Risks 535 - 10 December 2011

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 18,000 subscribers and 1,500 on the TUC website. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy

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

Union News

TUC calls for action on safety

The TUC is calling on unions and safety campaigners to challenge a government safety strategy that 'will lead to more work-related deaths, injuries and ill-health.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson has warned 'there has never been a more worrying time for health and safety,' adding four decades of political consensus around the importance of regulations that protect all workers 'has begun to fall apart.' Writing in Hazards magazine, Robertson calls for a nationwide day of action on 28 April, Workers' Memorial Day. 'Political interference, cuts and the overall deregulatory agenda mean the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will lose much of its effectiveness and will suffer long term damage, while unions will find it much more difficult to operate,' he writes. 'This is not necessarily a deliberate plan by the coalition government to destroy the health and safety system. It is instead a by-product of a more general anti-worker, pro-business, anti-public sector agenda which is seen just as clearly in their approach to employment rights, public spending, taxation and pensions. It also comes from a lack of understanding of the workplace and occupational disease. However, whatever the motive, the effect will be the same - unless we stop it.' The TUC safety specialist says unions and campaigners should build a campaign for a safer, healthier alternative. 'TUC wants to use 28 April 2012 as the day when workers up and down the country take action to protect our health and safety,' Robertson adds. As Workers' Memorial Day this year falls on a Saturday, the focus will be shared between workplace activities and a TUC call on 'unions, trades councils, and others to make 28 April 2012 a 'Day of activity to defend health and safety'.' To help build the campaign, TUC says it will organise meetings of activists in every region of England as well as in Wales. The Scottish TUC will also be organising support for the day. In the fortnight before 28 April, unions will be asked to lobby local MPs. Most MPs surgeries fall on a Friday so there should be a lot on 27 April.

Cuts endanger workers' health

The government decision to slash workplace safety regulation and to skew the system away from employer responsibility and towards 'personal responsibility' is attracting continued criticism. The official response to the government-commissioned Löfstedt report, which concluded Britain's workplace safety laws 'are broadly right', was to press ahead with a deregulatory programme the report considered unwarranted. The government has also said it will pursue some of the more contentious conclusions of the Löfstedt report, including exempting many self-employed workers from health and safety legislation (Risks 534). The government response was last week condemned by unions as a ruse to 'smuggle in' changes it had planned anyway, regardless of the report's findings. Calling for a 'rethink' of the of the decision to dramatically cut the Health and Safety Executive's funding, Paula Brown, PCS vice president and chair of the union's HSE branch said: 'The changes being made come within the context of a 35 per cent funding cut to our budget. We fear that HSE is close to breaking point with the scale of the organisational change it is being forced to make as a result of the cut.' She added: 'The government's obsession with deregulation is worrying.' Dave Joyce of the communication workers' union CWU expressed 'deep and serious misgivings' at the planned changes, which he warned 'contain not a single proposal that will reduce the unacceptably high levels of workplace deaths, injuries and work related illnesses.' The union safety specialist said he was 'particularly opposed' to the designation of many firms, including Royal Mail and BT, as 'low risk.' He said: 'The industries our members work in are certainly not 'low risk,' and the CWU and other unions must do all we can to persuade the government to think again.'

Will Nick Clegg admit he was wrong?

The deputy prime minister should fess up and admit he was wrong to question the need for health and safety regulation and enforcement, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) union Prospect has indicated. The union wrote to Nick Clegg on 25 October, after he had told a business conference he'd make sure safety inspectors 'are not breathing down your neck' (Risks 529). Prospect responded with a letter telling the deputy prime minister he was basing his comments on a 'caricature' of the safety watchdog's work and invited him to meet with inspectors (Risks 530). So far the union has only received an acknowledgment. In a 5 December follow-up letter, Prospect deputy general secretary Mike Clancy again invited Mr Clegg to reconsider his stance. He wrote: 'I am sure you are aware of the findings of Professor Löfstedt just published and in particular his conclusion that 'during the course of my review, I have neither seen nor heard any evidence to suggest that there is a case for radically altering or stripping back current health and safety regulation'.' The letter continued: 'It comes as no surprise to Prospect that yet again the legal framework and, by extension, the work of HSE have been approved and validated following exhaustive review. We note that the Löfstedt review shows that employers who have dealt with HSE have a very positive view of the organisation and we believe that the government should recognise that HSE is a highly effective regulator well respected by industry. We expect any future portrayal of the work of our members in HSE and in the broader regulatory services to be similarly informed by the evidence and to recognise this success.'

Workplace reps save lives and money

The prime minister's threat to remove funding for the time public sector union reps take to do their union work ignores the life- and cash-saving role these reps play, the TUC has said. David Cameron told the Commons last week: 'I do not think full-time trade unionists working in the public sector on trades union business, rather than serving the public, is right, and we will put that to an end.' Safety Practitioner, the magazine of safety professionals' organisation IOSH, reported: 'The prime minister's remarks came a week after he wrote a letter of support to Aidan Burley MP, who is spearheading the Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC) in a bid to cut the facilities time funding. The prime minster wrote: 'Few would take issue with the unions working on behalf of their members in government departments and other public bodies in their own time, or with union funding.' TURC co-founder Mr Burley was asked in the Commons whether he had considered the benefit union reps provide in identifying and preventing health and safety problems in the workplace. He replied: 'My direct answer to the honourable gentleman is to ask what he thinks the human resources department, or the Health and Safety Executive are for. Public sector organisations have those people, so there is total duplication.' TUC national organiser Carl Roper commented: 'Those who highlight only the cost of facility time are telling half the story just to accommodate their ideologically motivated deep antipathy toward unions. The cost of facility time is more than justified by the benefits and savings that union reps, and health and safety reps in particular, bring to workplaces and society in general.' He added: 'Research by BERR (now BIS) in 2007 found that the work of union reps resulted in benefits to society of at least £136m as a result of reducing working days lost due to workplace injury and at least £45m as a result of reducing work related illness. This why the CBI and the HR professionals regard unions and their workplace reps as an essential resource and part of the modern workplace.'

Government 'dicing with death' at sea

Maritime union RMT has accused the government of 'dicing with death in British waters' after it emerged in parliament that one in twelve UK coastguard jobs have already been cut, with worse to come. The jobs cull was confirmed in a parliamentary answer from the minister responsible, Mike Penning. On top of the posts already lost, eight more coastguard centres are to be closed by the government with the loss of an additional 159 jobs, cutting staffing levels by another third. The union said this would reduce cover to 'criminally low levels.' Centres at Brixham, Clyde, Forth ,Great Yarmouth, Liverpool, Portland, Swansea and Thames will be closed under current government plans. Emergency rescue tugs are also being axed and search and rescue service helicopters will be 'hacked back with what's left privatised,' the union warned. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Life or death emergency cover in British waters is being slowly strangled by this ConDem government's slash and burn approach to the most vital of public services. From the coastguards, to search and rescue to the emergency tugs that put out the fires, every last shred of the safety net is being ripped apart.' The union leader added: 'This isn't cutting the fat, it's smashing into the very bones of services that were being praised only last weekend in the rescue operation of the Swanland in the Irish Sea in appalling conditions [Risks 534]. This dicing with death on the high seas must stop.'

Unite seeks asbestos justice

Supreme Court judges have been asked by Unite to end the uncertainty about whether people dying from the asbestos cancer and their families will be entitled to compensation. Unite's appeal to the UK's highest court, which started on 5 December and will end next week, comes after insurance companies were partly successful in a test case about whether insurers are liable to pay claims for the fatal asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. The Court of Appeal ruled in October 2010 that the High Court was wrong when it decided, in 2008, that all insurers who provided cover to the employer at the time of the asbestos exposure should pay, ruling that in some cases the insurer was instead liable at the time the related disease subsequently developed, typically decades later. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: 'Unite is determined to restore justice for our members and all victims of asbestos. The Court of Appeal decision has left a black hole in the protection that employers' liability insurance was intended to provide. Insurance companies sold policies to cover risk. When the risk became a reality some resorted to picking apart the words in their own policies.' He added: 'It is illogical that some victims of asbestos will receive compensation and others won't, depending on words such as 'injury sustained' or 'disease contracted' used in insurance contracts written decades ago. Try explaining that to someone diagnosed with a fatal disease caused by the negligence of their employers.' The Court of Appeal decided that in some cases the employers' liability insurance is 'triggered' not by the exposure to asbestos, but by the development of the disease decades later, by which time there is frequently no firm and no insurance in place to respond to the claim.

Call for pleural plaques compensation

The 'shameful situation' that denies workers in England and Wales compensation for asbestos related pleural plaques must end, the union Unite has said. The union was speaking out after the Northern Ireland Executive this week announced workers there would be allowed to claim for the condition, following Scotland's lead (Risks 527). The right for UK workers to sue for compensation for pleural plaques - a scarring of the lining of the lungs caused by asbestos - was ended on 17 October 2007 when the House of Lords ruled in favour of insurers in a test case. However the ruling has been overturned by the devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Unite's director of legal services Howard Beckett said: 'It is great news that our members in Scotland and now Northern Ireland can be compensated for developing the asbestos related condition, pleural plaques. However, workers in England and Wales are left in the cold and have no rights to claim compensation for being exposed to asbestos due to the negligence of their employers. This segregation must end. It is time the government woke up to the fact that exposure to asbestos is a serious health and safety issue, and only by the fear of litigation can the excesses of irresponsible employers be prevented.' Pleural plaques seldom causes immediate symptoms but are associated with an increased risk of developing fatal conditions like mesothelioma or asbestosis. In the past claimants could receive compensation worth up to £15,000.

Lifting tonnes, and what do you get?

A Unite member called on to lift a huge piece of electrical equipment suffered a hernia as a result. The 65-year-old fitter with Alstom Grid UK needed major surgery after helping colleagues to handle the 10 tonne structure. The man, whose name has not been released, was working with colleagues on a huge electrical transformer winding which was raised up on four wedges. As they removed the wedges by hand, each worker had to carry about two tonnes of weight. The operation involved pulling and twisting the wedges with force, causing the man's hernia. The worker, who had been with the firm for 46 years but is now retired, had to take 10 weeks off work and was unable to do any housework or gardening until the injury was fully resolved. Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by Unite to pursue a compensation claim, argued that Alstom should have risk assessed the task. Alstom admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £10,000. Neil Salter, regional industrial organiser at Unite, said: 'There is no excuse for not undertaking a risk assessment on this dangerous task. We hope the firm has put new safer procedures in place as a result of this accident.' Donna Simcock from Thompsons Solicitors added: 'A simple risk assessment would have shown just how dangerous this task was and would have highlighted the need to put measures in place to avoid this type of injury and this accident could have been avoided.'

BAE safety systems weren't ship shape

A welder working for a high tech engineering giant suffered multiple injuries when he fell two metres because a scaffolding pole had not been properly secured. GMB member Rex Hann, 61, hurt his back, neck and right hand in the incident at BAE Systems Surface Ships Portsmouth in Farnborough. He was climbing down a step to another platform when the pole he was using for support gave way. He was diagnosed with a displaced disc and suffered a hairline fracture in his back. He had to take three weeks off work and when he returned he was on light duties until he retired two years later. He had hoped to get a part time job when he retired but his back problems mean it isn't possible. Faced with a union backed compensation case, BAE settled the claim out of court for £13,000. Mr Hann said: 'I count my blessings that I didn't fall further. If I had my accident could have been fatal. The end result is bad enough. I had hoped to supplement my pension with a small job but that simply isn't possible now.' GMB regional secretary Richard Ascough commented: 'Mr Hann has had a lucky escape but his resulting injuries have still left him with significant difficulties. There should have been rigorous checks in place to avoid this accident from happening in the first place.'

Other news

Britain's coal mine death rate hits a 50 year high

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been instructed to spell out its mines safety strategy, after a series of fatalities this year (Risks 525) and revelations Britain's coal mine fatality rate has hit a 50-year high. Union representatives raised concerns about the industry's record at HSE's December board meeting, which agreed the watchdog should prepare a paper for the board on its strategy to address safety in the mines. The deteriorating coal mine safety record came to light after Hazards magazine obtained official figures showing in the five years to 2010/11 the fatality rate in the UK coal mining industry has been running at 42.9 deaths per 100,000 workers - over 60 times the all-industries rate of 0.7/100,000 for the same period. The figures showed the UK coal industry has not had a single fatality-free year in the last six. The six years before that saw one fatality in total. This year's flurry of deaths will push the average rate in the six years from 2006 to in excess of 47 deaths per 100,000 workers - a 50-year high. In a statement to Hazards, HSE confirmed: 'The last time the equivalent rate of fatalities in coal mining was in the range of 40 per 100,000 was in the early sixties when we estimate it was 46.' When pressed by Hazards, HSE admitted: 'A deterioration in the long-term improvement began to emerge in the last five years and, given the reduced size of the industry, was both pronounced and of concern to HSE.' The mine safety watchdog added: 'We are focused on ensuring through our interventions that improvements in the industry are keeping pace with the changing activity levels in mining.'

Mother's anger as death fine is halved

The mother of a man killed in a workplace fireball has expressed dismay after a court cut his employer's fine in half. Mark Wright, who worked at Deeside Metals, was told by his general manager Robert Roberts on 12 April 2005 to crush and bale 4,000 sealed aerosol containers. A cloud of volatile vapour was released and ignited by an electric spark, blowing the roof off the building and burning 90 per cent of Mark's body (Risks 528). The 37-year-old, who was married with two young children, died the following day. Deeside was fined £100,000 plus £10,000 costs in December 2010, with the first payment due on 13 December this year (Risks 487). The firm successfully challenged its penalty at the Court of Appeal on 2 December, where its fine was halved to £50,000 after the company pleaded poverty. Mark's mother Dorothy Wright, who was forced to miss the hearing due to ill-health, said: 'My son was denied his most precious possession, his life. His country then betrayed him to protect his killer. Its financial sentence is cut by half. Our sentence is for life.' She questioned what kind of court 'allows a killer to plead poverty and have its sentence reduced substantially?' A spokesperson for Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) said: 'A fine that can be appealed and cut by half does not seem a proportionate or just sentence for such an act, nor is it likely to act as a deterrent.'

Shiftwork linked to diabetes in women

Women who work a rotating schedule that includes three or more night shifts per month, in addition to day and evening working hours in that month, have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a study has found. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) reached their conclusion after comparing women on rotating shifts with those who only worked days or evenings. They also found that extended years of rotating night shift work was associated with weight gain, which may contribute to the increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Previous studies have focused on the association between shift work and risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, Swedish research published in 2005 did find that women who experience stress and a lack of control over their work could be at a greater risk of this type of diabetes (Risks 195). An Pan, a research fellow in HSPH's Department of Nutrition and the new study's lead author, commented: 'Long-term rotating night shift work is an important risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes and this risk increases with the numbers of years working rotating shifts.' Those women who worked rotating night shifts for three to nine years faced a 20 per cent increased risk; women who these shifts for 10 to 19 years upped the risk by 40 per cent; and women who working rotating night shifts for over 20 years were 58 per cent more at risk.

Worker's arm crushed in a conveyor belt

A Cheshire factory worker could have lost his arm when it was dragged into an industrial conveyor belt, a court has heard. The 56-year-old from Northwich, whose name has not been released, suffered a broken elbow, crush injuries to his left hand and bruising down the left hand side of his body in the incident at the Amcol Minerals Europe Ltd's plant in Winsford. The chemical firm was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the conveyor belt had not been fitted with a suitable guard. Chester Magistrates' Court heard that the worker had been helping to clean the conveyor system on 2 March 2010. He had climbed up a ladder to a gantry, to reach the conveyor belt and check that the residue from a brown powder had been removed. The worker's left arm caught the underside of the moving belt and his arm was dragged into the rotating mechanism. He was off work for several weeks. Amcol Minerals Europe Ltd, which is part of the global Amcol International group, pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The firm, which produces chemicals used in detergents and oil drilling, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £6,702.50 in prosecution costs. Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at HSE, Carl Jones, said: 'These conveyor belts are extremely powerful and unforgiving. Amcol should have done more to make sure its employees weren't being put at risk.' He added: 'The company has since fitted interlocked guarding around the dangerous parts of the conveyor belt, which automatically cuts the power if it's removed. If this relatively straightforward piece of work had been carried out earlier then the company could have prevented a worker from being badly injured.'

Firms fined for cherry picker road death

Two construction companies have been fined following the death of a worker who fell from a cherry picker on a dual carriageway in Liverpool. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Amey Infrastructure Services Ltd and Mouchel Parkman Services Ltd following the incident on 20 August 2006. Liverpool Crown Court heard that Peter Cole, from Lymm in Cheshire, had been replacing the lights on the central reservation when the cherry picker's lifting arm collapsed. The 61-year-old, who was married with three children and three grandchildren, fell nearly eight metres and landed on the back of the vehicle. He died from his injuries in hospital later that day. The court was told Mr Cole was employed by Amey Infrastructure Services Ltd, part of the Amey Mouchel joint venture with Mouchel Parkman Services Ltd. The HSE investigation found neither company had adequate systems for checking and maintaining the cherry picker, both when it was first delivered or throughout the hire period. The cherry picker needed to be repaired on several occasions while it was on hire to the companies, and had been subjected to heavy use in all weather conditions for almost a decade. Speaking after the hearing, Mr Cole's brother, Len, 71, said: 'It's unbelievable that it wasn't regularly checked and tested, and instead was just put out into use. It happened to be him in that cherry picker on that day but it could have been anyone. We all miss him so much.' Amey Infrastructure pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £32,500 in prosecution costs. Mouchel Parkman also pleaded guilty and was fined £30,000 with costs of £32,500.

Human traffic report highlights work abuses

A report into human trafficking in Scotland demonstrates the need for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) to extend its coverage to a wider range of industries, construction union UCATT has said. The union was commenting on publication of the report of an inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland, undertaken by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. While the report primarily focused on issues of human trafficking and the sex trade it also noted 'gangmasters can induce workers to claim self-employed status so that British landowners, farmers, factory and restaurant owners may, if they so wish, have no risk of legal consequences when they use such cheap labour.' The report is critical of GLA oversight being limited to the food and agriculture sectors, noting that 'exploited foreign labour may now be found in the service and construction industries as well as in care homes.' The inquiry report concludes: 'In our evidence-gathering it became clear to us that there seemed to be no good reason for the vital work of the GLA not being expanded to include these other sectors and to cover other forms of contract employment and outsourced work, and that employers who used such labour should hold some responsibility for wages and conditions.' Harry Frew, regional secretary of UCATT Scotland, commented: 'The highly influential report is significant, as it makes the link between false self-employment and the exploitation of workers. The report clearly identifies that the GLA's strict licensing regime is the most effective way in cutting down on these abuses and the vital need to extend its powers to construction and other industries.'

EHRC news release and full report. UCATT news release.

International News

Europe: Deregulation a threat to work safety

A European Commission plan to weaken health and safety protection in the majority of Europe's workplaces will leave workers in jeopardy, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has warned. A letter from the union body to The European Union's Heads of State and Government expresses 'serious concerns' about a European Commission report, 'Minimising regulatory burden for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises)', to be discussed at the next European Council. ETUC says the report has far-reaching consequences for workers. It adds that while ETUC recognises the important contribution made by these firms in jobs and growth creation, it opposes the proposal to exempt some undertaking 'low risk' work from EU risk assessment requirements. The letter notes 'exempting small companies carrying out low risk activities from producing a written risk assessment will increase the exposure of workers to risks arising at the workplace.' It adds: 'All available data suggest that the risks are greater in microenterprises, which constitute the bulk of all European enterprises. Moreover, the Commission has not offered a definition of what they mean by low risk. This would actually require a prior risk assessment. An activity may be low risk in terms of accidents, but high risk in terms of psychosocial factors. Besides, the cost of excluding micro-enterprises should be calculated with regard to increased risks of injury and other health and safety problems.' ETUC is urging the European Council to reject any further deregulation.

Global: Brands promise to ditch hazardous chemicals

Six major international clothing brands have announced a 'joint roadmap' intended to dramatically reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in their supply chains. Adidas Group, C&A, H&M, Li Ning, Nike Inc and Puma say the initiative will lead the apparel and footwear industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. The roadmap covers the full supply chain for all products, initially focusing on clothing, and is based on individual commitments by each of the brands. The initiative is a direct response to 'Dirty Laundry', a July report from Greenpeace which exposed toxic use and related pollution in production facilities in China. The roadmap commits the firms to identify all chemicals used in textile manufacturing, a phase-out of hazardous chemicals and to projects to encourage sector wide chemical disclosure. Any company wishing to join is invited to publish an individual commitment and sign up to the initiative. Several projects on disclosure will be undertaken during the next year, such as exploring options for suppliers to disclose their chemical inventory. In the initial stage, facilities shared by the six brands will be targeted. These are located in China, Philippines, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Thailand, India and Indonesia.

Global: Horror at 'immoral' discount asbestos plan

Campaigners in India have condemned plans for a trade deal which could eliminate all tariffs on Canadian asbestos exports to the country. Ongoing negotiations for a Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement were revealed this week by Canada's opposition New Democratic Party. Opposition international trade spokesperson Brian Masse said it was 'a disgrace' the Conservative government led by prime minister Stephen Harper was opposing global efforts to ban asbestos, adding: 'Now we find out Conservatives are actually attempting to expand Canadian asbestos sales to the developing world. This represents another sad chapter for the Harper government.' Under the deal under discussion, Canada wants to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India. Currently there is a 10 per cent duty on asbestos exports to India, the world's second largest consumer of asbestos. 'To actively pursue exporting this deadly product to countries that have little to no protection for workers is reprehensible,' said Masse. 'It's time for our government to acknowledge reality and develop a plan to help transition asbestos workers into new, sustainable industries.' The Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India said the proposed bilateral agreement was an 'appalling travesty of all ethical codes of human behaviour.' Coordinator Mohit Gupta said: 'Canadian asbestos producers are ever anxious to send more of this substance to India. Are not our lives worth the same as the lives of Canadian citizens? This intolerable behaviour is as immoral as it is reprehensible.'

USA: Settlement won't bring mine deaths justice

A record penalty imposed following the deaths of 29 miners in a US coal mine explosion has been given a qualified welcome by unions. In a deal agreed this week between the US Attorney's office and Alpha Natural Resources, the new owner of the West Virginia Upper Big Branch coal mine, will pay nearly $210 million in a historic settlement arising from the worst US coal mining disaster in decades. The financial settlement includes $46.5 million in criminal restitution to families of the 29 miners who died and to two others who were injured. Each will receive $1.5 million, which is half the amount Massey Energy, the firm that owned the mine at the time of the April 2010 tragedy, had offered families immediately after the blast. Alpha also agreed to invest at least $80 million in mine safety enhancements at its underground mines, to place $48 million in a trust to fund research to advance mine safety and to pay up to $34.8 million in penalties to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The agreement also allows for individual criminal prosecutions. Cecil E Roberts, international president of the mining union UMWA, said the settlement was 'a mixed bag,' He welcomed a clause requiring new safety equipment and ongoing oversight by the US attorney. But he added: 'Until someone goes to jail, there will be no justice done here. We are glad to see that the families of those killed will receive a monetary payment to help with their ongoing financial burdens, regardless of any private litigation they may bring. It is also good that Alpha has agreed to address many of the citations of the former Massey operations.' Leo W Gerard, international president of the steelworkers' union USW, said it was right that the settlement does not protect Massey managers, including former chief executive Donald L Blankenship, from criminal charges. 'Executives, who personally profit from violating safety regulations, must be held criminally liable,' Gerard said. 'Any executive who decides lining his pockets and those of shareholders is more important than the life and limbs of workers must be held to account criminally.' He added the US needs a corporate manslaughter law to hold corporations, their directors and their executives criminally liable for negligence causing worker deaths.


How to get your rights enforced

There's not much point in having rights at work, if you can't get them enforced. That's why the TUC has published a new guide explaining how to get the might of the major enforcement agencies behind you. 'Enforcing basic workplace rights', funded by the TUC's Union Modernisation Fund (UMF) and which concentrates on working hours and minimum wage abuses, is aimed at union officials and reps. It outlines the role played by the UK's four main statutory enforcement agencies - the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the HMRC National Minimum Wage enforcement team. It also describes the powers of enforcement officers and the sanctions employers can face for breaking employment law. TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady commented: 'Tackling vulnerable employment is a key concern for unions. With the labour market struggling to recover from the recession and increasing numbers of those in work facing temporary and insecure employment, action to improve job quality for low-paid workers is as urgent as ever. Workers in low-paid sectors such as care, cleaning, hospitality, security and construction can find themselves working excessively long hours, sometimes with no contract of employment. Their work can be insecure and they are regularly paid below the minimum wage.' The health and safety section, while it gives some general guidance on the role of HSE, is limited to the watchdog's role in enforcing working hours, shifts and rest break rules. More detailed, broad-based information on workplace health and safety and on health and safety enforcement can be found in the dedicated health and safety section of the TUC website.

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