Risks 505 - 14 May 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

Campaigners protest at rights erosion

Unions and campaigners joined forces this week to highlight the government's assault on health and safety legislation and enforcement. A 10 May lobby of parliament, organised by the GMB, heard union leaders warn about the impact of plans to cut life-saving legislation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has already had its funding slashed and has announced most firms will no longer face any chance of unannounced safety inspections. Changes to the sickness benefit system will exacerbate the problem, unions and campaigns have warned, as will moves to make access to compensation harder after workers suffer an occupational injury or disease. The lobby came a day ahead of a government announcement that it intends to push through further measures to dilute or remove existing employment rights. Announcing the employment law review in a speech to the Institute of Directors annual convention, chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne said: 'My message today is straightforward - this coalition government is unequivocally pro-business.' He said the business lobby should not be 'passive observers' as 'for every regulation on business' there is 'a pressure group to defend it.' He said the government intended to boost 'enterprise' by addressing 'the costly impact of our employment laws and regulations.' However, independent studies in the UK and other developed economies have shown regulations do not damage the economy and in many instances can spur economic growth (Risks 503). Health and safety laws have been a top target of the business lobby, and are already the subject of a government-commissioned review, due to report in the autumn (Risks 504). Employment minister Chris Grayling, launching the review last month, said: 'By rooting out needless bureaucracy we can encourage businesses to prosper and boost our economy.'

FBU warns services at breaking point

Firefighters' union FBU has warned cuts in frontline services are pushing emergency workers to breaking point. The union says the recent spate of wildfires across parts of the UK has highlighted the danger of planned cuts. The government is failing to respond to growing pressures placed on fire and rescue services by climate change, the union adds, pointing to mass wildfires in 2003 and 2006. In other years there have also been major flooding and extreme winter weather conditions lasting for weeks and even months. FBU warns the cuts - fire services are seeing budget cuts of 25 per cent over four years - will put the service under intolerable strain when dealing with major incidents. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'Increasingly dry and warm weather have created the perfect conditions for the huge increase in the large number of wildfires so far this year. These incidents often result in hundreds of fire crews and appliances working around the clock for many days. Fire crews have been working up to 15 hours without a break in desperate conditions, well beyond accepted safe limits. They have been working to the point of exhaustion to protect their local communities.' The union leader added: 'There was major flooding in early 2004 and serious flash flooding in 2005. There were 93,500 wildfires in 2006, another spate year, when fire crews were stretched to breaking point dealing with large numbers of major fires and then flooding across the UK.'

Tube movement as safety rep is reinstated

Tube union RMT has confirmed strike action by London Underground drivers due to commence next week has been suspended. The move follows an agreement with London Underground to re-employ unfairly sacked driver and RMT safety rep Eamonn Lynch (Risks 504), and agreement to hold further discussion aimed at resolving the unfair dismissal of sacked driver Arwyn Thomas in advance of his Employment Tribunal. The union says safety rep Eamonn Lynch, who last week won an unfair dismissal claim, and fellow union rep Arwyn Thomas were targeted for their trade union activities, after challenging cuts that could turn the underground system into a 'death trap' (Risks 503). Commenting on the decision to suspend the strike action in support of the two reps, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This dispute has only ever been about securing justice for our members who have been unfairly dismissed. As a result of this agreement Eamonn Lynch can return to work with his continuity of employment and standard of living protected.' He added: 'We now also have an agreement to enter into further discussions with relation to Arwyn Thomas aimed at resolving his unfair dismissal case in advance of his Employment Tribunal.' Mr Crow added: 'I want to pay tribute to the loyalty and determination of our members on London Underground who have continued to stand shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues Eamonn and Arwyn. Their strength and courage has been a shining example to the entire trade union movement.'

RMT action call on Jubilee Line safety

Tube union RMT is preparing to ballot drivers on the Jubilee Line for action short of a strike in a dispute over what it describes as attempts by management to 'ride roughshod over agreed safety procedures.' The union says Tube bosses are 'under instruction from the top to ignore currently agreed safety procedures to try and shortcut the clearage of blockages on the tracks.' RMT says the 'massive change' is being imposed without a full risk assessment of the consequences or proper briefings for train staff. It adds it is this failure to adhere to agreed procedures and to issue proper briefings to drivers that has triggered the decision to ballot for action short of a strike. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'We know that the high-profile spate of failures and breakdowns on the Jubilee Line is driving this attempt to shortcut the consultation machinery and safety procedures and we will not allow that to happen.' He added that 'cutting corners on safety procedures is a guaranteed recipe for making a bad situation even worse. It's our members' anger at the cavalier way that this issue has been dealt with that has triggered this ballot for action short of a strike and we hope that management will see sense and pull this back to allow full risk assessment and proper briefing of operators to take place.'

Unite warning on greenhouse exploitation

Britain's largest greenhouse complex and the supermarkets it supplies have been warned Unite is prepared to escalate its campaign against exploitation of the workers employed to harvest crops. Kent based agricultural producer Thanet Earth is accused by the union of operating a system of 'permanent casualisation'. Unite is urging customers Tesco, M&S, Sainsbury's and Asda to intervene. Protests have already taken place outside some supermarket stores (Risks 505). Unite has submitted evidence to the Ethical Trading Initiative and Gangmasters Licensing Authority, including 'serious allegations' raised by the workforce. Sharon Graham, Unite's director of organising, said: 'Thanet Earth and its supermarket buyers need to engage with Unite over the alleged abuses of workers. Thanet Earth claims to be an ethical employer, but the workers are telling a very different story. The supermarkets claim to take seriously their ethical responsibilities, but we can see no evidence of that. Unite will not stand by and allow any worker to be abused and we call upon the supermarkets to ensure their warm words on ethical policies actually mean something.' All four supermarket chains are signatories of the Ethical Trading Initiative's fair employment 'base code', says the union, which now intends to raise the issue under the scheme's complaints procedure.

Other news

Emergency delays on 7/7 'did not cause deaths'

Delays in the emergency services' response to the 7/7 London bombings did not cause the death of any of the 52 people killed, an inquiry has ruled. At the conclusion of the five month hearing, coroner Lady Justice Hallett said the emergency services did not cause or contribute to any of the deaths on 7 July 2005 and that none of the 52 victims would have survived even if emergency services had arrived sooner. She also formally ruled that the victims had been unlawfully killed. The inquests raised no direct criticism of health and safety impeding the emergency services. In fact, Lady Justice Hallett noted that health and safety legislation, when properly implemented, has played an 'invaluable role' in protecting workers from injury, disease and death. As far as it applied to the emergency services in July 2005, she said she was assured that London Fire Brigade's operational policies and procedures did not unnecessarily restrict the discretion of officers on the ground. More than 700 people were injured in the four suicide attacks. With the examination of the emergency service response having been a major part of the inquiry's remit, the coroner concluded that the problems encountered had not led to any deaths. 'I'm satisfied on balance of probabilities that each victim would have died whatever time the emergency services had arrived,' Lady Justice Hallett said. But she said they must work better with each other at major incidents to help them respond more quickly and "hopefully prevent future deaths". Firefighters' union FBU welcomed the coroner's conclusions. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: 'We agree with the Coroner's conclusion about the contribution of firefighters and other emergency service workers. We are justifiably proud of the role firefighters played on that terrible day. In the immediate aftermath it took some time to establish these were co-ordinated bombings with the possibility of more primary attacks and secondary devices. Terrorist attacks don't come with a note explaining what they have done, what they have exploded or what is going to happen next.' He added: 'The risk to fire crews in the aftermath of co-ordinated terror attacks is not some theoretical risk. Over 340 US firefighters died in 9/11 - one in ten of all the deaths that day.'

Met police chief backs safety laws

Britain's top police officer has said police must be protected by safety law, after an inquest into the 2005 London bombings concluded delays caused by safety considerations did not contribute to any deaths. The views of Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson are revealed in a transcript of comments made to a Telegraph journalist. 'Do I want appropriate health and safety legislation and guidelines applying to the police? Yes I do,' said Sir Paul. 'I want to keep my cops my police staff as safe as possible within the confines on the job they do.' He said that while health and safety 'is hugely important for my staff' he would not want to criticise officers or members of the public who selflessly attempted to uphold the law at risk to themselves. But the police chief added: 'Thank goodness the vast, vast majority of my staff actually go on daily, doing the job, knowing they are taking some risks, but where we can let's reduce that risk, that's my responsibility.' Paul McKeever, chair of the Police Federation, said safety law had broad-based support in the service. 'All the major police officer representative bodies; the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents' Association and the Police Federation agree the position that the Police (Health and Safety) Act in its current form has resulted in significant improvements in the health, safety and welfare of police officers whilst still allowing effective policing to be achieved.' He added: 'This is the approach embodied in the Health and Safety Executive document 'Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the police service'. The law as it stands serves both the public and the police effectively.' The Metropolitan Police released a transcript of the full Telegraph interview with Sir Paul, after its article headed 'let us risk out lives' wrongly reported the police leader was not supportive of safety laws covering the police. The misleading Telegraph article spawned a flurry of similar media coverage, none questioning the Telegraph's erroneous version of events.

Accident reports go (mostly) online

Businesses will still be able to notify fatal and major incidents and injuries by phone, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said, but changes mean other officially reportable incidents will soon have to be reported online. The safety watchdog says from 12 September 2011, all but the most serious work-related injuries and incidents reportable under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995) will move to the online system. Trevor Carlile, HSE's director of strategy, said: 'More than half of reportable injuries are already notified to HSE through the website and this proportion has been increasing steadily over the past seven years. Taking advantage of the growing use of the internet allows HSE to be more efficient in the way it works. We do recognise, however, that people reporting a traumatic event still need that personal interaction so the notification of fatal and major incidents and injuries will still take place by phone.' HSE adds that 'in a move to improve efficiency further and deliver value for taxpayers' HSE's Infoline telephone service will end on 30 September 2011. The service last year dealt with over 200,000 enquiries. HSE says the public can instead obtain information from its website, which currently receives 26 million visits every year, and which provides free downloads and interactive web tools. A TUC spokesperson expressed concern over the effect that the removal of the helpline would have stating 'The HSE Infoline has, for many years provided an invaluable service to both health and safety representatives and to small businesses. You cannot replace a human interface with a website and expect the same results. The government claims to want to help small businesses but it is them who will be affected most by the closure of the service as they are far less likely to have access to other advice and support. This change will make it much harder for them to get the information they need when they need it.'

Suspended sentence for director after death

The managing director of a maintenance company has been fined £120,000 and given a suspended sentence after the death of a young worker. Shane Offer, 21, fell through a skylight at Rosebys in Bognor Regis in June 2009, later dying in hospital of his injuries. On 6 May, Richard James of Southern Property Maintenance was given a suspended six-month jail term at Lewes Crown Court and ordered to carry out 150 hours of community service. He had been found guilty on 5 April by a jury, which cleared him of a charge of manslaughter by gross negligence. In addition to a fine of £120,000, he was ordered to pay court costs of £21,000. Sentencing James, Judge Michael Lawson said: 'It was an avoidable accident and both James and his company failed in their duty to protect the safety of their employees and the public. James was responsible as director of the company for a lack of a health and safety culture amongst his employees.' The prosecution followed an investigation by Sussex Police detectives, working in co-operation with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE principle inspector Russell Adfield commented: 'This tragic case was completely avoidable.' He added: 'Not all of those killed are trained roofers, but maintenance and surveying staff, as in this case. Falls through fragile materials, such as roof lights and asbestos cement roofs account for more of these deaths than any other single cause.'

Cotswold Geotech loses death appeal

A Gloucestershire company has lost an appeal against its conviction for corporate manslaughter. Geologist Alexander Wright, 27, died in September 2008 when a pit he was working in collapsed. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings became the first firm convicted under corporate manslaughter legislation at Winchester Crown Court in February (Risks 494). The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge also upheld its £385,000 fine at the Court of Appeal in London this week. Mr Wright was taking soil samples for a housing development in the 12.6ft (3.8m) trench which was not supported by timbers, when it caved in. The jury at Winchester Crown Court found Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings guilty of failing to ensure his safety. Lord Judge said it was 'unavoidable and inevitable' that the company would probably have to go into liquidation to pay the fine. The prosecution was the first under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Since the law took effect in April 2008, no large of medium-sized firm has faced charges. Prior to its introduction, the government estimated there would be 12 or so cases a year. The absence of prosecutions, particularly targeting larger firms, has prompted complaints from safety and corporate accountability campaigners that the act is not fit for purpose. The Hazards Campaign said the falls short because there is no provision for charges to be brought against individual directors. It says: 'Jail is the appropriate sentence for taking a life by gross negligence. You can't jail a company.'

Six figure fine after employee is paralysed

A major construction company has been fined £120,000 after a worker was left paralysed when he was knocked from a scissor lift. Former cable puller Richard Bradley, 28, severed his spinal cord, broke all of his ribs and punctured both of his lungs after plunging from an eight metre platform as he worked on a site in Crawley, West Sussex, in January 2007. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil Ltd after the incident. Lewes Crown Court heard the company had been subcontracted to design and build the mechanical and electrical systems in a number of new buildings. Employee Richard Bradley, from Hartlepool, was working in a scissor lift with two colleagues tying cables into overhead trays when they collapsed, knocking him out of the lift and causing him to fall eight metres to the floor below. HSE told the court that Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil Ltd had failed to ensure the safety of its employees while carrying out the installation of the cable tray systems. Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil Ltd admitted criminal safety offences and was fined a total of £120,000 with full costs of £81,927. After the hearing, HSE inspector Denis Bodger said: 'During installation, when components were failing or showing signs of failure, Skanska took no action.' Richard Bradley said he thought the penalty was too small. He said: 'When I heard the size of the fine, I was disappointed. I don't think it reflected what myself and my family have been through over the last few years since this accident happened. I think the fine should have been bigger, I will never forget how close I came to losing my life. I think they got off leniently to be honest.'

Firm fined after flange flattens machinist

A machine operative suffered multiple injuries after two quarter tonne steel flange rings fell on him. The 39-year-old from Hitchin, who has not been named, was working at the premises of pipe coupling manufacturer Viking Johnson when the incident happened on 7 May 2009. Stevenage Magistrates' Court heard how the employee was rolling smaller flange rings - a circular steel disc used to connect pipes - out of a metal storage rack, when the 250kg rings fell. The larger rings landed on his pelvis, causing internal injuries and multiple fractures. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the metal rack in which the rings were resting was not suitable and the firm had failed to assess the risk of rings falling on an employee while taking them down. Crane Ltd, Viking Johnson's parent company, admitted two criminal safety breaches and was fined a total of £25,000. The company was also ordered to pay £3,387.25 in prosecution costs. HSE inspector Sandra Dias commented: 'Although Crane Limited had a health and safety system in place, they failed to recognise it was not adequate. Therefore the safety of its employees was compromised when handling the flange rings as Crane failed to properly assess risk and failed to provide adequate work equipment.'

Recycling firm convicted after worker's jaw smashed

A skip lorry driver at one of the UK's leading metal recyclers had his jaw shattered by the locking mechanism on a skip. Dean Bridges had his jaw broken in several places and lost three teeth while attempting to open the rear door of the RO-RO (Roll-on Roll-off) container he was driving at Ampthill Metal Company Ltd's site in Ampthill, Bedfordshire. The injury happened as Mr Bridges removed the locating pin from the handle holding the rear door of the container shut. The handle sprung out, striking him in the face. Bedford and Mid Beds Magistrates' Court heard Mr Bridges, 41, received 47 stitches and needed his jaw to be wired. He was unable to work for two months or eat solid food for three months after the 22 September 2009 incident. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found three similar incidents had occurred at the company's premises between 2002 and 2008, all involving workers being struck by container doors or container door handles. Ampthill Metal Company Ltd pleaded not guilty to criminal safety breaches. After a two day trial the firm was found guilty by magistrates and fined £15,000 with £21,718.05 costs. After the hearing HSE inspector, Emma Rowlands, said: 'The risk of being struck by skip container doors within the waste industry is well known. Mr Bridges suffered serious facial injuries as a result of this incident, which was entirely preventable.' Ampthill Metals spokesperson Shaun Clarkson told trade magazine Materials Recycling Week: 'We challenged it and the court found us guilty. A number of operators certainly in the scrap industry want to be looking to their local HSE offices and officers to look for guidance on the discharging of roll-ons.'

CBI finds sickness absence stays low

Sickness absence in 2010 remained close to the previous year's record low, employers' organisation CBI has found. The CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey reports there were 190 million working days to sickness absence last year, with each employee taking an average of 6.5 days off sick. This compared to 6.4 sick days in 2009, the lowest rate since the survey began in 1987. CBI claimed this year's total included 30.4 million days of non-genuine sickness absence, or 'sickies'. Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: 'Sadly, more days were lost to non-genuine absence than in 2009 and the cost of these bogus sick days is over £2.7bn a year. Sickies are unfair on colleagues and damage employers' competitiveness at a critical point in the recovery.' Commenting on the CBI findings, TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said: 'The report confirms that sickness absence is still close to the lowest level ever. It does not however address the growing problem of presenteeism where workers are coming in while ill. This has grown during the recession and is now a major problem.' He added: 'The report also seems to put responsibility for sickness absence onto everyone but the employer who is responsible for managing it. As is the case every year, the CBI makes unsupported claims of levels of 'non-genuine' sickness absence. These are based, not on evidence, but on managers' perceptions, and should be taken with a pinch of salt.' The TUC health and safety expert concluded: 'The answer to managing sickness is to have a good sickness absence policy which supports, rather than punishes those that go off sick, and access to good professional occupational health advice.'

Mental illness and strains top disability list

Mental health problems have overtaken musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain as the main reason people claim benefits because they are unable to work, a study has found. Researchers, writing in the journal Occupational Medicine, looked at new incapacity benefit awards for both kinds of conditions in Britain from 1997 to 2007. Claims for musculoskeletal disorders fell by 50 per cent over the 11-year study period, while mental health claims were steady. According to the report, there are 2.6m people of working age in the UK currently claiming incapacity benefit, which is currently being phased out and replaced by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The ratio of new claims for mental illness to those for musculoskeletal disorders more than doubled between 1997 and 2007, the Department for Work and Pensions data showed. Mental illness claims remained at around a quarter of a million while musculoskeletal disorders fell from 181,820 in 1997 to 84,420 in 2007. The authors postulate that physical strains may previously have been considered a cause of long-term disability, but over time has become regarded as treatable, with an expectation sufferers will return to work. Dr Olivia Carlton, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, commented: 'As occupational health doctors we know that helping people with health problems stay in work is not just about medical treatment; it is much more complex and can need a range of interventions. We also understand how important work is as a determinant for a healthy life.'

Benefit tests find sick fit to work

People with serious illnesses are being found 'fit to work' under new sickness benefits tests, disability charities have warned. The MS Society, Parkinson's UK, National Aids Trust, Arthritis Care, the Forward-ME group and Crohn's and Colitis UK are calling for changes to make the test 'fairer' for people with illnesses where symptoms vary over time. The Work Capability Assessment (WCA), currently being used for first-time claimants, is being reviewed. The test is also in the process of being rolled out to the 2.6 million people already claiming disability benefits (Risks 501). Government figures indicate threequarters of new claimants are either found fit for work or abandon their claims. A pilot study which used WCA to reassess existing incapacity benefit claimants found 30 per cent fit for work (Risks 494). But 40 per cent of new claimants challenging their assessments win their appeals, which employment and disability campaigners says demonstrates the tests are unsatisfactory. The charities recommend 12 changes to the current WCA, including amending wording of the test to ask whether claimants can complete 'activities reliably, repeatedly and safely', 'within a reasonable amount of time', and 'without significant discomfort, breathlessness or fatigue'. The report also says the severity and frequency of symptoms should be taken into account by assessors. Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, said: 'As charities, we have been inundated by concerns from people living with a long-term health condition who've wrongly been found fit to work. Many of them want to work, but may require extra support to do so. Ensuring that the assessment is fair and consistent is therefore a vital task.' Thousands took to the streets of London on 11 May to protest at disability and sickness benefit changes, including ESA and incapacity benefit-related cuts, which will leave many people with disabilities considerably worse off.

International News

Australia: Rio Tinto faces mine safety protest

Rio Tinto shareholders have been forced to face up to another aspect of the company's performance at the mining giant's AGM - the deteriorating safety performance of its coal mines in Australia. The Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union (CFMEU) delivered its safety rebuke at Rio Tinto's Perth meeting. CFMEU's Robin Williams said a significant number of injuries and incidents are missing from the company's annual report. He said Rio Tinto has 'an adversarial approach to mine safety' at off-shoot Coal & Allied Ltd. A 'culture of fear' permeates the workplaces, where threats of discipline and common. 'We do not want a situation,' Williams said, 'where workers are uneasy about speaking out in case they face disciplinary procedures. If there is an accident or incident at a mine site, we want a proper investigation to make sure that it doesn't happen again, not a scapegoat who is disciplined.' The mineworkers told shareholders that the company's goal of zero harm is far from the reality.

China: Campaign exposes hi-tech's abuses

Labour abuses, suicide deaths and poisonings are continuing in China's hi-tech factories, campaigners have warned. Hong-Kong based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), in a report released this week, says a series of safety scandals, including reports of suicides of young workers employed by the multinational tech giant Foxconn, have not been followed by substantive improvements. The company runs a network of plants producing for Apple, Dell, Hewlett Packard and other high profile 'western' brands. SACOM's 'Time to Bite Into a Fair Apple' campaign hopes to keep the pressure on both Chinese authorities and multinational firms to fulfil promises to make the manufacturing system more humane. Most workers rely on a superhuman overtime schedule to earn enough to survive. 'In Chengdu, workers usually have 80-100 hours overtime work on the top of 174 regular hours per month,' SACOM reports. 'This is almost 2-3 times more than the legal limit.' The report points out that some local government agencies are actively involved in shady migrant labour recruitment schemes. Employers utilise a 'continuous shift' system which keeps the machines humming round the clock, with long shifts and minimal breaks. So while the output of iPods and other devices is maximised, the price is paid by workers in psychological and physical exhaustion. According to Michelle Chen, writing in US e-zine In These Times: 'The real danger posed by Foxconn's labour model is perhaps not so much that it induces misery, but that it disempowers workers to the extent that they are no longer able to feel - just as Apple consumers on the other side of the globe are numb to the pain embedded in their touchscreens.'

Mexico: Coal mine explosion kills 14

Fourteen miners have been confirmed dead after their bodies were retrieved from a coal mine in Sabinas, Mexico five days after a 3 May explosion. The methane gas blast at the mine, which employed 25 non-union miners, also resulted in the hospitalisation of a 15-year-old boy, who lost both arms. The mine, which had no permit and had been working for just 20 days to a depth of approximately 50 metres, is known as a 'potico'. These small informal mines are dug by workers, some teenagers, who can extract as much as 30 tonnes of coal a day. The Sabinas mine is located in the state of Coahuila, the same state where an explosion at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in 2006 left 65 miners dead. Most of their bodies were never recovered. Following the latest tragedy, the Mexican Miners' Union, Los Mineros, issued a statement saying all workers 'deserve to work in adequately safe conditions where sufficient health protections are in place.' The union is calling for companies that do not implement adequate health and safety measures to be punished for criminal negligence, and for state or federal authorities to be punished for failing to meet their responsibility to protect the lives and health of Mexican workers. 'The death of these 14 miners again highlights the terrible dangers miners face in Mexico and the urgent need for better regulation and provision of safety in mines,' said Jyrki Raina, who heads the global union federation IMF. 'The evidence shows that the Mexican government is failing to adequately regulate the mining industry in Mexico, and Mexican workers are too often paying with the ultimate price: their life.' The mine, which has now been closed by the authorities, was operated by Beneficios Internacionales del Norte SA (Bansa), a company based in Sabinas, in the rich Coahuila coal belt of northern Mexico. It had no certification or registry regarding safety.

USA: Oil industry shareholders face safety truths

A US union has put its oil industry safety concerns right under the noses of shareholders at major firms. Shareholder resolutions have been filed on USW's behalf at Marathon Oil, Valero, Tesoro and ConocoPhillips, calling on the companies to improve disclosures on safety at oil refineries. The resolutions, which were filed by the union-run AFL-CIO Reserve Fund, call on the board of directors at each company to disclose the board's oversight of process safety management, staffing levels, and the inspection and maintenance of refineries and other equipment. A similar proposal was also filed at Sunoco, but was withdrawn when company officials agreed to comply with the request. USW says increasing transparency in the industry is an important step in improving refinery safety. 'If these companies had to tell their shareholders and the public how they were staffing their refineries, how much overtime people were working, and how long units were going without basic inspection and maintenance, we know that they'd try harder to fix the problems,' said USW international vice president Gary Beevers, who heads the union's National Oil Bargaining Programme. 'We hope that by demanding this information we can force the industry to fix these problems before any more of our members die or are severely injured.'

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