Risks 534 - 3 December 2011

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

Union News

Report supports safety law; ministers see red tape

A government commissioned report that concluded Britain's workplace safety laws 'are broadly right' and which found 'little evidence' they are 'goldplated' is being used by the government to attack those laws and to skew the system away from employer responsibility and towards 'personal responsibility'. Responding to the Löfstedt report, the government said it would begin 'a major cut back of health and safety red tape as early as January' and 'will begin an immediate consultation on the abolition of large numbers of health and safety regulations and intends to have removed the first rules from the statute book within a few months.' It says 'health and safety regulations will be reduced by a third rising to over a half over the next 3 years, through combining, simplifying and reducing the approximately 200 existing regulations.' These measures were not called for in Professor Ragnar Löfstedt recommendations, which found instead there is 'no case for radically altering health and safety legislation'. The government also said from 1 January it will establish a new 'challenge panel', another measure going beyond anything recommended by Löfstedt. Ministers say the panel 'will allow businesses to get the decisions of health and safety inspectors overturned immediately if they have got it wrong.' The government's intention to go well beyond the recommendations of the report were confirmed this week in chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement, in which he stated the government 'accept the recommendations of Professor Löfstedt's review of health and safety regulation and look to go further as part of the Red Tape Challenge.' Employment minister Chris Grayling, speaking at the launch of the review findings, said the government would 'ensure our reforms put an emphasis on personal responsibility,' adding the government would implement the report's most controversial recommendation, to exempt self-employed workers from health and safety law where their work 'poses no potential risk of harm' to others. 'By accepting the recommendations of Professor Löfstedt we are putting common sense back at the heart of health and safety,' the minister said. 'Our reforms will root out needless bureaucracy and be a significant boost to the million self-employed people who will be moved out of health and safety regulation altogether.' The review was commissioned by the government in March, but with a remit limited to making recommendations on reducing health and safety burdens on business (Risks 534).

Safety report ducks the real issues, says TUC

The TUC has welcomed the Lofstedt report's conclusion that the UK's health and safety laws 'are broadly right', but it says it has major concerns that the proposals to exempt some self-employed workers could have a 'devastating impact' on their safety. The union body is also disappointed that the report makes no suggestions as to how the protection of employees in the workplace could be improved. Commenting on conclusions of the government-commissioned report, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said 'Professor Lofstedt was only asked to look at the 'burden' on business, not the burden that the failings in the current system have placed on the two million people whose health has been made worse because of their work. Nor has it considered the more than 20,000 people whose lives are cut short every year as a result of a preventable work-related injury or illness. Because of this, not one life will be saved as a result and not one injury or illness prevented. This is very much a missed opportunity.' The union leader also expressed concern at the proposal to remove up to one million self-employed workers from the protection of current safety laws. 'These people, who often work in the most dangerous of jobs, are already much more likely to be killed or injured. There is little doubt that removing the self-employed from the regulations will increase their risk of illness and injury and lead to a rise in the number of bogus self-employed in sectors like construction,' he said. 'While we welcome comments in the report on the need to address the major occupational health problems in the UK and to support union safety representatives, it is regrettable that no recommendations have been made on how to go about doing this. It is time the government stopped tinkering around with regulations to save business from non-existent 'red-tape' and instead started looking at what positive steps it could take to improve Britain's health and safety record.'

Ruse to 'smuggling in' safety reforms condemned

Unions have condemned government proposals to remove over a third of Britain's health and safety regulations as part of a raft of legal reforms planned for 2015. Mike Clancy, deputy general secretary of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) union Prospect, said: 'The government has clearly not got what it wanted from Löfstedt, and has now stated that its efforts will not stop with the actions outlined in the professor's report. The government's announcement of challenge panels from January 2012 is an example of it choosing to use the scope of a policy review to smuggle in other reforms without consulting.' He added: 'It is not regulation but non-compliance and poor interpretation of the rules by employers that should be the government's greatest concern. It must not use these findings to blame workers in situations where their employer is at fault, or to justify any idea that health and safety is a burden on business.' Unite said it detected 'a desire from government for 'a mosaic of erosion' in long-established health and safety legislation under the cloak of cutting alleged 'red tape'.' In comments echoed by campaign groups including the Hazards Campaign and Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: 'Under the spurious cloak of cutting alleged 'red tape' for employers, the government is set to embark on a series of changes that will endanger the lives and health of the 29 million Britons in the workplace. Ministers want to take workplace safety back to Victorian times and tip the legislative balance away from employees in favour of those employers who put cost-cutting and the pursuit of profits first and safety in the workplace second.' The Unite leader added: 'This disturbing trend must be resisted - and Unite will be in the forefront of that struggle in the workplace and in parliament.' RMT union general secretary Bob Crow said: 'In the rail, shipping and offshore industries, health and safety isn't some sort of joke to be ridiculed by Tory MPs, it's a lifesaver. The ConDem government seems determined to give bad bosses a licence to kill.' UCATT acting general secretary George Guy added: 'Yet again the focus is on reducing burdens on business rather than concentrating on the safety of workers.'

Safety reps spread on Virgin territory

Health and safety is helping build union influence in parts of a communication giant which has demonstrated 'residual resistance' to the union. CWU has more than doubled the number of union health and safety reps in Virgin Media to 17, with 10 new reps recently put through their paces in an intensive five-day union-run training course. Jeff Moffitt, the union's lead health and safety rep in the firm, said the course covered 'the practicalities of how you do risk assessments, the channels of communication when you are working on health and safety issues and what you can and can't do in the role - but also a session on how to organise the union in the workplace.' The union said Virgin Media's close co-operation with the CWU on health and safety issues 'is helping to cut through residual company resistance to the CWU in the ex-NTL parts of the business, as opposed to the ex-Telewest side where the union has been recognised for years.' CWU organiser Elaine Taylor said: 'The differentiation just doesn't seem to be there in health and safety. Virgin Media has clearly realised that there's a value in our involvement, and the course we've put together is specially tailored for, and designated to, Virgin Media safety reps. It's a great opportunity for our reps to come together and share experiences - and, of course, it's fully endorsed by Virgin. Prior to the latest course we only had seven trained health and safety reps across Virgin Media. That's now been more than doubled, and we're already starting to take names for the next course.'

Serious questions after Irish Sea tragedy

Transport union RMT has said the investigation into the sinking of a cargo vessel in the Irish Sea must answer some 'serious questions' about the adequacy of maritime safety regulation and enforcement. Six of the eight Russian crew members on the Swanland died after it was hit by a huge wave on 27 November. Two were rescued from the sea by an RAF helicopter. RMT says there had previously been 'serious questions' about the age and condition of the vessel and its history of problems at sea. The union is also concerned the ship was 20 miles out to sea at all, on a night when severe gales were forecast. It added that the weight of the limestone cargo aboard the vessel and its loading had been raised with RMT by concerned locals in North Wales. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This tragic incident throws into the spotlight once again the ever-present dangers for seafarers and the critical importance of a tightly-policed safety and inspection regime and serves as a warning to anyone proposing cuts to the coastguard and search and rescue services.' RMT national secretary Steve Todd said it was 'essential that all the questions that are being raised as to how this tragedy happened, and whether it could have been avoided, are answered fully and openly by those conducting the investigation and we are sure that all parties will want to learn lessons for the future to help prevent further loss of life.'

Ferry victimisation vote goes ahead

A ballot for strike action and action short of a strike by all members on Wightlink's Portsmouth routes started this week, over what the union RMT describes as the victimisation and unfair dismissal of an RMT union representative who raised safety concerns. Paul Kelly, whose name was originally kept under wraps for legal reasons (Risks 533), was dismissed by the company 'on blatant and trumped up charges when his only real crime was actively supporting his members and following the democratically agreed policies of the union,' the union says. RMT says it believes Paul's real 'crime' was that he had been instrumental in leading a union campaign challenging 'management deficiencies' which had led to the intervention of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency 'on the grounds of safety.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Paul Kelly's case is one of the most blatant examples of victimisation for union activities you will ever come across.' He added: 'The events leading up to our member's dismissal appear farcical, with informal advice suddenly escalated to dismissal, and clearly show an employer jumping at the opportunity to remove an effective representative.'

Injured man can no longer drive lorries

A worker's career as an HGV driver was brought to a premature end after he badly broke his wrist at work. Unite member Peter Stocks, 63, from Newton Alfreton in Derbyshire, is now unable to drive HGVs after suffering the injury, which led to two operations on his right wrist. He has been told he will never be able to lift with the arm and that he will need a third operation in the future. Whilst making a delivery for Alfreton-based manufacturer Recticel, he was injured as he attempted to move 150 kilos of foam from his lorry. When he pulled on string holding the foam together it snapped and he fell backwards, landing heavily on his wrist. He was forced to take three months off work and although he has returned he can only drive smaller vehicles. In a union-backed compensation case, Recticel admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £23,000. Mr Stocks said: 'All my life I've driven large vehicles like HGVs or JCBs. It was quite a shock to never be able to do that again it makes me worried about my employability in the future. My injury has affected every part of my life. I can't do simple things like gardening or lift pans for cooking. Fortunately my family have been a great support. Additionally my employer has provided me with a Sprinter van so I can continue with my work, something I'm very grateful for.' Adrian Axtell, regional secretary at Unite, said: 'A man with a career in professional driving has been left unable to work to his full capacity because of an injury which could have been avoided. Safer bindings would have avoided the accident all together and Recticel need to look at their procedures as part of their health and safety responsibilities.'

Warning as deadly stress set to soar

Unions and campaigners have warned of soaring stress levels among both the employed and unemployed as government-imposed cuts take hold. Thousands of workers are either worrying about losing their jobs or facing longer hours, increased workloads, wage reductions and reduced pensions while increasing bills and rocketing unemployment add to the misery, say occupational stress campaigners. Speaking before the UK National Work Stress Network's annual conference last month, network co-ordinator Ian Draper said: 'Survey after survey tells us what we've known all along - work is getting more and more stressful. It is no surprise our website is regularly visited by over 15,000 people every month. People at work are feeling the pain and an increase in work-related suicides is the awful evidence of how much pain. For those people whose job is on the line it is worse. For the unemployed it must be unbearable.' Unite's senior health officer Rachael Maskell stated: 'The recession has brought widespread job and financial insecurity with rising inflation, capped wages alongside increases in pension contributions and extension to working lives.' She added: 'There are continuous attacks on employment rights and insidious, pernicious assaults on the entire health and safety agenda. Overall workers are being exposed to greater and greater risks.' Hazards Campaign spokesperson Nick Green said: 'We see ourselves as central to the struggle against the austerity measures being thrust upon us by government who failed to stop the gamblers of the finance industry from robbing us all. We should not be paying for others' criminality or negligence.'

Other news

Government axes apprenticeship safety measure

The government says it is to end apprenticeship health and safety measures that 'go beyond' the legal minimum and that were introduced after a spate of deaths in 2003. Business secretary Vince Cable told an Association of Colleges conference last month that from the start of 2012, training providers and employers offering apprenticeships will no longer have to comply with any requirements that go 'above and beyond' health and safety legislation. Announcing measures forming part of the government's Plan for Growth, Vince Cable said: 'From the start of 2012, training providers and employers will no longer have to comply with any requirements which go above and beyond health and safety legislation.' The commitment was repeated by the chancellor George Osborne this week in his Autumn statement. He said the government would 'remove all unnecessary health and safety requirements for apprenticeships', a move Unite said 'heralds a steady erosion of health and safety legislation.' The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) currently expects training providers and the employers they work with to meet not only the health and safety standards required for all employees but also additional requirements for apprentices. As part of the measures, which were not subject to a government consultation, it is believed the 25-strong SFA safety unit that monitored apprenticeship safety standards has already been dismantled. The enhanced health and safety regime was introduced in response to nine work-related fatalities among apprentices in 2003. The move was welcomed by Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce, who said 'health and safety constraints' were an obstacle to small firms. But it was criticised by safety professionals' organisation IOSH. Head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: 'Inexperienced workers are more at risk of workplace accidents and need to be properly trained and supervised. This is nothing to do with 'red tape' - it's just common sense and sensible preservation of life and limb. Sadly, over the last decade, we've seen, on average, five under-19-year-olds killed at work, 1,257 major injuries and 3,917 over-three-day injuries annually. We need to do better than this.'

Massive blade cuts off three fingers

A Rochdale engineering firm has been fined for criminal safety breaches after an unsupervised young worker had three fingers cut off by an industrial saw. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought the prosecution against Adelaide Engineering Company Ltd after the 21-year-old from Bury, whose name has not been released, lost parts of three fingers on his left hand. Trafford Magistrates' Court was told the blade was 64cm long but was being used to cut a piece of steel with a width of just 5cm. There was no adjustable guard in place around the part of the blade not being used, putting workers at risk. HSE's investigation found the employee had not received any instruction or training on how to use the saw safely. He had also been left unsupervised at the time on the incident on 21 October 2010. Adelaide Engineering Company Ltd admitted criminal safety breaches relating to its failure to adequately assess the risks, and a failure to take action to ensure the safety of employees. The firm, which produces materials for the aerospace, nuclear, oil and gas industries, was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £2,514 in prosecution costs on 25 November 2011. Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at HSE, Laura Moran, said: 'It's astonishing that an employee was left to work unsupervised on the saw, despite not having any previous experience or receiving any training on how to use it safely. As a result, he has lost parts of three fingers on his left hand and will have to live with the injury for the rest of his life.'

Illegal distillery gang jailed

Five men who masterminded a major counterfeit vodka manufacturing and bottling plant in Leicestershire, have been sentenced to a total of 17 years and ten months. A sixth man will be sentenced on 5 December 2011. The plot was uncovered in 'an unregulated and fire hazardous' industrial unit by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) when they carried out raids in September 2009. They seized nine thousand bottles of fake vodka, branded as Glen's, manufacturing equipment, bottles and counterfeit packaging at the remote industrial unit at Moscow Farm near Great Dalby, Leicestershire. The court heard there was a complete lack of any fire safety measures in the unit, posing a serious and life threatening hazard. The alcohol vapour alone could have triggered a major explosion if the lights had been switched on or a naked flame or cigarette had been lit. Simon De Kayne, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said the 'substantial' operation 'was set up without any thought for the safety of those working there or in the area nearby.' On sentencing, Judge J Sampson said: 'This was fraud on an industrial scale.' He added there were five areas of concern: 'The high loss to the taxpayer; the duping of the public; the danger to the public, particularly as bleach was added; the undermining of the genuine brand and danger to the workforce in the factory.' On 13 July 2011, five men were killed and another seriously injured in an explosion at what is believed to have been another clandestine distillery in an industrial unit in Boston, Lincolnshire (Hazards 115).

Litany of mistakes led to 16 helicopter deaths

Confusion, mistakes and miscommunication led to plans to replace a helicopter's faulty gearbox being scrapped - a week before the system suffered a catastrophic failure, claiming the lives of 16 workers (Risks 401). An official report released last week said the Super Puma helicopter disintegrated as it plummeted from 2,000ft into the North Sea at 170 knots, after its main rotor gearbox failed and its massive rotor blades ripped from the body of the aircraft and severed the tail from the fuselage. A detailed report into the 1 April 2009 tragedy, published by the government's Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), pinpointed a series of misunderstandings, mistakes and failures in communication that led to the root cause of the gearbox failure going undetected. The AAIB report reveals that evidence of potential problems in the gearbox had gone undetected during a maintenance inspection on 25 March 2009 - exactly a week before the disaster. That failure followed an exchange of emails and telephone conversations between the manufacturer, Eurocopter, and the helicopter operator, Bond. The AS332L2 Super Puma, with two pilots and 14 oil workers on board, had been on a routine flight to Aberdeen heliport from the Miller platform when it crashed, 11 miles north-east of Peterhead. The report lists a total of 17 recommendations for safety-related improvements. Because the deaths were investigated by AAIB, they did not appear in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures for work-related fatalities. It was the biggest offshore loss of life since the Piper Alpha tragedy, which claimed 167 lives in 1988.

Demolition body suspends death firm

The National Federation of Demolition Contractors has suspended Essex demolition member Micor pending the outcome of a probe by its accident investigation committee into the death of one of the firm's workers in 2006. Gary Drinkald, 43, was killed when a concrete beam fell and crushed him on a site in Basildon. Following a Health and Safety Executive investigation, Micor was fined £100,000 in March 2011 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs (Risks 498).Trade journal Construction Enquirer reports that although the company remains listed on the NFDC website while those investigations take place, the listing has been clearly marked 'membership suspended'. NFDC president Gary Bishop commented: 'As a federation, we believe that the welfare of demolition workers is of paramount importance and that it must be safeguarded at all costs.' He added: 'While we do not question the findings of the HSE investigation, we feel that a further investigation is required to ensure that there is no repeat of this tragic incident in the future. Of course, we do not take the suspension of a member lightly but, in this instance, we believe that it would be in the best interests of all concerned if Micor's membership was temporarily suspended while that investigation takes place.'

Defunct firm fined £5,000 over fatal crushing

A south Wales company has been fined after a worker was crushed to death by falling machinery in 2009. Gareth Young, a 60-year-old grandfather from Beaufort in Ebbw Vale, was working at Moulded Paper Ltd on 4 August 2009, when an unsecured electrical control cabinet weighing just over half a tonne, fell on him. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Mr Young was in the process of removing sheet steel from the disused cabinet for re-use. The cabinet had been propped up against a wall and was unsecured after being left behind by machinery removal men who had visited the factory some months earlier. Cardiff Crown Court heard that, during Mr Young's efforts to remove the sheet steel, the cabinet slid away from the wall, crushing him underneath. Despite attempts by a specialist fire service team to rescue him, Mr Young suffered fatal injuries. IMCO Limited, trading as Moulded Paper Ltd, has now gone into liquidation. In its absence, the firm was found guilty of a criminal safety breach. Judge Christopher Llewellyn-Jones QC handed down a fine of £5,000, but told the court that the fine should not reflect the seriousness with which he viewed the matter. The judge awarded costs of £36,571. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Trevor Hay said: 'This was a tragic death that could have so easily been prevented.' He added: 'A competent risk assessment would have revealed the instability of the electrical control cabinet that fell on Mr Young and the need for it to be secured to prevent it from falling.'

Serious safety failings blight basement jobs

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors took enforcement action on more than a third of sites visited during an initiative last month to improve standards on basement construction sites. Inspectors visited 109 sites in four London boroughs on 15 and 16 November. They took enforcement action at 40 sites (37 per cent) after discovering criminal breaches of safety regulations, serving a total of 78 notices, two-thirds of them the more serious prohibition notices. At four projects, conditions were so dangerous that inspectors were forced to close the entire site. More than half of the 53 prohibition notices served, requiring a dangerous work activity to stop immediately, dealt with real risks of workers falling from height, either into unfenced excavations or through unprotected floor openings. HSE principal inspector Andrew Beal commented: 'Safety standards in many basement projects are well short of acceptable, as our inspection initiative shows. Companies constructing basements must not be complacent about the risks.' As a result of poor standards found during the inspections, HSE has arranged a free awareness event open to all those involved in basement construction, including contractors, project managers and designers, on 19 January 2012 at Wandsworth Town Hall.

Companies fined after Arsenal stadium amputation

Three construction companies have been fined after a worker helping build Arsenal's Ashburton Grove stadium was injured so badly his leg had to be amputated. A dumper truck drove over the right leg of Michael O'Donovan, 41, while he was kneeling to clean steel shuttering used to form reinforced structures and pillars. His injuries were so severe his leg required amputation above the knee. His pelvis was also fractured in the incident on 30 June 2005. Principal contractor Sir Robert McAlpine Limited and sub-contractors McNicholas Plc (now Skanska Utilities Ltd) and Maylim Limited were all prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over the incident. The City of London Magistrates' Court heard the HSE investigation showed all three companies had failed to ensure vehicles and pedestrians were properly segregated on site. It also found the cleaning of shuttering was neither properly planned nor carried out safely. Following the hearing, HSE inspector Loraine Charles said: 'None of these three companies had carried out a meaningful assessment of the risk to workers of being struck by plant in general and the dumper in particular.' Sir Robert McAlpine Limited was fined £19,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. Sub-contractor Skanska Utilities Limited was fined £17,000 and costs of £10,000. Maylim Limited, sub-contracted by McNicholas Plc to undertake the work on the South Bridge area of the site, was fined £18,000 with costs of £10,000.

International News

Australia: Strike victory at deadly chicken plant

Staff who had to hide serious injuries at an Australian poultry plant or risk dismissal, have won protection from victimisation and better wages after taking action. The agreement came after a 13-day blockade of the Baiada Poultry plant by picketers and supporters. The firm admitted the action caused serious disruption to the company's ability to meet its contracts with major supermarkets, and went to the courts to get the protesters removed. National Union of Workers (NUW) had estimated that at any one time, at least 10 per cent of staff were absent due to a work-related injury. One worker, Sarel Singh, was decapitated at the Laverton North plant in 2010. A spokesperson for the official safety watchdog WorkSafe Victoria said it was still investigating Sarel Singh's death and added it had been notified of seven safety incidents at the plant since 2008, including the fatality and a broken leg. Since December 2008, WorkSafe has visited Baiada eight times, issuing 29 improvement notices and one prohibition notice. The full extent of problems at the plant may be hidden, however. Staff on the picket line reported covering up injuries for fear of being fired. NUW believes a major problem was job insecurity, with nearly half the workforce at Laverton North engaged as contractors, cash-in-hand workers or from labour hire firms, with some paid below minimum wage. On 22 November, the striking Baiada workers won their demand for temporary staff to be paid the same rates as permanent staff, and for an improvement in rights to redundancy and representation.

Canada: Child pleads for end to asbestos industry

Heidi von Palleske and her daughter, Cavanagh Matmor, 11, travelled to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 24 November to plead with Canada's Conservative government to end its support of the asbestos industry. After 130 years, asbestos mining in Canada was suspended in November, but the industry could be revived if the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, Quebec, secures a loan guarantee from the provincial government to open an underground mine. In the meantime, inventory continues to be exported while Ottawa promotes the 'safe use' of the cancer-causing fibres in overseas markets. 'They don't know how it feels to have a grandmother and a grandfather die of asbestos,' an emotional Cavanagh told reporters. 'It breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that they're going to continue doing that and people from other countries are going to have to go through the same thing. It's hard to take in.' The family matriarch, Doreen Stachan, died in August from mesothelioma, linked to asbestos exposure through her husband, Wolfgang von Palleske. He was exposed to asbestos from the Jeffrey mine, when he worked at an asbestos plant in Toronto. He died of mesothelioma in 2007. Earlier this summer, the family invited prime minister Stephen Harper to the family home for tea to meet Doreen prior to her death. The dying woman also made a tape recording for Harper, begging him to ban asbestos exports. So far, all the family has received is cut-and-paste form letters in response, justifying continued asbestos production. Cavanagh said she wants Harper to know how difficult it was to see her grandmother in the last days of her life. 'She tried to say, 'I love you,' but she couldn't,' said Cavanagh. 'She was gasping for air.'

Europe: Economic woes should not undermine safety

The faltering global economy should not be used as an easy excuse to compromise workplace safety, the European Union's top employment official has said. László Andor was speaking at a Bilbao event to mark the end of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work's (EU-OSHA) two-year safe maintenance campaign. The European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion said EU-OSHA's campaigns were 'playing an essential role in making Europe's occupational health and safety strategy a reality on the ground. This is especially important in the current economic climate where many Europeans are facing an increased workload and organisations try to do more with less.' But he cautioned 'even in difficult times, the safety of workers cannot be compromised and must remain a top priority. The fiscal constraints and difficult labour market situation in many countries must not obscure the bigger truth that a safe and healthy workplace is also good for business.' A series of recent reports have confirmed this 'prevention pays' message (Risks 522) and established that claims about safety being a 'burden' on business are unfounded (Risks 528).

USA: Newt calls for child labour in schools

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has announced he wants to 'get rid of unionised janitors' and hire poor kids to clean the schools in low income neighbourhoods. Gingrich was speaking at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government last month, when he suggested that putting scrubbing brushes and floor sanders in the hands of kids and firing school maintenance workers would 'lift up the poorest neighborhoods.' He added child labour laws 'entrap poor children into poverty.' The Gingrich plan was rejected in forthright terms by the union AFSCME. The union said it was time to tell Gingrich his 'model' to lift kids out of poverty is outrageous, dangerous and downright hogwash. It is calling for anyone sharing its distaste for child labour to sign an online letter that reminds the would-be president that 'doing janitorial work in a school entails sanitising toilets, handling hazardous cleaning chemicals, and scrubbing floors hunched over a mop for hours. It's hard to imagine a nine-year old doing any of those tasks. Come on.' National union federation AFL-CIO noted a lot of janitors lined up for the axe by Gingrich are parents. 'That job puts a roof over kids' heads, food on the table, and provides them with health care and the chance to get an education,' it notes. 'That job is the only thing between a kid and poverty.'

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