Risks 530 - 5 November 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

DC deaths expose driverless train dangers

London Underground is on the verge of plunging the Capital's tube system into the same 'lethal combination' of safety cuts and automation that led to nine people being killed on the Washington DC Red Line service just over two years ago, Tube union RMT has warned. The union was commenting as the Transport for London (TFL) Board discussed this week a document entitled London Underground's 'operational vision', which flags up a future of driverless trains and destaffing of platforms and stations to save money. RMT says Tube bosses should heed the lessons from the Washington DC Metro system, which switched to manual operation in the wake of a horrific rush-hour crash in June 2009, which killed nine people, including the operator. The collision was caused by failure of the automated system in the comparatively modern 35-year-old DC system. It was described by the Washington Post as the 'price of parsimony' after numerous near-misses went unheeded against a background of cuts to maintenance schedules and inspections. RMT said this is exactly the same cuts-led culture now being imposed by London Underground (LU). RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'We need no more evidence of what happens when cuts-led automation and changes to maintenance are imposed from above than the tragedy on the Washington DC Red Line in June 2009.' He added: 'The same lethal combination of cuts and automation is now at the core of LU's strategic thinking and RMT will mount the fiercest opposition to these politically motivated plans that have more to do with next year's Mayoral election than they do with providing a safe transport service for London. RMT has already exposed attempts to tamper with the inspection schedules for the failsafe tripcocks and other cuts to maintenance schedules. This dicing with death on the London Underground has to stop before we have a major disaster on our hands.'

Guns onboard are not the only answer to piracy

Seafarers' union Nautilus has cautiously welcomed the prime minister's announcement that British-flagged vessels will be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirate attack - but believes there are still 'questions to be asked and concerns to be addressed.' The union's general secretary, Mark Dickinson said: 'There continue to be grave unanswered questions about liability and responsibility associated with the use of weapons onboard merchant ships.' He added: 'It's important to remember that for merchant seafarers, the problem of piracy is not simply confined to the immediate threat of attack and kidnap but also to health, safety and general welfare.' David Cockroft, general secretary of the global transport unions' federation ITF, said: 'Somali-based piracy has been allowed to become so successful, savage and wide-ranging that seafarers' and seafaring organisations' worries about armed guards have had to be set aside. However, guards can never be anything but a supplement to the sorely-tried existing naval presence, which is now trying to cover an entire ocean.' He said concerns remained, however. 'Sadly no move is without risks. Pirate gangs are making fortunes out of their crimes. It is easy for them to reach for heavier and heavier weapons and turn to obscene levels of violence to counter defensive measures. We welcome David Cameron's interest in maritime affairs, but we also have to warn him that the current defence cuts are likely to compromise the Royal Navy's ability to fight piracy.'

Two deaths in four days at Tilbury dock

A second death has occurred at Tilbury docks just days after an earlier fatality prompted the union Unite to call for action. The latest death came on 26 October, when a 68-year-old man died at a distribution centre at the docks while picking up a trailer load of paper. It is believed another trailer fell on the man, while he was outside his lorry. Unite had earlier vowed to 'leave no stone unturned' on vital safety questions after 'the loss of a comrade and union representative who was tragically killed in a workplace accident on Sunday 23 October.' Speaking on 26 October, Unite convenor at the port and Unite executive member for docks, Andy Green, said: 'Our members are deeply shocked that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has not responded to calls from Unite representatives at the port to launch an investigation, and that the company has chosen not to conduct a joint investigation alongside the Unite safety representatives, as set out in the company's own health and safety policy.' He added: 'We are at a loss then to know why the HSE will not speak to us, its behaviour is nothing short of shameful.' Unite's national officer for docks, Julia Long, called for health and safety action across all ports to reflect the dangers within the port industry. She said: 'The government has set the ports as a 'low risk' industry. This tragic incident shows that the government needs to have a rethink on its position. We are calling for the company to carry out a full investigation with our health and safety reps fully involved.' She added: 'Unite will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to understand how this terrible accident was able to happen.'

Dock worker's family get asbestos cancer payout

The family of a Humber shipyard welder who was killed by asbestos has received compensation. Lifelong GMB member Arthur Prestidge was 80 when he died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. He was diagnosed with the cancer in July 2010. He was exposed to asbestos whilst working as a welder and boilermaker for Humber Graving Docks in Immingham from 1951 to 1986. He worked on and off for the firm during that time and was exposed to the dust as he stripped asbestos lagging off pipes. His son David Winter said he was devastated when he was told about the diagnosis. Mr Winter, who also worked as a welder and is a GMB member, brought the claim on his mother's behalf. He said: 'My dad's illness and death happened so fast that claiming compensation was the last thing on his mind. Over the years I have watched my dad's friends and my own colleagues develop asbestos related disease so we knew that the GMB would be the best people to help us.' Andy Worth from the GMB said: 'Exposure to asbestos has caused serious health problems for many of our members who worked without any protection or warning of the dangers.' Steve Fitzwalter from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by GMB to act in the case, added: 'We know that this compensation can never make up for such a devastating personal loss but hope that it will bring some sense of closure for the family by holding his employers to account for his death.'

Electrician gets pay out for cancer that will kill him

A former electrician diagnosed with an invariably fatal asbestos related cancer has received £140,000 compensation from his former employer's insurers. The 76-year-old Unite member from Liverpool, whose name has not been released, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2010. He was exposed to asbestos whilst working as an electrician on government buildings maintenance contracts at Windsor View in Liverpool between 1966 and 1976. During his time he was never warned about the dangers of asbestos nor provided with any protection. He said: 'Asbestos was just part of the job. We were never told that it might affect our health in the future and we weren't provided with any protective gear. We just got on with the job.' He added: 'I am receiving chemotherapy and feel well at the moment. It was vital to me to claim compensation for my wife.' Thompsons Solicitors, brought in by Unite to act in the case, issued proceedings in the specialist mesothelioma list in the Royal Courts of Justice in London within five months of being instructed. The insurers settled the claim out of court shortly afterwards. Paul Finegan from Unite commented: 'This member was exposed to asbestos in the workplace at a time when employers knew about the dangers. By contacting the union he has received specialist legal assistance entirely free of charge.' Steven Dickens from Thompsons Solicitors said: 'Even though this electrician's employer no longer exists we were able to trace the insurers for the period he worked for them and as a result were able to settle his claim quickly during his lifetime.'

Other news

TUC warns that safety cuts will mean more injuries

The TUC has warned that cuts in enforcement could lead to an upturn in work-related deaths, sickness and injuries. The union body was commenting after official figures showed a fall last year in work-related ill-health and injuries. The statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) this week show that in 2010/11, 24,726 major injuries were reported by employers, at a rate of 99 injuries per 100,000 workers, compared with 26,268 in 2009/10, at a rate of 104.8. An estimated 1.2 million people said they were suffering from an illness caused or made worse by their work - 500,000 new illnesses occurring in-year - down from 1.3 million in 2009/10, said the report. The statistics show 171 workers were fatally injured - up from 147 the previous year. Deaths from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma reached a record 2,321 in 2009 (the latest year for which statistics are available), according to the report, up from a then record 2,263 in 2008. The toll of injury and ill-health resulted in 26.4 million working days being lost, an average of 15 days per case - 22.1 million to ill-health and 4.4 million to injury. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'These figures cover the period before government changes to the level of safety inspections were introduced. There is a very real danger that the long term downward trends in injury and illness rates that we have seen over recent years will start rising again, as has happened with fatalities.' He added: 'While any reduction is of course welcome, the cuts to the HSE budget, and the coalition government's retreat from inspection activity is very worrying for the future.'

HSE statistics 'spin' disputed by campaigners

Campaigners have disputed a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) headline claim that there has been a 'continued fall in workplace ill health and injury'. HSE made the claim in a news release for its annual statistics report, released this week. Hilda Palmer of the campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) told Hazards magazine that a fall in reported injuries at a time of rising fatalities 'should be ringing alarm bells rather than activating the spin cycle at the HSE.' She added: 'There is no attempt to relate any changes in figures with the massive drop in economic activity.' Job fear was a more likely cause of a drop in reported injuries, she said. While major injury figures had showed a marked downturn, the 1.3m reporting work-related ill-health did not reflect a 'continued fall', but a levelling off at between 1.2m and 1.3m cases for each of the last four years. Deaths from asbestos cancers had increased and were now at a record high. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'These shameful figures show that the combination of greedy employers and cuts to the safety inspection regime are leading to an increase in workplace deaths. The government should halt its cuts to the Health and Safety Executive and those arguing from the business lobby for further attacks on workers' rights should put a sock in it right now.' He added: 'As far as I know, no one ever died from a work-related injury in a company boardroom or on a bankers trading floor. This growing catalogue of workplace deaths shows in graphic detail that the corporate killers are literally getting away with murder.'

Clegg invited to find out the facts on enforcement

Nick Clegg's promise to small businesses that he will stop regulators 'breathing down your necks' (Risks 529) is based on a damaging 'caricature', the union representing Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors has said. Commenting on the deputy prime minister's speech last week to business groups, Prospect deputy general secretary Mike Clancy said the speech 'reinforced the need for a debate informed by facts rather than impression. Far from 'hounding' business, numerous reviews of HSE's activities... have illustrated the high level of support and respect for HSE and its appreciation of commercial reality.' He said with the lifespan of a small business averaging seven years 'they are more likely to fail than receive a visit from an HSE inspector.' Unite general secretary Len McCluskey also expressed concern at the deputy prime minister's comments. 'This red tape cutting exercise is no more than a red herring. Just like the other assaults on workers' rights perpetrated by this government, they will not create one single job. What they will do is put workers at risk and make them less able to speak up against abuse or neglect.' In an open letter, Prospect invited Mr Clegg to meet inspectors 'and discuss the reality of inspection, or suggest he accompanies an HSE inspector and discovers for himself how far removed their work is from the caricature of an organisation determined to undermine business and any return to prosperity.'

Tory self-regulation threat re-emerges

Ideas for business self-regulation floated by the Conservatives prior to and immediately after they won the election have resurfaced. Top Tories had talked of introducing a system of 'earned autonomy', where firms with better safety records could opt-out of official health and safety inspections. Other ideas included more partnership systems, along the lines of the contentious US voluntary protection programmes scaled back when President Obama came to power. The ideas re-emerged in a 1 November speech by business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk to the Local and National Regulators annual conference. He told regulators 'when regulation becomes heavy-handed, inefficient, prescriptive and risk-averse it drags down the ability of businesses to grow, prosper and create jobs.' He added: 'The challenge is to transform the regulatory landscape so that the system delivers essential protections whilst avoiding unnecessary interference in the day to day work of hard-working business people seeking to innovate and grow and thereby delivering the jobs and wealth we need.' Proposals highlighted by the minister included more use of 'co-regulation, where business shares a degree of regulatory responsibility, for example through industry bodies setting professional and working standards.' Also on his deregulatory wishlist was ''earned recognition' - where regulators recognise business activities that support compliance and reduce intervention, creating a stronger incentive for private sector led compliance.' Conservative and government talk of business self-regulation took a backseat in the months following the banking crisis, where the self-policing approach was widely blamed for the economic catastrophic and persisting downturn that followed. On 25 October, Downing Street announced former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Young had been re-appointed as an adviser to the prime minister on enterprise, indicating he 'will work on reducing the burden on business from health and safety regulations, working across departments on the implementation of his recommendations.'

Half of workers are ill-treated at work

Half of British workers have been ill-treated at work in the last two years, researchers have found, with several million also suffering from 'impossible workloads'. The study found 4.9 per cent of workers were victims of violence while 22.3 per cent said they were treated in a disrespectful or rude way. Over a quarter, 27 per cent, said they felt ignored. The study, by academics from Cardiff and Plymouth universities, used data from face-to-face interviews with 3,979 workers. It is based on data from the British Workplace Behaviour Survey, gathered in 2008. The team also looked in depth at four large employers, using them as case studies. Workers in the public sector were reported to be 'particularly at risk' of rudeness, disrespect, violence and injury. Disabled employees, those with long-term health problems and younger staff are all more likely to experience ill treatment at work, as were lesbian, gay and bisexual workers. The report claims around 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 British workers suffer from 'impossible workloads' and 'not being listened to'. Managers and supervisors were blamed for two-thirds of incidents of unreasonable behaviour. Professor Ralph Fevre of Cardiff University, one of the report's authors, said: 'Sadly, our study shows that violence, ill-treatment and unreasonable behaviour are all too common in Britain's workplaces.' He added: 'Many managers saw staff welfare as low on their list of priorities, while some even felt ill-treatment of staff was expected of them.'

  • Ralph Fevre, Duncan Lewis, Amanda Robinson and Trevor Jones, Insight into ill-treatment in the workplace: patterns, causes and solutions, 2011 [pdf] and Appendix: Respondents to the British Workplace Behaviour Survey [pdf]. BBC News Online.

Justice bill will 'punish innocent victims'

The government's controversial legal aid and sentencing changes have cleared the Commons, despite opposition from MPs of all parties and stern criticism from disability organisations and unions. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will now go to the Lords. Labour said justice secretary Ken Clarke's bill was 'bad for the most vulnerable in society.' It added that the legislation will make it harder for ordinary people to seek justice because of a decision to scrap no-win, no-fee cases. As well as making bringing a compensation case unaffordable for many, the bill would also see victims paying some costs out of any settlement, a move that provides no benefit to the government but substantial savings to the insurance industry. Labour, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru all expressed concerns about cuts to legal aid during the bill's three-day debate. In July, the TUC warned the bill would be bad news for many of the hundreds of thousands of people harmed by their work each year (Risks 515). And ahead of this week's vote, charities warned the bill would deny justice to victims of catastrophic injuries, violent bereavement, and terminal occupational diseases. The warning was issued by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum (AVSGF), Aspire, the Child Brain Injury Trust, Headway, RoadPeace and the Spinal Injuries Association in a joint statement. AVSGF chair Tony Whitson said: 'This bill misses the target: it punishes innocent victims instead of tackling real issues with the system, such as irresponsible claims marketing and fraudulent claims.' Brain injury association Headway chief executive Peter McCabe added: 'It is illogical to shift the cost of providing access to justice from civil wrongdoers to wronged and injured claimants.'

LibDems oppose safety rep protection

LibDems in the European Parliament have voted with centre right parties to ensure the failure of a proposal to protect workplace safety reps from blacklisting and victimisation. Last week's vote in Strasbourg followed a debate on a mid-term review of the European Union's health and safety strategy. Glenis Willmott MEP, leader of the Labour group in Europe, tabled the proposal calling for an amendment to Europe's workplace safety directive 'to prevent the victimisation, dismissal or the refusal of employment or 'blacklisting' of workers or their representatives.' The failure of the proposal leaves rogue employers free to dismiss and blacklist workers who raise concerns about safety without any fear of legal repercussions, said the Blacklist Support Group. In June, Glenis Willmott and her Labour colleague in the European Parliament Stephen Hughes introduced a delegation from the group to the EU commissioner for employment and social affairs. It was hoped this meeting would lead to firm action from Europe. Brian Higgins, a blacklisted bricklayer and a member of the Blacklist Support Group's June delegation, described the actions of the LibDem MEPs as 'a kick in the teeth for honest workers prepared to take a stand to protect the lives of their workmates. But we will keep on campaigning against the evil scourge of blacklisting by big business until we finally get some justice.'

Chemical reaction keeps painter out of work

A painter who developed a reaction to epoxy paints has had to give up his trade as result. The 61-year-old from South Tyneside, whose name has not been released, developed a sensitivity to the paint after 40 years in the trade. The problem started with a rash on his face after he used industrial paint made by Leights, whilst working for Barrier UK as a subcontractor at BAE Systems in Cumbria. He had the wrong type of safety mask to protect him from the epoxy resin in the paint. After developing symptoms, he was given steroid cream by his work's GP and was removed from working with paint. Despite no longer working directly with epoxies, over the course of the next few weeks he developed the rash on four other occasions, and it took five days each time for it to clear up. In total he had to take 12 days off work. He can no longer work with industrial paint. He commented: 'It's a difficult time to find work as it is at the moment and the fact that I can no longer work in my lifelong trade is making it even harder for me.' He has now received a £15,000 out of court settlement from Barrier UK. His lawyer, Sean Cook from Thompsons Solicitors, said the former painter 'has left with a lifelong sensitivity to industrial paint and blighted his future employment prospects. Retraining at a time when you should be preparing for retirement is very hard.'

Asbestos deaths claim non-industrial workers

As new figures reveal asbestos cancers are claiming a record number of lives, the deaths of a nurse and a police officer from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma indicate how widespread the problem has become. Former nurse Shirley Burns died aged 71, after being exposed to asbestos in the tunnels of the hospitals in which she trained, an inquest heard last week. The district coroner for North East Lincolnshire, Paul Kelly, overruled consultant pathologist Dr William Peters who, following a post-mortem examination, said the mesothelioma was the 'rare and spontaneous' result of natural causes. Instead, Mr Kelly said he believed it was the result of exposure to asbestos - and therefore industrially related - after hearing Mrs Burns worked in the London training hospitals. In a second case, asbestos widow Frances Dodd, 73, said this week she is determined to discover how her partner Frank, 73, caught mesothelioma. He joined West Midlands Police in 1956 before retiring in 1990, dying of the asbestos cancer in 2009. An inquest last year ruled he had died of an industrial disease. 'Frank was a policeman, not a factory worker so I don't understand how he could have got the disease,' she said. 'But I have got no doubt he contracted this while serving as a policeman. There were multiple times he was exposed to asbestos over the years.' Hayley Hill, of Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, who represents Frances, said: 'We're keen to speak to anyone who worked at Steelhouse Lane police station in the 1970s, as there are confirmed reports there was asbestos present in the building during this period. ''We would also be keen to hear from anyone who can provide information regarding building work that went on in that building, or any other buildings owned or used by West Midlands Police, where Mr Dodd was stationed between 1956 and 1990.'

Firm fined after slow motion fatality

A firm has been fined after an employee suffered mortal injuries in a workplace fall, but this death will not appear in the Health and Safety Executive's statistics because the worker took too long to die. J Mills (Contractors) Ltd was fined £145,000 plus £7,700 costs after Alan Kerwin, 32, fell 10 metres through a fragile roof onto a concrete floor and died two years later from his injuries. Manchester Crown Court heard that the father-of-one sustained several serious injuries in the fall on 31 March 2007, including a fractured skull. He developed post-traumatic epilepsy as a result of his injuries, and was never able to return to work. He died from an epileptic seizure in April 2009. The court heard that Kerwin's line manager had received advice from HSE just one week before the incident which could have saved his life. An HSE inspector explained to him how to safely manage work on fragile roofs, but this advice was not acted upon. J Mills (Contractors) Ltd admitted criminal safety breaches. After the hearing, David Norton, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'Just one week before, Mr Kerwin's line manager was advised by a colleague of mine about the dangers of working at height, and how to protect employees. If he had acted on this advice then I'm confident Mr Kerwin would still be alive today.' In a statement to Hazards magazine, HSE confirmed: 'This incident does not appear in the HSE fatality statistics,' adding employers are only 'obliged under RIDDOR to notify the death, provided it occurs within one year of the date of the accident.'

Engineering firm fined after crushing death

An engineering firm has been fined £180,000 after an employee was crushed to death by a 1.5-tonne steel frame. Parker Plant Ltd, a Leicester-based manufacturer of quarrying plant and equipment, was prosecuted after the incident on 13 December 2008 that claimed the life of Michael Tilley, 55. Mr Tilley, who was working overtime, was killed instantly when one of two 1.5 tonne structures being lifted by a travelling crane became dislodged and fell on his head. Leicester Crown Court heard Mr Tilley and a colleague had been attempting to load the large parts of structural steelwork into a shipping container using an overhead crane. HSE told the court that neither Mr Tilley nor his colleague had received the proper training on how to plan and manage such a complex lifting operation, nor had they had any information on the size, weight or centre of gravity of the load which would have enabled them to sling the load correctly. They had been working with an incorrect diagram that showed the two steelwork structures fitting on top of each other, which in fact was not possible. The structures were not strapped together meaning the load was unstable and liable to fall unexpectedly. The work was not properly planned or supervised and the lifting equipment provided to do the job was defective. Parker Plant Ltd pleaded guilty on 2 September to a criminal safety breach and was this week fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £47,500 costs. HSE principal inspector Sue Thompson commented: 'Because of this company's failures, one man lost his life and another will have to live with the after effects of witnessing such a horrific incident.' After the hearing, Mr Tilley's mother Doreen Upton said: 'The penalty imposed on the firm will never bring him back but we are pleased that the seriousness of what happened that day has been recognised by the court.'

Pet food firm fined after crushing death

A factory worker was killed when his neck was crushed by a pneumatic hatch on a pet food mixing machine. Ipswich Crown Court heard that mill operator Terrence Gardiner, 61, was believed to be attempting to retrieve a plastic jug that had fallen into the machine when the incident happened on 19 May 2009. HG Gladwell and Sons Ltd, which manufactures animal feed and pet food at Copdock Mill just outside Ipswich, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to ensure the sliding hatch on the top of the machine was safe. Mr Gardiner's workmates found their colleague lying face down on top of the mixing machine with his head and right arm trapped by the pneumatic hatch. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. The firm admitted a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay £20,437.40 costs. Glyn Davies, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: 'There were measures the company could have put in place to prevent access to the top of the mixer, such as sufficient guarding, a remotely positioned operating switch or a grille over the sliding pneumatic hatch itself. They singularly failed to implement any of these straightforward protective measures.'

International News

Cambodia: Mass fainting follows use of insecticide

The latest mass fainting incident at a Cambodian factory supplying major high street stores has been linked to the use of an insecticide. More than 100 workers collapsed at the Anful Garments Factory in Kampong Speu on 24 October after the cloth they were working with was sprayed with insecticide the previous day, a senior provincial health official said. Or Vanthen, director of the Kampong Speu provincial health department, said 144 workers from the factory in Samrong Tong district's Sambo commune were hospitalised but were not in danger and would be given a day off to rest. 'Those workers were not in serious condition. They were just having difficulty breathing and dizziness. Chemical substance was sprayed on the cloth to protect it from being destroyed by insects,' he said. Chea Mony, president of Cambodia's Free Trade Union, claimed said more than 1,000 workers had collapsed after the company refused to let 20 employees leave who had collapsed at about 8am in the morning. Unconfirmed reports have said some workers suffered serious health effects.

China: Gas explosion kills 29 in coal mine

A deadly blast at a coal mine in southern China has killed 29 people. The gas explosion took place at a colliery in Hunan province, Chinese state media reported. Six miners were being treated in hospital after being rescued from the Xialiuchong Coal Mine, owned by the Hengyang city government. The BBC website reports that China's mines are the deadliest in the world, although the number of miners killed has been falling in recent years. In 2010, 2,433 people died in coal mines in China, although this was an improvement on the toll of 2,631 a year earlier. The industry's safety record has improved in recent years as smaller, illegal mines have been closed, but labour rights groups say the actual death toll is likely much higher than official statistics, partly due to under-reporting of incidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses and avoid punishment. Reported annual fatalities are about now at about one-third of the high of nearly 7,000 who died in 2002.

USA: Green building standard linked to job hazards

A scheme designed to encourage energy efficient 'green' buildings could be leading to increased health and safety problems for those making the buildings green. The union backed safety research organisation CPWR says green construction 'is perhaps the most important trend in today's building industry.' It points to the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme, which has become a runaway success in the US and which is influencing practices in Europe and elsewhere. LEED gives owners, architects and builders a scorecard to measure the environmental impact of their construction projects - for example, giving them 'credits' toward a valuable LEED gold rating when they make a reflective roof, install solar panels, or recycle materials. CPWR warns, however, 'it seems that the very measures that the USGBC promotes can increase problems for construction workers on the job.' It says this was the conclusion to a study undertaken with support from CPWR. However CPWR said there were signs of progress, noting US Green Building Council is now 'exploring the idea of LEED credits awarded for worker health and safety. And it just makes sense. Green building is here to stay, and that's a good thing. But shouldn't the same system that tries to protect building tenants from breathing toxic vapours protect workers from toxic vapours as well? Why shouldn't we try to save workers' lives while we are saving the earth?'

USA: Death mine security boss guilty of cover-up

The former director of security at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine has been found guilty of lying to US federal agents and destroying documents sought by investigators looking into a deadly blast. Twenty-nine miners were killed in a 2010 explosion at the West Virginia Mine. Hughie Elbert Stover faces up to 25 years in prison after being convicted on two felony counts of making a false statement and trying to cover up records in a federal investigation. Sentencing is scheduled for 29 February 2012. At press conference following the verdict, US Attorney Booth Goodwin said: 'This will send a very clear message that this is way too important an investigation to obstruct. We need to get to the bottom of what circumstances led to this explosion and who was responsible.' Stover is the second person convicted in what government officials have described as a widespread criminal probe of the worst US coalmining disaster in four decades. Last month, Upper Big Branch miner Thomas Harrah was sentenced to 10 months in jail. Harrah pleaded guilty to faking a foreman's licence when he performed key mine safety examinations in 2008 and 2009, and to then lying to investigators about his actions. The same day as the Stover verdict, the United Mine Workers union (UMWA) released its 'Industrial Homicide' report on the blast, labelling Massey 'a rogue corporation, acting without real regard for mine safety and health law and regulations' (Risks 529). State and federal investigations into the mine disaster are continuing.

Events and Courses

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