobs had one and a half to two times more lung cancer deaths than would be expected for the groups. The study could not specify causes for the higher risk but the authors suggest exposure to industrial chemicals, second-hand cigarette smoke and radon may play roles. Some estimates indicate that workplace exposures account for two to five per cent of lung cancer deaths in women, but the amount of research regarding workplace related cancer for women is much less than for men, where estimates are higher. Researchers at the US government's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analysed 4,570,711 death certificates from 1984 - 1998 to identify workplace settings with unusually high amounts of lung cancer deaths in women. They suggest that in blue collar workers, the excesses in lung cancer deaths might be a result of poorly controlled exposures to industrial chemicals with the potential to cause cancer. In other workplace environments, the authors suggest second hand smoke or even naturally emitted radon gas may be a factor. Female deaths from lung cancer in the UK are the highest in Europe. A fifth of these lung cancers occur in non-smokers.

Safety breaches caused toxic chemical burns

A worker at an Ellesmere Port factory suffered toxic burns to his arms and chest requiring skin grafts as a result of his employer's failure to abide by workplace and environmental safety laws. The employee at Abacus Chemical Ltd was mixing two chemicals together on 7 May 2009 when they exploded, causing him to be drenched in a hot, toxic chemical solution. The company was prosecuted and a director cautioned in a joint case brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency following the incident. Chester Magistrates' Court, sitting in Knutsford, heard that the company had mixed 22 kilograms of sodium cyanide pellets with hydrogen peroxide to make them less toxic. By taking this action, Abacus avoided having to pay a licensed hazardous waste company to dispose of the pellets at a cost of less than £300. The chemical firm pleaded guilty to three health, safety and environmental offences on 3 February 2011. The company, which no longer has an operating site, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £14,000 in prosecution costs. The court was told that the company did not have a permit to mix the chemicals, failed to carry out an assessment of the risks, and did not provide protective clothing or adequate equipment. The 58-year-old worker from Barrow-in-Furness required skin grafts to his arms and chest, and has suffered permanent scarring. He has not returned to work since the incident. Abacus Chemical Ltd's director, Michael St Amour, was also cautioned for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007, and the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005.

Food firm fined after worker hospitalised

A Lincolnshire food company which packs vegetables for supermarkets has been fined £15,000 after a worker ended up in hospital after being hit by a falling crate. QV Foods Ltd, of Manor Farm, Holbeach Hurn, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at its factory on 22 May 2009. Kings Lynn Magistrates' Court heard that a 43 year-old employee from Holbeach, who has asked not to be named, was labelling boxes in the factory yard when she was hit by a wooden crate of potatoes which fell from a forklift truck as it was being emptied into a skip. She fractured her right knee and suffered severe bruising to her back. She was hospitalised and was unable to work for several months but has since returned to the factory. QV Foods Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,606. HSE inspector Judith McNulty-Green said: 'This was an entirely preventable incident, but the company failed to make sure work stations were a safe distance from moving vehicles and materials being handled that might fall. Health and safety is about making sure real risks are thought through and control measures put in place so any dangers are properly managed.' She added: 'Had the company taken the time to think through a safe system of work, an employee may not have suffered such a painful injury.'

Glazing firm fined after scaffold fall

A South Yorkshire glazing firm has been fined after an employee was hurt when he fell more than ten feet from an unsafe scaffold. Phillip Pears, then 20, broke his wrist in the incident while replacing fascias for Premier Security Glazing Ltd at a house in York in June 2009. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Mr Pears, another colleague, and Premier's managing director had erected two tower scaffolds ten feet apart. Wooden boards were then spaced across the gaps to make one extended platform from which to work. There were no handrails on the scaffolds or the boards. Mr Pears climbed a ladder leaning against the scaffold and stepped onto an unsecured board which had been used in erecting the tower. The board slipped and he fell 3.5 metres to the pavement below, fracturing his wrist and bruising his back. York Magistrates Court heard that Mr Pears had not been trained in the safe use of tower scaffolds, but was regularly expected to use them. The firm had employed a risk adviser some months before the incident, but had not implemented recommendations for safe working at height and the correct use of tower scaffolds. It pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £2,500 with £2,644.90 costs. HSE inspector Sarah Lee said: 'Had the company followed widely-available guidance from HSE, the manufacturer's instructions, or the findings of the company's own safety audit then this incident could have been easily prevented.' HSE said in 2008/2009 more than 4,000 major injuries were caused by falls from height at work.

International News

Georgia: Striking miners win safety action

A strike by 400 Georgian miners of ended this week when management of Saknakhshiri, or Geo-Coal, recognised the union and agreed to address safety and other concerns. Negotiations over safety issues and pay at Tkibuli-Mindeli, a set of two underground mines in the Imereti region of western Georgia, began this week between the firm and the Metallurgical, Mining, and Chemical Workers' Trade Union of Georgia and the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation (GTUC). Saknakhshiri is wholly-owned by the Georgian Investment Group (GIG), a diverse conglomerate controlled by the Georgian political figure, Davit Bezhuashvili. The agreement gives the union full status on a commission to revamp safety and health conditions, a major motivating factor behind the strike action. Following a methane gas explosion on 21 January that killed one and seriously injured four others - the third deadly gas blast in less than a year at Tkibuli-Mindeli - workers and their new union demanded more modern mine safety equipment than the Soviet-era devices in place, as well as improved pay and conditions. Tensions increased earlier this month when the police arrested two lower-tier managers for alleged negligence related to the 21 January explosion. In support of the two and as protest to the overall work and safety conditions, miners staged a two-hour warning strike on 31 January and then embarked on an open-ended strike on 1 February. The union and company have now agreed a joint study and policy directive on mine safety will be completed by 20 February. Workers began joining the union following a 27 August 2010 methane gas explosion that killed four and severely injured six other miners.

Global: Canadian asbestos 'tsunami' planned for India

The governments of Quebec and India have agreed to draw up an accord on 'investment and sustainable development' in mining activities which will include Canada's asbestos exports. The agreement was reached last week during a visit by Quebec industry minister Clément Gignac to India. In the face of opposition in the province to continued asbestos exports from Quebec, Gignac has delayed granting a government guarantee on a Can$58 million (£36m) loan needed to reopen the Jeffrey underground asbestos mine in the Quebec town of Asbestos. Jolyane Pronovost, the minister's press secretary, said Gignac would 'take the time needed' to decide on whether the loan guarantee would be extended, but added that the handling of asbestos in India 'has to be as safe as it is in Quebec.' The agreement will include the exchange of experts and creation of Quebec-India joint ventures. Government officials say the safety of workers who handle industrial minerals like asbestos, will be covered by the agreement. Quebec's second-largest export to India, after aerospace products, is asbestos, with sales of Can$50 million (£31m) in 2009. However, unions, safety and environmental campaigners say Quebec plans to export an 'asbestos tsunami' to India which could lead to tens of thousands of deaths a year. They confronted the delegation on 5 February, telling representatives of the Quebec and Indian governments the only safe use of asbestos is no use at all, and urged them to stop all asbestos trade.

Thailand: Injured migrant chained to hospital bed

A Burmese migrant worker who suffered horrifying injuries on a construction site in Thailand has been chained to his hospital bed by the police. Charlie Deeyu, 25, who was working in the country illegally and now faces deportation, is being treated at Police General Hospital in Bangkok. He was injured on 9 January at a construction site in Pathum Thani, when a concrete wall fell on him during construction of a food processing plant. His large intestine spilled from his torso and his left hip was fractured. He had worked legally in the country for many years until just before suffering the injury, when he transferred to a new employer without informing the authorities. He is now being advised by lawyers from the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF). Somchai Homlaor, secretary general of HRDF, said: 'Charlie is obviously unable to abscond from police detention given his existing medical condition. He has committed minor offences. Putting shackles on Charlie while he suffers from painful injuries, to prevent him from running away, is unreasonable and inhumane behaviour by all officials concerned.' He added: 'Charlie should not be treated as a criminal given systems to care for migrant work related accident victims in Thailand have once again seriously let migrants down.' Global construction unions' federation BWI said it was 'outraged' by the treatment meted out to the injured worker. In a statement, it said: 'The BWI is concerned about the manner in which Charlie has been treated by both his employer and the authorities in Thailand. The employer has failed in their duty to provide a safe and healthy working condition and more importantly, to ensure that an injured worker is provided with all necessary assistance. The actions of the employer have not only endangered the life of Charlie, but also resulted in Charlie becoming an irregular worker at risk of deportation.'

USA: Would you like diarrhoea with that?

A study of restaurant food handling in the US has uncovered something diners might find hard to swallow - about 12 per cent of the restaurant employees interviewed said they had worked while sick with vomiting and diarrhoea. Restaurants with the heaviest workloads, serving more than 300 meals on their busiest days, were the most likely to have sick employees on duty, according to the study, published in the Journal of Food Protection. With an estimated 20 per cent of foodborne illness outbreaks involving pathogens transmitted by food handlers, US federal authorities have tried to prevent contamination by encouraging hand washing and keeping ill employees away from work. However, of the 491 food workers interviewed for the study, 58 said they worked while suffering vomiting and diarrhoea during two or more shifts in the previous year. Participants were selected by managers and some interviews were conducted in their presence, suggesting the findings may under-estimate the extent of the problem. Workers in the survey who had paid sick leave were only about half as likely to say they had worked while vomiting and experiencing diarrhoea. Other factors linked to sick working included a lack of on-call workers and sickness reporting policies. Policies that encourage workers to tell managers when they are ill 'may be cost-effective interventions for restaurants, given restaurants' substantial financial losses associated with foodborne illness outbreaks,' concluded the study authors.

  • Steven Sumner and others. Factors associated with food workers working while experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea, Journal of Food Protection, volume 74, number 2, pages 215-220, February 2011 [abstract]. Food Safety News. Fairwarning.

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