Risks 497 - 12 March 2011

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

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

Union News

HSE plan to slash workplace inspections

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) plans to reduce unannounced workplace inspections by a third have been condemned by unions and safety advocates. A leaked letter from HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger, obtained by the union-backed Hazards magazine and the BBC, outlines plans to discontinue inspections in entire sectors of industry, including some where it admits 'significant risk' remains. The unannounced 'knock on the door' has traditionally formed a key aspect of the HSE's approach to enforcement, and is credited with helping to reduce workplace deaths, injuries and work-related ill-health. But the letter from HSE's Geoffrey Podger to Derek Allen, the head of Local Government Regulation, proposes reducing these 'proactive inspections' by a third. It recommends a departure from face-to-face contact in favour of web-based and other initiatives. The letter identifies just three high hazard sectors - nuclear, offshore and chemical industries - that will be ring-fenced from the proposed cuts. But the letter also outlines two categories where proactive inspections will be entirely withdrawn. In one case this is put down to the "relative cost-effectiveness" of the procedure. For another, inspections are deemed not "necessary or useful" despite HSE acknowledging the "significant risk" posed by the industries under consideration. The proposals have prompted an angry response from unions and safety advocates. Dr Courtney Davis of Sussex University reviewed the worldwide evidence for the value of proactive inspections, and believes any reduction is likely to have a detrimental impact on worker safety. 'The most robust studies show that inspection plus enforcement are associated with a decline in injury rates of 22 per cent for the following three years,' she said. 'The evidence relating to new, soft interventions is much weaker, and almost non-existent. It doesn't appear to be the case that these alternatives are effective in improving compliance with health and safety law or injury rates.' The plans were also condemned by Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) spokesperson Hilda Palmer who said 'Far too many people are killed under the current regime of workplace health and safety law and enforcement, which is totally inadequate to stop non-compliant employers killing workers. It is utterly horrifying that due to government budget cuts the HSE, the body that should be the workers' safety and health champion, now plans to cut proactive inspections by another third.' She warned: 'It is absolutely inevitable that more workers will be needlessly killed by employers who now have a free pass to ignore safety and health rules.'

Unscrupulous firms will get away with crimes

Rogue firms will be able to ignore safety rules with impunity if the official safety watchdog slashes the number of inspections, the TUC has warned. Commenting on a proposal by the cash-strapped Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to cut unannounced workplace safety inspector visits by up to a third, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The possibility of an unexpected visit from either an HSE or a local authority safety inspector helps keep employers on their toes; even now, workplaces can go decades without ever seeing an inspector. If government cuts to HSE funding do result in fewer safety inspections, unscrupulous employers will simply assume they can get away with taking risks with the safety and well-being of their staff, without fear of ever being prosecuted.' The union leader added: 'Health and safety inspectors do a great job preventing workers from falling ill, being injured or even killed at work, and in a recent TUC survey of union safety reps, 61 per cent of reps said the chance of a visit from an inspector had encouraged their employer to make improvements to safety. The government needs to demonstrate that it is committed to improving health and safety, and can show that it is by reversing the recent cuts to HSE and local authority funding, which are putting the safety of millions of workers across the UK at risk.' David Urpeth, head of workplace injuries at personal injury law firm Irwin Mitchell, echoed TUC's concerns. 'My team and I regularly see the misery and devastation that is caused by accidents at work which have often come about due to the negligence of employers and their failure to follow the necessary regulations. The tragedy is that in most cases the accident could and should have been avoided,' he said. 'Inspections play a vital role in flagging trends and providing an insight into the risks which companies across a number of sectors are failing to protect their workers from.'

HSE unions condemn safety cutbacks

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) plans to reduce dramatically the number of workplace safety inspections have been condemned by its own workforce. HSE unions Prospect and PCS say reduced oversight will lead to an increase in injuries and occupational disease. Prospect, the union representing over 1,650 inspectors and other specialists in HSE, said proactive inspections are a key tool for increasing workplace health and safety as they bring inspectors into contact with employers who have not had a major accident. Prospect says the proposal will also 'drastically affect work on industrial diseases' as they require proactive inspection. Negotiator Mike Macdonald said: 'In areas of high industrial activity, inspectors are already so pushed by the rate of major accidents that proactive work is limited.' He added: 'Such inspections are at the cutting edge of HSE's work and saves industry and the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in lost working days and medical bills. It is a false economy. If I worked in a hazardous industry, I would not take any comfort from comments by the minister, Chris Grayling, who believes that the HSE should only intervene after a serious accident rather than spend money on the HSE, and working with employers to avoid hazardous situations in the first place.' PCS said it has seen documents which make it clear that minsters want to 'modernise' their approach to enforcement in industries they acknowledge have comparatively high rates of injury or industrial disease - including construction, agriculture, quarrying, waste and recycling, and some manufacturing. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'If the government is not prepared to guarantee unannounced inspections in dangerous industries like construction, agriculture, quarrying, waste, and manufacturing they are proving that these cuts are ideological. They are putting the lives of working people at risk to satisfy their twin agenda of cutting public spending and helping employers to chase profits without responsibility.' He added: 'The only model of health and safety regulation that has worked anywhere in the world is a combination of proactive inspections and enforcement. The government must guarantee that unannounced inspections are to continue and that the HSE is going to employ enough inspectors and back-up staff to ensure that the job of protecting working people is done properly.'

Stress soars with rising job fear

Job cuts and runaway insecurity at work have led to a sharp upturn in workplace stress, a union survey has found. The poll for the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (TUCG) found 1 in 5 workers report they are having to work harder as a result of job cuts in their workplace, with 1 in 7 in fear of losing their job. Over a quarter (26 per cent) of all workers feel more stressed now than a year ago, the survey found. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of TUCG member union PCS, commented: 'This survey reveals the rising levels of stress and insecurity in the workplace. With government plans for further cuts to jobs, pensions and pay on the horizon this situation is only going to deteriorate in the next 12 months.' Steve Gillan, general secretary of the prison officers' union POA said: 'This survey shows the real concerns of British workers as budget cuts come to fruition. These stress levels are a cause for concern. The cuts are deep and too quick, which will damage the confidence of workers not only in the public sector, but private sector. This health and safety survey will soon spark anger amongst workers very quickly.' And Bob Crow, general secretary of the transport union RMT said: 'This important research shows that a culture of fear is sweeping through Britain's workplaces as employers use the threat of the sack to demand longer hours for less money as the spectre of two and half million on the dole hangs over workers' heads.' He added: 'Bullying and harassment is rife and the first thing to take the hit is safe working practices as the ConDem cuts agenda threatens to turn the tide on gains on workers' rights and workplace safety that have been secured since the Second World War.' TUCG is made up of 10 national unions - BFAWU, FBU, NAPO, NUJ, NUT, PCS, POA, RMT, UCU and URTU - and represents almost 1 million workers.

Union demands safety for social workers

UNISON is demanding action to stop violence directed at social workers. The public sector union says it wants to see a focus on making social work a safer job - and to do that 'we need to make people at the top sit up and take notice.' The union says it has written to 'key stakeholders in social work' highlighting the violence facing social workers, demanding a safe working environment and calling for high risk practices like lone working to be tackled. The letter is the latest move in a 10-week campaign run jointly by UNISON and Community Care magazine. Helga Pile, UNISON national officer for social work, said: 'Any job dealing with the public has a higher rate of attacks or abuse - but social workers can be exposed to particularly dangerous and volatile situations on a daily basis. It is a tragedy that social workers have been killed by clients. Staff should not have to live in fear of danger when they go to work.' She added: 'We need a national system for monitoring violent incidents in social care, so that trends can be identified and risk hotspots tackled. And employers must do their bit by working to evaluate risks and drive them down to a minimum. Some are not even doing the basics like providing mobile phones, deploying staff in pairs on high risk visits, and responding to threats against staff. It's not good enough to sit back and say it's all part of the job. And we need strong deterrents, such as more prosecutions and greater penalties for those found guilty of attacking social workers.'

Tube halves safety-critical inspections

London Underground union RMT warned of more tube chaos for passengers as it emerged that as part of the Tube cuts programme the frequency of some safety-critical inspections is being slashed from twice to just once a week. The move, which the union says is being rolled out across the Tube network 'by stealth', comes as the result of a safety licensing concession granted to LU. RMT says these pared-back inspections are in the areas of highest traffic anywhere on the network with fleet constantly being shunted in and out. It adds key faults like broken rails and loose bolts and fittings will not be picked up with the end result that trains will be stranded in the depot, adding to increasing problems of delays and disruption to passengers. The union says LU admits that the inspection cutbacks are cash-led and part of their programme of reducing 'head count' - management speak for axing jobs. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This move, ludicrously dressed up as having safety benefits, will trap the fleet in the sidings and depots leaving passengers waiting for trains that never come because an accountant decided that halving safety inspections to cut costs was a good idea.'

Call for firms to support menopausal women

The menopause is an important occupational health issue, the TUC has said, and is calling on employers to provide more support at work. The union body says there are 3.5 million women over the age of 50 currently in work. This week it published new guidance on how employers and union reps can work together to support women through the menopause at work. The TUC believes that employers need to recognise that women of menopausal age may need extra consideration, as changes during the menopause can affect how a woman does her work, and her relationship with her boss and colleagues. Menopausal women can experience hot flushes, headaches, tiredness, sweating, anxiety attacks and an increase in stress levels. High workplace temperatures, poor ventilation, poor or non-existent rest or toilet facilities, or a lack of access to cold drinking water at work can make all of these symptoms worse, says the TUC. Its guide says risk assessments should consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure working environment factors, like inadequate control over temperature and ventilation, will not make their symptoms worse. The assessments should also address welfare issues such as toilet facilities and access to cold water. The TUC guidance is drawn from the experience of union health and safety representatives and new research published by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF) in conjunction with the University of Nottingham. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Despite the increasingly large number of older women in employment, the menopause is rarely seen as a workplace issue.' He added: 'The health of women in later years depends very much on their health when they are working through the menopause, and this report shows employers and unions can work together to do much more to protect them.'

Other news

Backing for 'low level' asbestos exposure payouts

Two families have won groundbreaking claims for compensation after loved ones died from cancer caused by exposure to "low level" asbestos. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the relatives of Dianne Willmore and Enid Costello, who both suffered malignant mesothelioma. Mrs Willmore, from North Wales, was exposed to asbestos while a school pupil, and died in 2009, aged 49. Mrs Costello was exposed to asbestos while working as a secretary at Greif (UK) Ltd. She died in 2006, aged 74. Mrs Willmore died the day after a judge ruled she was entitled to £240,000 compensation. The award, made against Knowsley Council for negligently exposing her to asbestos fibres, was frozen while the authority appealed against the decision. The mother-of-two contracted the cancer after being exposed to asbestos dust while at Bowring School in Huyton, in the 1970s. The council and Greif had argued they could only be held liable if it could be proved they were responsible for causing exposure to asbestos that had at least 'doubled the risk' of mesothelioma. But seven Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected the argument, echoing High Court and Appeal Court decisions, and ruled there was no requirement for a claimant to show a doubling of risk. Whether exposure was too insignificant to be taken into account was a matter for the trial judge on the facts of each particular case, they ruled. Ruth Davies, solicitor for Mrs Willmore's husband Barre, said: 'These cases were another attack on asbestos disease victims. The defendants were trying to change the law that has been working perfectly well for many years so that fewer people who are dying can get properly compensated.' Tony Whitston, chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups' Forum, said: 'Arguments for a 'safe' threshold are everything to do with denying liability for compensation and nothing to do with protecting people. This case not only protects compensation for those who have been negligently exposed to low levels of asbestos, but also gives a warning to those who think that workplaces such as schools, which are heavily contaminated with asbestos, are low risk.'

Welcome for cancer compensation precedent

Unions have welcomed a Supreme Court ruling that establishes workers may claim compensation after 'low level' exposures to a cancer causing substance at work. The Supreme Court this week upheld earlier rulings establishing there was no requirement for a claimant to show a doubling of risk in order to claim asbestos caused their cancer. Commenting on the decision, Christine Blower, general secretary of the teaching union NUT, said: 'This case is of great significance since it is the first time that a former pupil has been awarded compensation for asbestos exposure which took place whilst at school.' She added: 'It has been known for many years that children are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of asbestos exposure, even at low levels. In the last 10 years 140 teachers have died of mesothelioma. If teachers are dying from their exposure, inevitably pupils will die too in later life. Because of the long latency period, however, there are no records of adults who have died because of childhood exposure.' She added: 'The NUT has for many years been calling for an assessment of the asbestos risks to children at school. We hope that this case will lead the government to commission such an assessment. For the sake of the children in our schools we hope that the assessment is carried out without further delay.' Alan Ritchie, general secretary of the construction union UCATT, welcomed the judgment, but added: 'Sadly, this is just the latest in a long line of attempts by the insurance industry to deny compensation to people dying an agonising death.'

Tool maker disabled by work asthma

A Hereford tool maker whose occupational asthma forced him to quit the job he loved has won a court battle for justice. Philip Gundy, 59, has called on all employers to learn from his story and ensure workers are provided with vital protection. He had worked at manufacturing firm Timothy Ormerod Ltd since he left school in 1967. But in 2005 he began to experience severe shortness of breath and painful coughing. A year later doctors told him he had contracted occupational asthma as a result of the chemicals he was exposed to at work, operating grinding machines using metalworking fluids as coolants, and he was left with no choice but to give up his job. Lawyers acting for Mr Gundy argued successfully that the asthma, which led to the development of hyperventilation syndrome, was caused by exposure to coolant mist during his employment. Mr Gundy explained: 'My life has been turned upside down by my illness, particularly as it took medical experts the best part of a year to get to the bottom of what had caused me to suffer my initial symptoms. The problems have really taken their toll and while the impact does vary from day to day, at worst I struggle to walk 100 yards before feeling breathless.' Iain Shoolbred of Irwin Mitchell Solicitors represented Mr Gundy. 'The Judge ruled not only that Mr Gundy had occupational asthma, but also that his illness was caused by his employer's failure to operate a safe system of maintaining and monitoring the coolant used in the grinding machines he operated.' He added: 'It has undoubtedly been a distressing time for him, as he had to attend a hard-fought trial which lasted four days throughout which his employer robustly denied responsibility for his suffering. Shockingly they repeatedly claimed that he did not even have asthma, let alone occupational asthma. We hope that this judgment will raise awareness of occupational asthma and the impact it can have on sufferers and help others in similar situations now, and in the future.'

Inspection blitz finds widespread offending

More than one in every seven businesses visited in a safety inspection blitz in County Durham was committing criminal safety offences. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it was 'very pleased' the majority of business on industrial estates throughout Derwentside and Newton Aycliffe were abiding by health and safety laws. Almost 150 businesses were visited by inspectors from HSE and Durham County Council during an intensive week of inspections in February. Enforcement action was required on 23 occasions for offences including a lack of effective segregation between pedestrians and vehicles, untrained fork lift truck operators, unguarded machinery and asbestos management. This suggests at least 15 per cent of businesses in the area are safety criminals. HSE inspector Cain Mitchell said: 'We're very pleased to see that the health and safety message is getting through... and a good number of businesses are taking the necessary steps to ensure a safe and healthy environment for their employees.' John Benson, safety and occupational health manager at Durham County Council, said: 'We were delighted with the success of the initiative, which reinforced the strong working relationships already developed with our counterparts in HSE. It is very encouraging to see that health and safety risks were, in most cases, being properly managed.' Higher rates of offending have been found in recent HSE construction inspection blitzes (Risks 496).

Asbestos blunders led to £500,000 bill

A clean-up operation after a roofing company spread asbestos fibres around a Leicestershire town cost £500,000, a court has heard. Hampshire-based Concept Roofing and Cladding Services Ltd used pressurised water washers to clean roof panels on industrial units in Market Harborough. Leicester Magistrates' Court heard the problem was discovered when asbestos was found outside the units by a Leicestershire County Council health and safety consultant on 22 January. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution, told Leicester Magistrates' Court that the pressure washers used to clean asbestos cement roofing panels blasted the harmful material into the environment. When it became apparent what was happening, work was stopped immediately and local traders had to close for several months while a qualified asbestos removal company carried out a safe programme of removal causing major disruption in the town, at a cost of £500,000. Concept Roofing and Cladding Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £22,375. HSE inspector Stephen Farthing said 'the distress, inconvenience and cost of remedial action could have been easily avoided had the company taken sensible steps to ensure the right tools were used and the spread of potentially dangerous material was prevented.'

Plumber severely burned by acid rain

A property maintenance firm has been fined after one of its employees suffered acid burns to his face, neck and arm. Neil Kelly, from Bury, was using a high concentration of sulphuric acid to unblock a sink at a domestic property when the corrosive liquid erupted into the air. The 52-year-old's employer, City Response Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident on 18 December 2009. Trafford Magistrates' Court heard that the worker had not been given appropriate protective clothing, training or supervision on how to safely use the sink unblocker, which was made up of 96 per cent sulphuric acid. The chemical erupted when he reached over the sink to turn on the tap, and it mixed with water in a heat-generating explosion. The acid hit the ceiling and rained down on him, burning through his paper overalls. He was off work for more than two months due to the extent of his injuries. City Response Ltd admitted a criminal breach of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. The company was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,965 in prosecution costs. Sarah Taylor, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'City Response allowed one of its employees to use dangerous chemicals without anyone making sure he was working safely. As a result, he suffered severe acid burns to his face and body.' She added: 'The company should have made sure he used appropriate protective clothing, instead of the paper overalls which were dissolved by the acid. He should also have received training on using the chemical.'

Chemicals harmed agency farm workers

A company has been fined after three workers were taken to hospital following a chemical incident at a Spalding vegetable grower and supplier. Spalding Magistrates' Court heard a Latvian agency worker at Emmett UK Ltd was cleaning food processing machinery when he accidentally mixed two cleaning chemicals which reacted together to produce a toxic gas. The factory was evacuated after the 11 September 2009 incident and three workers were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties. All were back at work within days. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution against Emmett UK Ltd, found that the company had failed to provide suitable and sufficient information and instruction to the worker about the risks from the incorrect use of chemicals. HSE inspector Jo Anderson said: 'This incident was entirely preventable had the company ensured that all agency workers were given adequate information, instruction and training. Our investigation also showed that there was almost no consideration given to the fact that some of the workers spoke very little English. As a direct result, three workers were taken to hospital for treatment and were lucky not to be more seriously harmed.' Emmett UK Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and was fined £8,500 and full costs of £2,478.

Steel giant fined after worker crushed

Multinational metal giant Tata Steel Ltd has been fined £20,000 after a worker sustained serious crush injuries while fixing a packing machine at Corby Steel Works, Northamptonshire. During the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, Northampton Crown Court heard that on 23 October 2008, a 34-year-old employee who does not wish to be named, was called to the machinery enclosure to repair a broken strapping machine which had brought production on a line to a halt. After undertaking the repair the man, who with other employees was working inside the machinery enclosure, noticed another maintenance matter on an adjacent packing machine. While they were attending to this, the second machine started up and completed its movement cycle, crushing him between a large electromagnet and fixed parts of the machine structure. He suffered serious chest and abdominal crush injuries including a number of broken bones, requiring several months off work. An HSE investigation found the company did not have effective guarding around the machines and despite having a written procedure to ensure machines remained isolated until maintenance work was complete, this was not implemented. HSE inspector Roger Amery, who led the investigation, said: 'When maintenance is undertaken, robust isolation procedures need to be kept in place until work has been completed and employees are clear of any danger.' The firm, which at the time of the incident was known as Corus UK Limited, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £24,052 costs after earlier pleading guilty to a criminal safety breach.

The hazards of fake smiles

The 'have a nice day' fixed grin required of many hospitality and other service staff could be seriously bad for their health. A study published in the Academy of Management Journal has discovered that fake smiles can actually depress mood and hurt health. The researchers examined a group of bus drivers who often have to display a positive, courteous demeanour as part of their job description. Lead author Brent Scott, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University, said the findings suggest customer service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. 'Employers may think that simply getting their employees to smile is good for the organisation, but that's not necessarily the case,' he said. 'Smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal, and that's bad for the organisation.' The study is one of the first of its kind to examine emotional displays over a period of time while also delving into gender differences, Scott said. The results were stronger for the women bus drivers. 'Women were harmed more by surface acting, meaning their mood worsened even more than the men and they withdrew more from work,' Scott said. The fake smile is an employment pre-requisite for many in the service sector, particularly retail and hospitality staff. The practice is more widespread than you might think. Many call centres require a fixed smile when dealing with callers, despite the penned-in workforce being visible only to their supervisors.

  • Brent A Scott, Christopher M Barnes. A multilevel field investigation of emotional labor, affect, work withdrawal, and gender, Academy of Management Journal, volume 54, number 1, February 2011 [abstract]. Science Daily. Wellesley News.

International News

Canada: Union private death case goes ahead

The private prosecution brought by a Canadian union after the authorities failed to act on the death of a sawmill worker has been given the go-ahead by the courts. The United Steelworkers union (USW) in British Columbia initiated the case against Weyerhaeuser Inc over the 2004 death of sawmill worker Lyle Hewer (Risks 450). Last week provincial court judge Terese Alexander ruled that a summons be issued to Weyerhaeuser. Judge Alexander made the decision to issue process against Weyerhaeuser in a closed hearing, after hearing the evidence from the union. USW member Lyle Hewer was 55 when he died in a hopper as he attempted to clear a jam. A subsequent investigation found the company showed wilful and reckless violation of safety regulations and Weyerhaeuser was fined Can$297,000 (£189,000) by safety enforcement agency WorkSafe BC, the largest penalty ever levied by the agency. But despite a recommendation from the police that charges be laid, Crown counsel chose not to proceed, arguing that although it would be in the public interest to prosecute, there wasn't a substantial likelihood the action would be successful. USW launched its private prosecution last March, using a workplace deaths clause inserted in 2004 in the federal Criminal Code. 'The judge in the case has determined that Weyerhaeuser should be served a summons to appear in court. It's huge news for us,' said USW regional director Steve Hunt. 'We have a criminal code; a worker died; the New Westminster police levied charges; WorkSafe BC levied the highest fine in history, and we just looked at this death... and said this is just not right. Why do we have the law on the books? Why do we have a criminal code at all if people go to work to die and there is no deterrent to the law? That's what it was put in for.'

Chile: Unions demand mine safety action

On 18 October 2010 - 4 days after the last of 33 Chilean miners emerged from over two months underground at the San Jose copper mine (Risks 479) - President Sebastián Piñera pledged in an interview to overhaul within 90 days the country's mine safety structures and ratify the International Labour Organisation's Convention 176 on mine safety. But ICEM and IMF, the global union federations representing mining unions, say nearly five months later, none of this has happened. On 2 March, a commission established by the Chilean parliament determined that the mine owners were responsible for the collapse of the poorly reinforced tunnels, and that the country's mine safety agency had failed to enforce its own rules. ICEM and the IMF are calling for messages to the Piñera government demanding they make good their promise. They say Chile's miners need to know that Piñera's pledge was a commitment, not a publicity stunt.

China: Workers maimed at Ford supplier

Workers told on recruitment they must 'endure hardship' are suffering safety and other abuses at a Chinese factory supplying US car manufacturing multinational Ford. 'Dirty parts - Where lost fingers come cheap', a report released last week by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (GLHR), documents violations including workers maimed when factory management at the Yuwei Plastics and Hardware Products company in Dongguan, China, turned off critical safety equipment. According to workers, 80 per cent of the factory's production is for Ford. Workers earn a base wage of just 80 cents an hour, working 14-hour shifts and 7 days a week. According to the report, during the peak season, workers toil 30 days a month, often drenched in their own sweat. Prospective hires are told they must 'work hard and endure hardship.' GLHR director Charles Kernaghan commented: 'While millions of democracy advocates are launching protests across the Middle East and North Africa, workers at the Yuwei factory have never heard of a 'union' and have no idea what a union is or how it could help them.' He added: 'Ford should not be complicit in the payment of below subsistence wages and the suppression of local and internationally recognised worker rights standards.'

Korea: Samsung blocks suicide investigation

Multinational microelectronics giant Samsung is blocking an investigation into a workplace suicide, campaigners have charged. Last week, the mother, older sister, and aunt of Kim Ju-hyeon positioned themselves in front of the head office of Samsung Electronics in Seoul, holding a funeral portrait and wailing. Kim Ju-hyeon, a worker at the company's Tangjeong LCD complex, killed himself on 11 January, aged 25. A week into their factory gate protest, Kim's older sister Jeong, 28, commented: 'We came to Seoul after the people at the Tangjeong complex told us, 'It is out of our hands now, go tell the head office,' but nobody will meet with us.' Attempts by the family to enter the building have been blocked repeatedly. The family is dismayed that the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) appears to be backing the company. On 28 February, the ministry notified them it would not released details of the company's 'employment regulations', parroting the company line and saying the documents were Samsung's 'trade secrets.' Lee Jeong-ran, a labour lawyer with Banollim, an organisation that advocates for the health and human rights of workers in the semiconductor industry, commented: 'In my eight years as a labour attorney, I have never seen the Ministry of Employment and Labor refuse to disclose a company's employment regulations,' adding: 'The decision not to disclose the regulations is evidence that the Ministry of Employment and Labor is assigning itself the role of Samsung's puppet.' Kim, who began work as an equipment engineer on Samsung Electronics' LCD colour filter production line in January 2010, jumped to his death from the 13th floor of his dormitory. His family say he had been suffering from stress due to work days lasting over 12 hours, as well as a skin disease of unknown cause.


Workers' Memorial Day 2011

The TUC is encouraging unions to use Workers Memorial Day on 28th April to campaign against the cuts in HSE and local authority funding and enforcement activity. In its new website for the day the TUC says that the day must focus on the simple truth that 'workers need strong regulation and enforcement', and this is under attack. It is also calling for a minute's silence on the day - either at noon, or at a time that is locally appropriate. This is consistent with the theme that the ITUC have announced for International Workers' Memorial Day this year. They have advised affiliates that 'On 28 April 2011 trade unions will be highlighting the crucial role played by trade unions, strong regulation and effective enforcement in securing safer workplaces.'

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