Risks 528 - 22 October 2011

Share this page

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

Union reps make business sense

Union reps are not a business cost item, but an important resource for employers in both the public and private sector, according to a new paper from the TUC. And, suggests the extensively referenced document on the provision of facilities and facility time for union reps, there's no clearer indication of this effect than the lifesaving, money-saving role of union safety reps. It cites studies showing around half of safety reps take no more than one hour per week to undertake their union role, many spending their own time on safety rep work. Commenting on the positive role played by union reps, the report notes: 'As well as making a significant contribution to increasing productivity they make workplaces safer, reduce the costs of recruitment and help business became more responsive to change by helping staff acquire new skills in addition to updating those they already have.' The TUC document points to government figures, which put the benefits to society of safety reps at 2004 prices at between £136m - £371m as a result of reducing working days lost due to workplace injury. The government concluded there were benefits to society worth between £45m - £207m as a result of reduced work related illness. The 2007 report, 'Workplace representatives: A review of their facilities and facility time', estimated that overall safety reps at 2004 prices save society between £181m and £578m each year as a result of lost time reduction from occupational injuries and work-related illnesses of between 286,000 and 616,000 days.

Unite alert on accident reports

Safety reps should make sure all workplace injuries and dangerous incidents are reported to employers and that the correct recording systems are in operation, the union Unite has said. An alert from the union says it has received reports that some employers wrongly believe official reporting rules have been relaxed. However, a government-driven move to change from the existing legal requirement to report injuries requiring over three days off work to only those requiring over seven days off is still only a proposal. 'The changes have not yet become law, and if these proposals are adopted by the government the law is not likely to change before at least 1 April 2012,' the Unite alert explains. 'Even if the law on reporting changes from 'over 3 days' to 'over 7 day' incapacitation, employers must still record 'over 3 days' injuries.' Unite concludes: 'Safety reps need to be alert to this and ensure that ALL injuries and incidents are reported to their employer, and as a minimum their employer keeps records in accordance with the continuing requirements of RIDDOR.' The Health and Safety Executive board in August agreed to recommend the government approve the shift to seven-day-plus reporting, however union representatives on the HSE board strongly opposed the move (Risks 520).

Unions raise concerns over HSE charging scheme

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) fundraising scheme due to be come into effect next year must be fair, unions have said. In response to HSE's plans for a comprehensive cost recovery scheme, where safety breaches uncovered by the watchdog would trigger a series of charges, both Prospect and UNISON say a cash-strapped HSE has no option but to raise extra cash but warn that a flat rate scheme would be disproportionately hard on smaller firms. Prospect deputy general secretary Mike Clancy commented: 'For years, the HSE has been trying to do the same for less, but now it is reaching breaking point. So the HSE has no choice but to seek new ways to meet its commitments. However, any money raised should be returned to the HSE, to be used, among other things, to avert the loss of key specialist staff because of the government's 35 per cent funding cuts.' He added: 'The HSE proposals for a flat-rate 'fee for intervention' will penalise small and medium-sized companies disproportionately. Increasing financial pressure on such companies makes no sense at a time when growth is key to economic recovery.' He said it was 'counter-productive to create a culture where organisations come to resent inspections, when the priority is to work with them to prevent accidents and keep workers safe.' In a submission to HSE's consultation on the cost recovery scheme, UNISON echoed Prospect's concerns, noting 'the fees listed take no account of the ability to pay and even at the minimum price of £750 [the proposed charge for an official letter] could lead to bankruptcy for some small organisations.' Improvement notices could be accompanied by a bill for £1,500 under the HSE proposals. The UNISON submission adds: 'We believe that the costs should be limited to the problem rather than the whole visit as this is more likely to be acceptable to employers of all sizes.'

RMT anger at plan to slash Tube safety checks

Tube union RMT has demanded London Underground abandon a plan to reduce the inspection frequency on key fail-safe safety equipment from daily to every 60 days. The union was responding to a decision by the Directors Risk and Assurance Change Control Committee (DRACC) to reduce the frequency of tripcock testing on parts of the Tube fleet from daily to once every 15,000 kilometres - equating to an average running period of 60 days. The tripcock is a crucial piece of on-train safety equipment that prevents trains from passing red signals. RMT says it is recognised throughout the rail industry as one of the most crucial safety devices preventing crashes and protecting lives. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'RMT is shocked and appalled that London Underground could even be considering tampering with the frequency of the tripcock failsafe tests. The tripcock is an essential safety mechanism which stops a train in the event of it passing a signal at danger and is known throughout the rail industry as a lifesaver.' He added: 'This is a cuts led move that follows hacking back of safety inspections on escalators and out on the tracks and comes at a time when maintenance cuts are already causing havoc on a daily basis with signal failures and breakdowns common place. This move on the tripcocks inspections ratchets up the safety concerns of RMT and is literally dicing with death. We are demanding it be reversed now.'

Lobby to highlight rail safety concerns

Rail unions will join up with passenger groups and community supporters for a mass rally and lobby of parliament next Tuesday - 25 October - as part of the national campaign to stop the government from implementing the recommendations of the McNulty Rail Review (Risks 524). The review's cost-cutting recommendations would have a dramatic impact on staffing levels and safety-critical jobs, rail union RMT is warning. The government is expected to respond formally to the review this month. RMT says loss of station staff will turn the network into 'a criminals' paradise'. The union adds that 'throwing guards off all trains' will compromise safety and security on services right across the country. Cutting maintenance and privatising parts of the rail infrastructure will line up the rail network 'for a return to the lethal cocktail of conditions under Railtrack that led to Hatfield and Potters Bar', the union adds. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'McNulty represents the biggest threat to our railways since privatisation. Staff and passengers have a common interest in resisting an attack that would wipe out safety-critical jobs, de-staff trains and stations and jack up fares in the name of private profit. We all have a stake in stopping this carve-up dead in its tracks.'

Austerity measures 'may increase suicide rates'

The government's austerity measures could lead to an increase in suicides, Unite has said. In response to an official consultation, 'Preventing suicide in England: a cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives', the union draws parallels with the Greek economic meltdown which led to a reported 40 per cent rise in suicides in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2010. It follows a July 2011 paper which concluded the financial crisis has 'almost certainly' led to an increase in suicides in countries including the UK (Risks 514). Unite said the government's 'austerity measures will have an adverse effect' on the plan to reduce suicides in England. 'We have already seen the effect in countries that are pursuing harsh austerity measures that the rate of suicides is increasing,' it warns. Unite professional officer Dave Munday said: 'We believe that the economic crisis engulfing the country will increase the pressures on individuals, faced with tightening finances, repossessed homes, marital breakdown and lost jobs.' He added: 'Bearing in mind that 20 per cent of the population will suffer mental problems during their lifetime, this cost-cutting government should not sweep mental health under the carpet because society deems it as an uncomfortable subject.' Insecure or 'precarious' work has been linked to higher rates of suicide, sickness, heart disease and workplace injuries (Risks 415).

Other news

Safety minister was part of Fox's organisation

Health and safety has been sucked into a scandal which has seen the prime minister accused of letting a secret rightwing, business-driven deregulatory agenda flourish within the highest levels of his party. Atlantic Bridge, an organisation created by former defence secretary Liam Fox which was wound up last year following a critical Charity Commission report, formed a partnership with an organisation called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Like ALEC, Fox's organisation had heavy representation from business lobbyists and lawyers, many linked to the energy industry. An Observer article last week revealed both organisations pursued a strongly deregulatory agenda. ALEC has made US health and safety and employment laws key targets. Liam Fox chaired the UK charity's advisory board, which until the election also included current health and safety minister Chris Grayling, the architect of a UK health and safety strategy that has seen the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) budget slashed, inspections dramatically curtailed and safety regulations targeted, mirroring proposals in Bills put forward by ALEC. Campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) said it found the revelation the current safety minister had played a board-level role in Atlantic Bridge 'deeply concerning'. A letter to The Guardian signed by bereaved relatives noted: 'That this government is meeting primarily with corporate lobbyists for deregulation and slashing enforcement as a false 'burden on business', rather than listening to the deadly effect of unrestrained business bad behaviour on ordinary people is no surprise to Families Against Corporate Killers.' It said FACK members were 'terrified' by the prospect of increased deaths at work as a consequence of deregulation of health and safety. 'We have asked Chris Grayling at the Department of Work and Pensions to meet us but he has refused three times. However, he has managed to find time to meet all the main corporate lobbies: CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, Chemicals Industry Association, the EEF, the Alliance of Industry Association, the NFU, The UK Contractors Group, The Environmental Services Association, the Association of British Insurers and Zurich.'

UK Coal families told to expect low death fines

A judge has indicated he will not impose heavy fines on UK Coal after four miners died following criminal safety breaches at what is the UK's biggest mining firm. Justice Alistair MacDuff adjourned sentencing of UK Coal, which admitted offences under health and safety laws in relation to the deaths of Trevor Steeples, Paul Hunt, Anthony Garrigan and Paul Milner. Mr Steeples, Mr Hunt and Mr Garrigan died in separate incidents at Daw Mill Colliery, near Coventry, in 2006 and 2007. Mr Milner died following an incident at the now-closed Welbeck Colliery in Nottinghamshire in 2007 (Risks 290). Sheffield Crown Court heard how the firm was 'under intense economic pressure' following the recession. UK Coal's solicitor Mark Turner told the court that shares worth £5 five years ago recently traded for 34p. He said it was in a 'very poor way financially' and was implementing a survival plan. The Doncaster-based company reported losses of £124.6m in 2010, following losses of £129.1m in 2009 and £15.6m in 2008. The judge told Sheffield Crown Court he had a very difficult exercise to perform to provide justice for the men's families yet not threaten a company which 'provided energy to the nation, employment within the nation and a valuable service all round.' The judge said it would be in 'nobody's interest' to impose devastating financial penalties. The fines would be announced in late November or early December, he said, warning family members watching from the public gallery that the fines might be lower than some might expect. The judge said he would first establish a total figure UK Coal should be liable for and then deduct the costs before determining the level of fines. The legal costs are estimated to be £1.2m, not including the bill for the adjourned 20 October court hearing, UK Coal's Mark Turner said. On 27 September this year, Gerry Gibson became UK Coal's latest casualty, when the 49-year-old died in a roof collapse at Kellingley Colliery (Risks 525).

Mine manager held on suspicion of manslaughter

A pit manager who survived a flooding incident in which four miners died has been arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter. Malcolm Fyfield, 55, was held by officers from South Wales Police investigating the tragedy at the Gleision Colliery near Swansea last month. David Powell, Philip Hill, Garry Jenkins and Charles Breslin died after floodwater engulfed a tunnel where they were working on the morning of 15 September. Mr Fyfield was able to escape from the mine and was taken to hospital. His condition was reported as critical at the time. He was arrested by South Wales Police on 18 October and held at Port Talbot police station. Detective Chief Inspector Dorian Lloyd, the senior investigating officer in the case, said: 'The arrest follows consultation between the South Wales Police, Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service to review the evidence gathered to date.' He added: 'We continue to work closely with the bereaved families throughout this process and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the communities affected by this incident for their continued support and patience. We will do everything possible to fully understand how these four men lost their lives.'

Phurnacite workers start legal fight

Around 300 former workers at a smokeless fuel plant in south Wales have started a joint compensation claim for the ill-health they say was caused by their job. They claim making the fuel at the Phurnacite plant at Abercwmboi near Mountain Ash left them with cancer and respiratory disease. British Coal failed to provide the necessary protection for them, they say. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is opposing the claim at the Civil Justice Centre in Cardiff. The former workers are bringing a group action, saying they were not given the necessary protection from fumes and dust. And they claim that when they were given protection it was not sufficient. According to Hugh James Solicitors, which is representing the ex-workers and families, the Phurnacite Plant was once dubbed 'the dirtiest factory in Europe'. The site produced smokeless fuel in the form of briquettes for 50 years. At its peak over one million briquettes were produced a year. The court has heard that the plant used pitch, which was different to other coking plants. It has also been told that carbonisation happened over a four-hour period, 24 hours a day, whereas at other plants one cycle was carried out in a 24 hour period. The case will hear from one expert who believes that a year's work at the plant was equivalent to a year's smoking. Coke oven work has been linked to lung and other cancers for decades. Workers at Phurnacite allege lung, skin and bladder cancers are linked to workplace exposures, as well as respiratory diseases. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which has responsibility for British Coal, is defending the claim. The case, which will conclude at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, is expected to last six weeks.

BP's repeated offshore safety failures revealed

The British oil giant BP has repeatedly breached criminal safety regulations on all its rigs in the North Sea over the last year, according to the government watchdog, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The multinational company has kept failing to comply with the HSE's statutory instructions to improve risk assessments after a series of alarming near-misses on several oil platforms, including Clair and Schiehallion west of Shetland and a network of nine fields in the central North Sea. Last November it was served a legal improvement notice by HSE, which applied to all 40 of the company's offshore oil and gas fields around the UK. 'You are not carrying out suitable and sufficient assessments of the risks to the safety of your employees and other persons working on your offshore installations when you consider whether plant or equipment may be operated outwith its normal operating parameters,' HSE told BP. In responses to a series of enquiries by the trade union-backed Hazards magazine, HSE said it initially gave BP a deadline to fix the problems by the end of May 2011. The deadline was extended to the end of August, and then again to the end of October. The matter is still formally 'ongoing', the watchdog told Hazards. Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, USA, is critical of the firm's record in the US and the UK. 'The company is a renowned scofflaw that must be laughing all the way to the bank as it escapes any meaningful penalty over and over and over again,' she said.

Campaign slams 'devastating' schools asbestos findings

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been criticised for putting a positive spin on the 'devastating' findings of its investigation into asbestos management in independent, voluntary aided and foundation schools and academies. An analysis by the Asbestos in Schools campaign of survey data released by HSE concluded almost a third of independent schools inspected by HSE had enforcement action taken for criminal breaches relating to asbestos management. More than half of the schools that carry out their own building and maintenance work had not given their staff asbestos training. And 60 per cent of schools that are now academies had enforcement action taken against them. In addition, 110 schools required advice on improvements to their asbestos management. HSE's news release announcing the outcomes of its inspections of a random sample of 164 non-local authority schools had a more positive tone, describing the findings as 'encouraging' and noting 'most have adequate arrangements in place - though 17 per cent fell below acceptable standards in relation to management procedures... It served notices on 28 schools requiring them to improve arrangements for managing asbestos, and provided informal advice to a further 110.' This suggests only 16 per cent escaped without any HSE intervention at all. An Asbestos in Schools statement noted it was 'extraordinary that the HSE should herald these dreadful results as 'encouraging'.' It added: 'Because of HSE's mixed message the thousands of schools that contain asbestos could be left with the wrong impression that people's health is not at risk even when staff are not trained, do not know where the asbestos is in their school, and the school has no plan to manage its asbestos.' The campaign said HSE should instead give 'a clear, unambiguous, message that if you fail to manage asbestos you are putting your staff and pupils at risk.'

Questions remain about work cyanide death

Lawyers representing the devastated daughter of a man killed by exposure to cyanide at a major chemical firm have called for lessons to be learned. At the inquest into the death of Steven Murtagh, 52, a jury returned an open verdict, meaning there was not enough evidence to determine the circumstances around his death. However, the cause of the Lucite International employee's death on 7 September 2009 was confirmed as cyanide poisoning. Keith Cundall from the law firm Irwin Mitchell represented Mr Murtagh's daughter, Amy Murtagh, the inquest. He said there were unanswered questions surrounding the death and that a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report indicated there could have been failings in safety procedures at the plant in the lead-up to Mr Murtagh's death. HSE found possible problems with the use of protective gloves at the firm, recommending Lucite review its procedures. HSE also found Lucite's Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) assessment was not fully compliant and was critical of a Lucite decision to stop personal monitoring of employees to measure exposure to cyanide. Mr Cundall said: 'Mr Murtagh was a very experienced process engineer - he had worked at Lucite International for 25 years and there are several significant question marks around the circumstances of his tragic death.' He added: 'Nothing we do can bring Mr Murtagh back, but we can aim to provide a crumb of comfort to his daughter if we can instigate improvements to safety procedures that will help ensure nothing like this ever happens to anybody else.' In September 2011, HSE told the Hazards Campaign's Mick Holder it had not included the death in its list of work related fatalities because it was reported to HSE as a death by 'natural causes.' It added it would review the case after the inquest.

Cemex fined after man killed in explosion

A multinational cement firm has been fined £200,000 following the death of a worker in an explosion at its Rugby premises. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Cemex UK Operations Ltd, which makes cement and building products, after the death of 28-year-old Peter Reynolds on 15 January 2008. The force of the explosion was so great that it blew Mr Reynolds out through the side of the building onto the road ten metres below. Leamington Spa Crown Court heard Mr Reynolds, whose daughter Kayleigh was 18 months old at the time of his death, was treating waste cement dust in the bypass dust plant at the company's Rugby Cement Works. While he was clearing a blockage in the lower mixer, there was a violent explosion of steam and dust from inside the machine. HSE's investigation into the incident found that Cemex had recognised the potential for blockages to cause explosions as steam pressure built up within the mixer, but took no action to prevent them. The court also heard the company had failed to review its risk assessment following an incident in May 2006, when another man was injured using the same machine. This explosion bent a metal-cladded external wall, pushing it out by 50cm. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £172,000 costs.

CPS apologises to workplace victim's family

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has apologised to the family of a man killed at work, after admitting a catalogue of failings in its investigation into the death which meant manslaughter charges could not be brought. Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer issued an unreserved apology to the family of Mark Wright, who died in March 2005 at the Deeside Metal site near Chester after aerosols he had been ordered to crush exploded. The CPS initially ruled that neither Deeside Metal, aerosol manufacturer Jeyes nor his boss Robert Roberts should face manslaughter charges. Four years later, after a lengthy campaign by the Wright family, the CPS decided Mr Roberts should face manslaughter charges but a court ruled the delay meant any subsequent trial would be an 'abuse of process.' Jeyes, Deeside Metals and Mr Roberts were convicted of breaching health and safety laws in December 2010 (Risks 487). Mr Wright's mother, Dorothy Wright, told the Morning Star newspaper the apology 'brings to a close our battle for justice. I would hope that in future workplace killing will be considered as the serious crime that it truly is.' Ms Wright's constituency MP Katy Clark also welcomed the apology. she said it was 'long overdue' and would have not have been made but for tireless campaigning by Ms Wright and Families Against Corporate Killing (FACK), the campaign group of which Ms Wright is a founder member. FACK spokesperson Hilda Palmer said the acknowledgement of the 'specific and atrocious failure' in the case was crucial but prosecutors needed to go further in ensuring the way all work-related deaths are handled is vastly improved.

Thor hammered over major chemical incident

A multinational chemical manufacturer has been fined after a major incident at its factory in Cheshire put workers' lives in danger. Thor Specialities (UK) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a chemical reaction got out of control at its plant in Northwich, releasing toxic and flammable substances into the production area. Chester Crown Court heard the consequences of the incident on 23 August 2007 could have been fatal. An employee at the factory had been adding a solid chemical into a vessel containing a liquid, and wrongly assumed he could increase the rate at which the chemical was added when they initially failed to react. This led to an uncontrolled 'runaway reaction'. None of the workers were in the production hall when the alarms - set off by the incident - began to ring, but one of them returned to investigate. He was driven back by the fumes and fled from the building. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £15,000. HSE investigating inspector David Hair commented: 'It is only luck that none of Thor's staff were in the production hall at the time of the incident as it's unlikely they would have been able to escape unharmed without help. They would have been at serious risk from toxic chemical exposure, or a flash fire or explosion, if the flammable vapours released had ignited. They could easily have suffered permanent injuries or even been killed.' The reaction produced a large volume of formaldehyde, a chemical which is toxic, and which can cause respiratory problems, allergic reactions and cancer.

International News

Europe: Draft EMF law not good enough

A draft law to protect workers from electromagnetic fields (EMF) could leave workers at deadly risk, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has warned. The European Commission's draft directive, published in June, is 'short-changing workers' ETUC has charged, saying 'because it is based only on the work of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and of selected Member States, the proposed directive covers only the short-term effects of exposure. As a result, it disregards the long-term impacts on workers' health, despite the International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) opinion issued on 31 May this year that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields should be classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B)' (Risks 508). Union bodies including ETUC and the TUC have been critical of a decision made four years ago to put back the implementation deadline for an EU-wide law on EMFs from 2008 to 2012 (Risks 329). ETUC notes: 'The Electromagnetic Fields Directive should have been implemented in all Member States by 30 April 2008. This deadline was put back to 30 April 2012, and the Council asked the Commission to initiate a review process. This is unprecedented in matters of workers' health and safety.' The latest directive has to be formally approved and will then have an implementation date of 2016 - eight years after the original deadline for the introduction of legal protection from EMFs for workers. In December, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) - ETUC's research arm - will be hosting a trade union seminar on the proposal for a directive.

Global: Union safety deal with food giant Danone

Global union federation IUF has signed a wide-ranging health and safety agreement with Danone, the giant international food firm. The new document, signed this month by IUF general secretary Ron Oswald and Danone CEO Frank Riboud, covers workplace health, safety, working conditions and stress. An IUF statement notes: 'This agreement will have a direct, positive and concrete impact on the ground in workplaces where any such agreement will ultimately be tested. The active involvement of union members and their representatives in the processes outlined in the agreement represents an essential counterpart to management in the implementation of this agreement.' It adds: 'We welcome Danone's ongoing commitment to ensure that workers and their unions are provided every right and opportunity to play an active role in its practical application in Danone workplaces worldwide.' Clauses in the agreement include: 'IUF and Danone emphasise the need to involve trade unions and/or staff representative bodies at all stages of deliberation and action concerning health and safety at work. Furthermore, the parties agree on the importance, with the agreement of trade union and management, of having resort to experts (physicians, ergonomists, etc) for advice on specific issues concerning health, safety and working conditions.'

USA: The deadly Big Business 'four dog defense'

The ruses used by Big Business to frustrate, evade and stall regulation on toxic chemicals have been exposed in a new US report. 'The chemical industry delay game', published this week by the Washington DC-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), uses three case histories - formaldehyde, trichloroethylene (TCE) and styrene - which it says illustrate a larger systemic breakdown in desperate need of a fix. Report author Jennifer Sass notes: 'Our report outlines the 'Four Dog Defense' that big business has developed to defend its dangerous products, first tobacco, then asbestos, and now toxic chemicals generally: 1) My dog (product) doesn't bite, 2) My dog bites, but it didn't bite you, 3) My dog bit you, but it didn't hurt you, and 4) My dog bit you, and hurt you, but it wasn't my fault.' She adds: 'Skeptical? You should be!... Without government experts to assess the health harms of industrial chemicals, we have only industry science to turn to. If you think the government isn't looking out for you, do you think that the corporate boardrooms of America will do better?' According to Sass, the health of workers, families and communities will be left at the whim of the chemical industries if more isn't done to defend the official workplace and environmental agencies charged with protecting people from chemicals.

USA: Study shows safety inspections pay off

Official workplace safety inspections lead to dramatically reduced injury rates and big savings for firms, a US study has found. The findings come in an analysis of a decade's worth of data on safety inspections by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in Washington State. Researchers with the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) programme, L&I's research unit, examined L&I inspection data and workers' compensation claims from 1998 through 2008. The study found significant reductions in claims and claim costs following an official safety inspection or safety consultation. Under the US system, a company's insurance premiums are related to injury rates in its workplace. The SHARP researchers found the greatest impact came when an inspection resulted in at least one citation for a safety breach. In those cases, the research found a reduction in worker injury claims of as much as 20 per cent over similar work sites that were not inspected. The authors say their study bears out what other researchers around the country have found and what SHARP researchers have seen in previous annual reviews of the data. 'Safety is not always at the forefront of an employer's mind. But when a significant event takes place, like a serious injury or an L&I inspection, it can really get their attention,' said SHARP director Barbara Silverstein. 'This can lead to a greater recognition of what can be done in the workplace to reduce hazards, itself leading to safer workplaces and fewer injuries.'


Union to Union support for banana workers

There are a lot of hazards in banana production, from the liberal use of pesticides to the less than liberal employment practices pursued in the banana production supply chains. Banana Link supports the lobbying and advocacy work of eight Latin American union partners as well as developing and strengthening links with new union contacts in Cameroon, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Much of this work, which frequently includes action on health and safety problems, is supported by donations from unions, through the Banana Link 'Union to Union' programme. But Banana Link notes: 'The Union to Union programme will end in 2012 without further financial support. While we are working hard to secure funds from other sources, solidarity from rank and file members and union branches at the consumer end of the supply chain is at the heart of this programme.' The group has started an urgent appeal for funds.

Events and Courses

European Week for Safety and Health at Work, 24 -28 October

European Week for Safety and Health at Work, 24 -28 October, is almost upon us. For a second consecutive year, the theme is maintenance work. 'National inspection day', which has been strongly promoted by the TUC and has in recent years spurred a mass outbreak of workplace inspections by union safety reps countrywide, is on 26 October.

TUC courses for safety reps


Useful Links

  • Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
  • Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
  • HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Share this Page