Risks 507 - 28 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

Rail risks of more privatisation and cuts

A government commissioned review of rail value for money has not grasped the damaging effects on costs and safety of either privatisation or of cutting jobs, unions have said. The TUC said the McNulty review fails to address causes of inefficiency and waste. The review by former Civil Aviation Authority chair Sir Roy McNulty calls for measures including staff and wage cuts and handing over of some services like maintenance to private rail firms. Responding to the proposals, TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'Cutting the number of ticket office workers, station staff and train crews is not what passengers want, and there is no link between staff costs and the increasing levels of taxpayer subsidy.' She added: 'Breaking up signal and track maintenance, last seen in the days of Railtrack, raises real safety fears' (Risks 506). Train drivers' union ASLEF said the McNulty report was 'seriously flawed'. General secretary Keith Norman highlighted 'very real concerns' including a proposal 'to give track maintenance back to the privately-run rail companies (which were taken out of the private sector after fatal rail accidents at Potters Bar and Ladbroke Grove).' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The inefficiencies of the UK rail system are entirely bound up with the fragmentation and profiteering of privatisation. The McNulty report tacitly accepts that but does nothing to address the issue.' The report does make some explicit safety recommendations, including the creation of a National Safety Task Force (NSTF) to provide 'clear and credible leadership' for safety and risk management. Sir Roy also recommends the introduction of local behavioural safety schemes, an approach dubbed 'blame the worker' by unions (Risks 457) and which was linked to the safety bonus and injury under-reporting scandal which engulfed Network Rail last year (Risks 491).

'Low risk' strategy is seriously flawed

A government demand that local authorities undertake 65,000 fewer safety inspections each year is 'seriously flawed' and will mean 'many employers will think they don't need to bother' with safety, retail union Usdaw has warned. In a statement to Hazards magazine, the union said it is 'extremely worried by this government's continued ideological attack on health and safety. The DWP proposals for a so-called 'lighter touch' approach flies in the face of the evidence.' The union was responding to guidance published this week by the Health and Safety Executive and the Local Government Group, which spells out how local authorities will meet a government demand to cut preventive 'proactive' inspections by a third. According to Usdaw, the new approach, based on 'risk ratings' that would exempt many shops, offices and other local authority enforced businesses from inspections, 'will expose workers to an increased risk of injury or ill health as financially hard-pressed employers let standards slip.' The union adds: 'How will inspectors be able to identify breaches of the regulations if they are not allowed to carry out preventive inspections? For most workplaces, an inspector will only get involved after someone has been killed or seriously injured - when it is too late.' The union says the narrow safety focus of the new inspection regime means work-related health problems are not being taken into account. 'It also ignores solid evidence from the UK and the US that shows that health and safety laws are not a burden on business,' said the union statement. 'On the contrary they are good for the economy as a whole and employers who comply benefit from having a fitter workforce and a more sustainable business... The loss of 65,000 preventive inspections every year and yet another review based on the assumption that health and safety regulations are an unnecessary inconvenience send the wrong message to employers.'

Unite takes on stress epidemic

Workers' mental health is coming under increasing pressure as fears over jobs and cuts take their toll in the workplace, the union Unite has warned. In response, it says it will undertake groundbreaking research to gauge the extent of the stress epidemic and possible solutions. The union, which will survey members across the UK and Ireland as part of the research, says about 70 million working days are lost each year due to stress or poor mental health. It is linking up with UK mental health charity Mind to take on the issue. Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of Unite, told a TUC disability conference this week: 'This time of cuts and fears about the future is causing tremendous anxiety for working people. For many workers these are very uncertain times. Higher targets, increased workloads, more pressure and less staff are placing an unbearable strain on workers.' She added: 'The good news though is that stress at work is avoidable. If management carry out risk assessments and act swiftly to put action plans in place, work-related stress can be tackled. This is why Unite is calling on all its workplace representatives to conduct the Stress at Work survey. During these anxious times, investing in better mental health at work is a wise move, which is why Unite is proud to be working with Mind and members in the Mental Health Nurses Association to play our part in making working life better for all.'

Company's safety award is a 'joke'

Trade unionists have branded as 'a joke' the award of a prestigious health and safety prize to construction firm Balfour Beatty. The company received the Sir George Earle Trophy from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) despite being notorious for sacking and blacklisting health and safety reps. The company, in a citation for RoSPA's top award, was 'commended not only the way that safety representatives were pulled into practical problem-solving activities but also the company's policy of valuing and acting on ideas from the workforce and its overall approach, which was not to punish or to stigmatise but always to encourage behaviour change by entering into dialogue and by celebrating success.' Balfour Beatty's Scottish and Southern managing director Bob Clark claimed: 'The award recognises the ongoing effort, commitment and engagement of our employees in promoting a safe working culture.' The award prompted an angry response from trade union safety campaigners. Blacklist Support Group spokesperson Steve Kelly said: 'At first I thought this was a joke. Balfour Beatty is the construction company with the worst record of sacking and blacklisting safety representatives in the entire industry. To be praised for the way they treat their safety representatives is offensive.' Balfour Beatty was a major contributor to The Consulting Association, the illegal blacklisting organisation that targeted trade union safety activists. The construction giant received an enforcement notice from the Information Commissioner's Office for related breaches of the Data Protection Act and has been found by employment tribunals to have blacklisted workers. RMT regional organiser Steve Hedley urged the government to launch a public inquiry into the blacklisting 'scandal.' He told the Morning Star: 'This is reward for appalling behaviour,' adding that firms involved in the blacklist 'should be levied with a fine which should be distributed amongst blacklisted workers.'

Sell off threat for London's fire engines

Firefighters' union FBU has warned London's privatised ambulance fleet could be sold off as the contractor responsible fights a winding-up order. AssetCo, the company that owns and leases appliances to London's fire service, won a 20-year multi-million pound contract to supply the London Fire Brigade with all its appliances. But it has seen its share price collapse amid fears it is running out of money. If the company ends up in the hands of its creditor banks, they will have the right to sell off the appliances. AssetCo owns and leases 500 vehicles and 50,000 pieces of equipment to the London brigade, the world's largest fire service. 'How are they going to guarantee there are fire appliances if the company that owns them goes into administration?' commented FBU spokesperson Duncan Milligan. 'The creditors are going to have first call on the assets. There's a real risk here that the fire service are not going to have access to the engines.' A £10m fundraising exercise has yet to materialise and several of AssetCo's directors have quit as the company battles a winding-up order from creditors. The company's share price, which has touched £2.31 within the last five years, now stands at 3.75p. Chief executive John Shannon was dismissed in April for what the company called 'serious breaches of contract'.

Injured driver pays the Asda price

An Asda lorry driver who damaged his knee at work has received a £4,000 payout. Ian Burridge, 42, developed the degenerative condition osteoarthritis between two and five years earlier than he would have due to the injury. He was delivering goods to an Asda store in Stanley, County Durham in January 2009 when, as he was moving a heavy pallet of wine and spirits, he slipped on a piece of cardboard. He hit his knee on a pallet truck as he fell. The cardboard was covering cat litter which had spilled from a bag in the trailer. Mr Burridge had asked for a brush but was told that there wasn't one available at the Stanley store, so attempting to clear up the mess with his foot. He hadn't noticed the cardboard under the pallet nor the cat litter it was hiding. Following the injury he needed to take strong painkillers and underwent an MRI scan which confirmed the osteoarthritis. His knee now hurts when he drives and climbs stairs. In a union-backed compensation claim, Asda - part of the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart - admitted 80 per cent liability and settled the claim out of court for £4,000. Michael Hopper from the GMB said: 'Whilst Mr Burridge had the spectre of osteoarthritis in later years this accident brought it on much faster than would otherwise have been the case.'

Burnt bike trip leads to broken bones

A council has paid damages to a GMB member who broke his ribs in a nasty fall when he tripped over the burnt out remains of a motorbike on a London estate. The 45-year-old from east London, whose name has not been released, was walking home from work in the dark when he had the bad fall in August 2008. The London Borough of Newham had removed the main body of the motorcycle but had left the remaining burnt debris on the pavement. The duty manager for a local authority was left with fractured ribs, a bad cut to his face, which has left a scar, and soft tissue injuries to his knees. After suffering the injury, he complained to the council about the debris but it was still over a year until it was finally cleared. In a union backed compensation case, the council admitted liability but a figure for compensation could not be agreed and the matter went to trial. An undisclosed payout was agreed.

Other news

Business lobby wants 'race to the bottom'

A report from a business lobby group claiming safety regulations are costing business £355m a year has been dismissed by the TUC as being based on 'non-existent burdens.' The news release for the report from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) was headlined: 'Half of businesses tied up in health and safety 'yellow tape'.' But TUC says the report, 'Health and safety: a risky business?', in fact found health and safety legislation is not a major concern to the majority of businesses - over half of the 5,928 employers questioned did not find workplace safety regulations significantly burdensome and one in five didn't find them burdensome at all. TUC added the figures for the cost of regulations included in the BCC report are based only on what BCC estimates to be the cost of the regulations. There is no mention at all that significant benefits have been ignored by BCC's number-crunchers and that these benefits far outweigh the costs. A TUC spokesperson commented: 'Employers have to get real on health and safety regulation and stop complaining about non-existent burdens on business and instead focus on protecting their staff and the public. The problem for business is not regulation, but the mind-set that sees the need to protect workers as being a 'burden', and it is time that the BCC and the government started addressing that rather than encouraging a race to the bottom.' He added: 'We now have less regulation, less inspection, and less enforcement than we have for the past 35 years, yet far too many workers are being killed and made ill as a result of employers' negligence. Every workplace death is preventable, and we will only reduce the terrible toll of occupational injury and disease if employers are made to accept responsibility for their actions.' He said the BCC report also 'fosters the myth' that most small businesses are 'low risk'. 'They are not. Small businesses have the same occupational injury and illness rates as their larger competitors,' he said. 'They do however often need more help and support and the governments freeze on communications and the closure of the HSE's information line will make it harder for them to get that' (Risks 504).

Danger of 'lawlessness at work'

The government's new health and safety strategy is propelling the UK towards 'lawlessness' at work, a new report has said. Official figures obtained exclusively by Hazards magazine reveal the number of major injuries even investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has slumped to just 1 in 19. The report says justice has also been a casualty of policy changes and cutbacks, with HSE tailoring its service to a future with a budget slashed by 35 per cent by 2015. According to the report, of the 70,000 major injuries reported to HSE in the two years from 2008/09 to 2009/10, less than 1 in every 50 had as of May 2011 resulted in any official enforcement action. The report is critical of a government strategy to dramatically curtail HSE inspection and enforcement activity, arguing modern workplaces are far from either safe or healthy. 'Even official figures, accepted to include only a minority of injuries, record the crunch of breaking bone in a workplace about 80 times every working day. Eyes or limbs are lost at a rate of two a day.' It adds: 'Every hour of every day around the clock someone dies of occupational cancer, according to HSE's self-confessed 'conservative' estimate.' The report says policy changes, staffing cuts and the imminent closure of HSE's infoline, combined with a government intent on a programme of 'regulatory cleansing', are hobbling the watchdog. It is also critical of the Löfstedt review, which it says has a presumption in favour of deregulation and an inbuilt pro-industry bias. 'HSE can no longer properly enforce or even advise,' the report concludes. 'Government funding cuts have robbed it of the resources. Government strategy has robbed it of the role.'

Löfstedt review calls for evidence

A government review charged with finding ways to reduce the 'burden' of health and safety on business has put out a call for evidence. The Löfstedt review, announced by the government in March (Risks 499), is inviting views 'from all interested parties on the scope for reducing the burden of health and safety regulation on UK businesses whilst maintaining health and safety outcomes.' The review's finalised terms of reference say it will consider the opportunity for combining, simplifying or reducing the approximately 200 statutory instruments that are 'owned' by the Health and Safety Executive, by learning lessons from health and safety regimes in other countries. It will also consider the extent to which regulations have: impacted on positive health and safety outcomes and businesses; led to unreasonable outcomes, or inappropriate litigation and compensation; and unnecessarily enhanced the requirements of an EU directive. Employment minister Chris Grayling said: 'The Health and Safety at Work etc Act remains an effective framework. However we need to put common sense back into health and safety and ease the burdens on business, and I look forward to Professor Löfstedt's findings.' Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, who will lead the review, said: 'I want the review to be informed by concrete examples and evidence from a range of stakeholders including employer and employee organisations, government and professional health and safety bodies, practitioners and academics.' The government says the review 'is part of a package of changes to Britain's health and safety system to support the government's growth agenda and cut red tape.'

No room for complacency in nuke industry

There is no room for complacency in the UK's nuclear industry, an official review has concluded. An interim assessment of the implications of the nuclear crisis in Japan by the Health and Safety Executive's top nuclear inspector concludes there is no need to curtail the operations of nuclear plants in the UK, but says lessons should be learnt. Mike Weightman, executive head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, said: 'The extreme natural events that preceded the accident at Fukushima - the magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent huge tsunami - are not credible in the UK. We are 1,000 miles from the nearest fault line and we have safeguards in place that protect against even very remote hazards. Our operating and proposed future reactor designs and technology are different to the type at the Fukushima plant.' He added: 'But we are not complacent. No matter what the differences are, and how high the standard of design and subsequent operation of the nuclear facilities here in the UK, the quest for improvement must never stop. Seeking to learn from events, and from new knowledge, both nationally and internationally, must continue to be a fundamental feature of the safety culture of the UK nuclear industry.' Paul Noon, general secretary of the nuclear industry union Prospect, said the finding were 'encouraging', but added: 'The interim report stresses that no matter how high the standards of nuclear design and subsequent operation, the quest for improvement must never stop, and periodic reviews of safety are an essential requirement. The Japanese are still dealing with the aftermath of the disaster and the full facts are not yet clear. There is a still a lot of work to be done, and many lessons to learn, and we look forward to the more comprehensive report in September.'

Climbdown hint on coastguard closures

Unions have welcomed an anticipated government climbdown on plans to close over half of the UK's coastguard stations. They were responding to comments made last week by transport secretary Philip Hammond, who told the BBC the government may reconsider its plans to cut the number of UK coastguard stations from 18 to eight. The minister said: 'We are looking again at the best configuration that will allow us to deliver those technological improvements, those working practice improvements and we will announce our conclusions to Parliament before the summer recess.' PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the apparent u-turn was evidence of what can be achieved by 'inspirational' community campaigning. He said: 'This is a body blow for the government which is reeling from the force of public outrage at ill-thought out plans to slash the life-saving support that coastguards provide.' But he added: 'It is not yet clear what any new proposals will include and there are still battles to be won to maintain vital local services that our members provide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We would expect new plans to be subject to proper consultation and negotiation. The campaign against these cuts has been inspirational and I am proud of the part our reps and members have played in it. Now is the time to keep up the pressure and show the government we remain united, strong and determined to defeat these cuts.' Allan Graveson, senior national secretary of seafarers' union Nautilus welcomed the decision to re-examine the proposed cuts, but said the government also 'needs to re-think its plans to remove emergency towing vessels and end the Marine Incident Response Group fire-fighting service.'

Triple prosecution after construction death

A plant hire firm and a plant operator have been fined after a foreman died when an excavator bucket filled with concrete fell on him at a London construction site. Euro Earthworks Ltd general foreman, Gerry Fox, was crushed by an excavator bucket when it fell from the arm of the 12 tonne excavator being driven by a colleague. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Hydro Plant Ltd, the plant hire company which had provided the excavator and Michael Cunningham, the excavator operator, for safety breaches after the August 2007 incident. Euro Earthworks Ltd, the principal contractor and Mr Cunningham's employer, also faces charges but has entered administration and did not appear at court. City of London Magistrates' Court heard that on 28 August 2007, Mr Cunningham, who now lives in Eastbourne, failed to manually insert a pin into the 'quick hitch' - a device attached to the excavator arm used for the rapid changing of attachments - which was necessary to safely lock the bucket in place. The court heard Hydro Plant Ltd did not have a suitable regime of inspection for the plant it hired out to ensure safety conditions were maintained. It also supplied the equipment without adequate safety warning signs, written information and instructions or CE marking. Euro Earthworks Ltd failed to adequately plan, manage and monitor the construction work, while Hydro Plant Ltd neglected to ensure the quick hitch and all attachments supplied with the excavator were maintained in an efficient state, working order and in good repair. Hydro Plant Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of safety law and was fined £7,000 and £10,000 costs. Michael Cunningham also pleaded guilty and was fined £700 and £1,000 costs. Euro Earthworks Ltd will be tried in its absence at the City of London Magistrates' Court on 7 July 2011. This is the latest HSE prosecution where both a worker and a firm have been prosecuted but the directors and managers responsible for running the firm have escaped HSE action. Construction workers and plant operatives appear to be especially vulnerable to enforcement action (Risks 502).

Solvent spill leads to six figure fine

A chemical company has been fined £150,000 after a tank collapsed, releasing a large amount of waste solvents and water at a chemical plant in Rye, East Sussex. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Solvent Resource Management Ltd for breaching health and safety regulations, which led to the incident. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay £20,000 costs. Brighton Crown Court heard that on 11 March 2009 at approximately 2.10am, a steel tank which had been damaged by internal corrosion collapsed onto the retaining wall. This led to around 340 tonnes of solvent and contaminated waste water being released into the surrounding area, which was potentially hazardous and highly flammable. At the same time, a valve was knocked off an adjoining tank, which in turn released approximately 90 tonnes of contaminated waste water on to the site and neighbouring property. Due to the potentially hazardous nature of the incident, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service placed a 300-metre cordon around the site for two days. The HSE investigation, which was assisted by the Environment Agency, found Solvent Resource Management Ltd had failed to manage the examination and inspection of the tanks at the site. An HSE inspector who attended the scene issued a prohibition notice preventing the use of other tanks in the damaged area until they had been assessed as safe. A separate improvement notice was also issued, requiring the inspection of the remaining storage tanks and the implementation of a suitable inspection regime. HSE's inspector Trevor Jones said: 'The consequences of not operating a plant in accordance with accepted international standards can be catastrophic both to people and the environment. It was only timing that prevented this incident being more than a significant disruption to local residents and businesses.'

Firm falls into a bad practice

A clutch manufacturer has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a worker suffered serious injuries in a fall from a roof. After the incident, the firm then sent up a second worker to investigate why his colleague had fallen - without thinking to first introduce necessary safety improvements. The employee of Raicam Clutch Ltd was asked by management to investigate a leak on a flat roof at its Leamington Spa premises on 30 July 2009. While walking across the roof the employee caught his foot in a trailing cable and fell approximately three and a half metres to the ground below. Leamington Spa Magistrates' Court heard the roof had no guard rails and nothing to hold onto. There was also no safety protection below the roof such as a birdcage scaffold, netting or soft landing bags to protect him from the fall. The employee, who does not want to be named, sustained five broken vertebrae and whiplash to his neck. It was four months before he could return to work. Raicam Clutch Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £4,952 costs. HSE inspector Mark Austin said: 'It is fortunate this incident did not end in a fatality. But as if this was not enough the employer sent a second person onto this section of the roof, under the same conditions, to investigate the initial incident.' He added: 'Roofing work requires careful planning and assessment of the risks involved. In this case, an employee was working without any protection to prevent him falling which is completely unacceptable.'

Man loses fingers in cup cake case

A paper firm has been fined after a worker lost fingers in a machine whose safety features had been overridden. Maintenance fitter David Millband, 46, was seriously injured when his right hand was caught in a reel-fed machine at The Crimped Paper Works Limited, which makes paper baking cases. He lost three fingers, partially severed his thumb, suffered injuries to his little finger and underwent two surgeries as a result of the 16 February 2010 incident at the Chapel-en-le-Frith factory. He went back to work on light duties approximately four months after the incident but was made redundant when the company went into administration in January 2011. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the incident, told Buxton Magistrates that Mr Millband had been carrying out a visual check of the reel-fed machine when he noticed that the paper had come loose. When he opened the door of the machine, it kept running and his fingers became caught. The doors to the machine had interlocks for safety, but these had been overridden. HSE inspector Fiona Coffey said: 'The company had a legal duty to prevent access to the dangerous parts of their machinery, but provided engineers with keys which could override the interlocks. There had been a similar incident five months earlier which had resulted in lesser injuries but, while the company had purchased a new system for the interlocks, they had not made this operational by the time of the second incident.' She added: 'The risks of overriding interlocks are well documented by the HSE and Mr Millband's employers failed to ensure that measures were taken to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the machinery. As a result, a man has suffered a life-changing injury and has been unable to perform everyday tasks ever since." The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £15,000 and costs of £3,956.

International News

China: Group warned of iPad death factory risks

A Hong Kong-based campaign group had in recent weeks warned about deadly dust dangers at a computer factory in China which exploded on 20 May, killing three workers and injuring 15 others. Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) this week released a video revealing the extent of worker exposures to aluminium dust in the polishing department at the Foxconn plant in Chengdu. The video was taken in March 2011, two months prior to the suspected aluminium dust explosion. Workers in the department hit by the devastating blast have to polish Apple iPad cases to give them a smooth, shiny lustre. In the footage, workers faces, hands and clothes are covered in dust. SACOM said the video supports its claim that the department had poor ventilation and provided inadequate protective equipment for workers. It added that the tragedy could have been averted if Foxconn and Apple had 'strictly complied with the local laws on work safety and implemented corrective action plan afterwards.' The group's 6 May investigative report on conditions in Foxconn plants warned: 'In the milling machine department in Chengdu, some workers state they always breathe in the aluminium dust. Workers in the polishing department also complain that the department is full of aluminium dust. Even though they have worn gloves, their hands are still covered by dust and so as their face and clothes.' Some workers made explicit complaints about the inadequate ventilation. The company rejected the criticisms in this report, insisting it ensured'that the highest level of health and safety standards are applied to our operations in all locations.' SACOM said it was 'outrageous' that Foxconn, a part of the Taiwan-based Hon Hai group and one of the world's largest subcontractors to microelectronics giants including Apple, Dell, Hewlett Packard and Sony, failed to address the problems identified.

France: One in six asthma cases work-related

Occupational allergies account for 15 per cent of adult asthma cases, experts in France have concluded. A meeting of lung allergy specialists in Paris last month heard panellists report the longer work-related allergens are inhaled, the worse the asthma gets, often continuing after occupational exposure has ended. In France, between 1,250 and 5,000 workers every year would stay healthy had they not been exposed to asthmagens, said Pierre Frimat, a professor at the Lille regional teaching hospital. Worst-off are bakers, reported Benoît Wallaert, a lung allergy specialists at the Lille hospital, as a result of exposures to flour, additives and contaminants. Other major contributors to occupational asthma numbers are isocyanates, latex, aldehydes, disinfectants, alkaline persulphates used in hairdressing, wood dust and contact with animals. 'Asthma at work', a 1995 report from the TUC, concluded 1 in 5 adult asthma cases were work-related. At the time, this was dramatically higher than official estimates. Since then, however, reports have indicated the TUC figure was the most accurate around.

Global: Garment trade backs safe denim campaign

Major fashion chains are backing a campaign by unions and labour rights groups to ban the use of a deadly sandblasting process in denim garment manufacture. The joint call from global garment unions' federation ITGLWF and apparel buyers and manufacturers says the process can 'be extremely damaging to the health of workers if proper safeguards are not followed, and can lead to a disabling and potentially fatal lung disease called silicosis.' ITGWLF called for sandblasting to be banned almost a year ago. In September 2010, Levi Strauss & Co and Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) became the first to implement a global ban on sandblasting in their supply chains. Since then a number of other leading brands and retailers - such as Aurora Fashions, Bestseller, C&A, Carrefour, Esprit, Inditex, Karen Millen, and New Look - have also announced the elimination of sandblasting in their supply chains. The 'Call to Action' is signed by ITGLWF, Aurora Fashions, Bestseller, C&A, Carrefour, Esprit, Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), Inditex, Karen Millen, Levi Strauss & Co and New Look. Signatory companies agree to: 'Ban the practice of sandblasting throughout their supply chains including but not limited to the use of aluminium oxide, aluminium silicate, silicon carbide, copper slag and garnet for abrasive blasting; Work with their suppliers in a transition towards alternative methods, after having established the risks and their means of control; and take the necessary measures to ensure that the ban is effectively applied throughout their whole supply chain.' On 12 May, the Business Social Compliance Initiativeurged its600 plusmember companies worldwide to ban this technique in their supply chains.

USA: Mine disaster caused by corporate risk-taking

A US mine tragedy happened because a coal giant operated a mine in a 'profoundly reckless manner and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking,' according to an independent report. Massey Energy Co's Upper Big Branch coal mine exploded on 5 April 2010. The report into the disaster by Davitt McAteer, former head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), concluded: 'The disaster at Upper Big Branch was man-made and could have been prevented had Massey Energy followed basic, well-tested and historically proven safety procedures... Massey exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce coal above worker safety.' It found a combination of methane gas and huge amounts of coal dust in the poorly ventilated and improperly monitored non-union mine turned a small ignition into a massive explosion that roared through the underground tunnels. The report describes an operation in which safety practices barely existed. Air routinely flowed in the wrong direction, including on the day of the explosion. Miners were regularly forced to wade through chest-deep water and the manager who was supposed to file pre-shift reports on air and methane readings did so for weeks before the blast without even turning on his gas detector. Mine Workers (UMWA) president Cecil Roberts said because of the 'safety-last culture that has developed at Massey, there was no emphasis on maintaining the mine within even the most basic of safety parameters.' Roberts added that the report documents 'a culture of intimidation and repression,' that kept miners from speaking out about safety concerns. Explosions weren't the only deadly risk at the mine. Autopsies on the men killed at Upper Big Branch revealed 17 out of the 29 had coal workers' pneumoconiosis, better known as the often fatal condition black lung.

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