Risks 537 - 7 January 2012

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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 slams Cameron move 'to kill off safety'

A claim by the prime minister that UK businesses are in a 'stranglehold' of health and safety 'red tape' and compensation claims has been dismissed as 'out of touch' by the TUC. David Cameron, speaking to a business audience on 5 January, said the government was 'waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses.' Referring to measures to help businesses 'cope' with the 'health and safety monster', including cutting regulations, enforcement and exempting the self-employed from safety rules, he added: 'Every day they battle against a tide of risk assessment forms and face the fear of being sued for massive sums. The financial cost of this culture runs into the billions each year. So this coalition has a clear New Year's resolution: to kill off the health and safety culture for good. I want 2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we get a lot of this pointless time-wasting out of the British economy and British life once and for all.' The TUC said the comments showed Downing Street was 'out of touch' and 'does not have a clue' about conditions in Britain's workplaces. Research has shown the cost of failing to ensure workplace health and safety standards massively outstrips any compliance costs (Risks 495).

You want the truth, prime minister?

The TUC has said the prime minister's resolution 'to kill of the health and safety culture for good' exposes how he is more interested in listening to unfounded business grumbles than evidence that millions are hurting and tens of thousands die each year because their workplaces were not safe enough. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said David Cameron's 5 January speech to a business audience 'shows just how out of touch with the reality of working life Number 10 is.' He added: 'Every government report on the UK's supposed compensation culture has shown it to be a myth, and in fact claims have been declining over the past decade. Despite this the government seems hell-bent on trying to stop workers injured by their employers' negligence being able to claim compensation.' He said workers will be 'astonished' at the prime minister's claim there is an 'excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses'. Firmly rebutting the prime minister's argument, he said: 'The truth is that there are two million people in the UK who have an illness or injury caused by their work - the vast majority of which could have been prevented had their employer had taken the correct safety precautions. Nor do businesses 'battle against a tide of risk assessment forms every year'. The vast majority of employers never carry out any kind of written risk assessments, and for those that do, there is easy-to-understand advice available on how to do them from the Health and Safety Executive.' Mr Barber concluded: 'It is clear that Downing Street does not have a clue about what life is like for the millions of ordinary people who work in shops, offices, schools, factories, call centres and other workplaces across the UK. Instead it is making policy in response to grumbles from elements of the small business lobby and the risible rantings of right-wing commentators.'

Governors can't manage schools asbestos

Responsibility for the management of asbestos in state-funding schools must not be transferred to school governors, trade union campaign group has warned. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) is calling on the government to abandon its plans to make the governors of all state-funded schools responsible for the health and safety of their pupils and staff. The campaign says local authorities have the specialist knowledge and resources to deal responsibly with asbestos in schools. JUAC chair Julie Winn said making school governing bodies rather than local authorities the 'employer' means they will have to assume full legal responsibilities for the health and safety of their staff and pupils. 'Governors freely volunteered their time and expertise to support schools, but this is a step too far,' she said. 'It is hard to envisage how governors will cope with this additional responsibility with the limited time and resources available to them.' Michael Lees, founder of the Asbestos in Schools Group (AIS), said the change would 'impose an intolerable burden on governors, for if something does go wrong then instead of legal action being taken against the local authority, it will in future be taken against the governors. One must question how many people will volunteer to be governors if that is the case.' NUT general secretary Christine Blower said the government proposals 'will do nothing to protect children and teachers from the threat of poorly-managed asbestos in schools,' with governors left 'without access to local authority support and expertise.' ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: 'The government needs to put the health and safety of children and school staff first - it must not be sacrificed for deregulation.'

Union safe case gets a promising reception

MPs have heard that work is set to get more dangerous as government cuts in the official safety watchdog's resources continue. The warning came at a reception in parliament in December 2011, organised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors' union Prospect. Jim Sheridan, chair of the all-party health and safety parliamentary group, opened the discussion by condemning tabloid efforts to portray health and safety as 'red tape'. He added: 'It's a fundamental right for people to leave their homes in the morning with the clear understanding that they have the right to return home safe and uninjured.' Prospect HSE branch chair Neil Hope-Collins, an HSE field inspector, warned that government workplace safety policies 'have consequences, whether intended or not, that will be damaging and detrimental.' Businesses liked the fact that HSE was an approachable, accessible organisation from which they could get 'knowledgeable, relevant, pragmatic solutions, preferably before the event, so people go home healthy at end of day,' he said. Cutting proactive inspections by a third would be a 'huge hit' for industry, he added, with vital intelligence and local knowledge lost. He said an HSE cost recovery system (Risks 528), due to take effect in April, could hit those firms that want to be compliant while 'the rogues will still fly under the wire.'

Disability is a health and safety issue

Health and safety can play a 'strong role' in ensuring fair treatment of workers with disabilities, according to the union UNISON. A new guide from the public sector union says seven million people of working age - almost 20 per cent of the working age population - have a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability. 'UNISON believes that those with disabilities should receive equal treatment at work including equality regarding health and safety at work,' the guide notes. 'Health and safety has a strong role to play in ensuring adequate provisions, fair treatment and the early prevention of new or aggravated health conditions for all workers, including disabled people.' UNISON adds: 'Stewards, safety representatives, branch equality coordinators and workplace equality representatives are encouraged to use both the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW) 1974, as well as other relevant legislation, in order to provide members with the best advice available.' The guide indicates the union role is becoming more important as official health and safety oversight is curtailed as a result of the government's hands-off strategy and swingeing Health and Safety Executive (HSE) budget cuts. Retail union Usdaw is also highlighting disability issues, and has produced a new 'Talking about mental health' briefing and poster, outlining how union reps can support affected members.

Union alert on sexual assaults on health workers

The public sector union UNISON has called for extra vigilance by employers to avoid health workers being put at risk of sexual assaults by patients. The call comes after a 58-year-old care assistant received compensation after she was sexually assaulted at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough when she was helping a patient in the shower. The June 2009 assault, which has left the unidentified union member suffering psychological distress, could have been avoided had a risk assessment been carried out, UNISON believes. The patient, who was in his 50s, had a history of assaulting members of staff but the care assistant was not warned and was left alone with the man. After the indecent assault, she was forced to take several weeks off work and suffered from nightmares. Counselling has enabled her to return to her job, but she still suffers from flashbacks when dealing with certain situations. The hospital admitted liability and the case was settled for £3,500. A UNISON spokesperson said: 'This is another example of our members suffering just for doing their job. Sexual assaults against our members are far too common and too many, like this one, could be prevented with better communication and procedures in place. We will continue to campaign for better protection for our members at work and zero tolerance of sexual assaults against staff.' In a separate case, a nurse has received £195,000 in compensation more than seven years after he was badly injured by a patient at North Tyneside Hospital. The UNISON member suffered a frozen shoulder and psychological trauma after an incident in October 2003 when a patient became violent as the nurse attempted to clean him. Staff had asked for training in restraining patients since 1996 but had never received any.

Injured workers need safety insured

A welder whose hands have been left permanently damaged by his work has lost half of his compensation because the firms responsible have folded and their insurers could not be traced. Unite says its member's plight highlights why an Employer's Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) is necessary. The 56-year-old from Swansea was diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and carpal tunnel syndrome after he was exposed to vibrating tools during 36 years working for Raymond Joseph Engineering Ltd, Innotech Wales Ltd and Bartondale Engineering Company Limited, as a fabricator welder at the same site in Port Talbot from 1971 to 2007. Lawyers brought in by Unite discovered Bartondale Engineering Company and Innotech Wales were dissolved and Raymond Joseph Engineering was in voluntary liquidation meaning extensive investigations needed to be made to trace the companies' insurers. Anyone who cannot trace the insurer of an employer that has gone out of business is unable to obtain compensation. Insurance cover could only be found for 50 per cent of his employment meaning he will receive only £9,000, half the compensation he is due. Unite has been campaigning for an Employer's Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) to act as a fund of last resort to compensate injured workers where the employer has ceased trading and the insurer can't be found. The injured Unite member, whose name has not been released, commented: 'Those employers had insurance and it's only right that the insurers who happily collected the premiums pay out on those policies.' Andy Richards, UNITE Wales regional secretary, commented: 'This is all too common a predicament for our members who work in industries where businesses come and go and insurance records as a result are lost or destroyed. An ELIB is the only answer to ensure that those who suffer a workplace injury, through no fault of their own, receive the compensation they are entitled to.'

Redundancy threat follows injury claim

A worker who suffered permanent damage to his hand at work was threatened with redundancy when he pursued a claim for compensation. GMB member Craig Dunwell, 43, from Rothwell, Leeds, needed an operation to repair nerve damage after he suffered a deep cut to the palm of his right hand whilst fitting a temporary flue in a Leeds school. The Fluestax Ltd employee had not been warned that the flue, which had been manufactured by the firm, had a dangerously sharp edge. This severed the nerve to his little finger, meaning he had to take three weeks off work. He still has difficulty working with his hands. A few months after initiating a compensation claim, Mr Dunwell was forced to sign a letter abandoning his compensation claim when his employer threatened to make him redundant. Just short of three years after signing the letter, Mr Dunwell was made redundant anyway. He then picked up his compensation claim. Fluestax Ltd admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £10,250. Mr Dunwell, who is now working as a welder in the steel industry, said: 'I couldn't believe it when my bosses threatened to make me redundant. I was forced to sign a letter saying I was no longer pursuing compensation. I felt I had been backed into a corner - then I lost my job anyway!' Tim Roache, regional secretary at the GMB, said: 'It is shocking that Mr Dunwell's employers felt they were above the law and could force him to withdraw his claim for compensation. It was bad enough that their dangerous working practices meant he suffered an injury which has seen him endure a painful operation and take time off work. We hope other employers take heed of Mr Dunwell's case.'

Print fumes caused occupational asthma

A printer who developed asthma when he was exposed to dangerous fumes at work has received compensation. Unite member Jason MaCann, 35, was diagnosed with the condition after he was exposed to isocyanates used in laminating machines at FFP Packaging in Northampton. Mr MaCann had only been working for the company as an assistant printer for a few months when he began to develop breathlessness. At first he thought he was suffering from a chest infection but later he collapsed at work and paramedics had to put him on a nebulizer to control his breathing. Whilst Mr MaCann did not actually work on the machines he was in close proximity to them and was never provided with protective equipment from the fumes nor provided with any training in using chemicals. FFP did not admit liability but faced with a union backed compensation claim, settled out of court for £5,000. Mr MaCann, who was later made redundant from the firm and now works for a company which uses water-based print products, still suffers from asthma and relies on two inhalers to keep his breathing under control. Unite regional secretary, Adrian Axtell, said: 'Asthma can be a debilitating condition which at times can have a severe impact on the sufferer's life. FFP should have had rigorous measures in place to make sure the print room was adequately ventilated and that all staff were provided with training and the correct protective equipment such as face masks to keep them safe.' The print union has campaigned for replacement of isocyanates with safer alternatives.

Civil servant gets payout after office fall

A civil servant has received £8,000 in compensation after needing surgery following a fall in the workplace. PCS union member Marilyn McKenzie, 58, needed an operation on her left knee after she tripped over the lid of a socket hatch embedded into the floor at her offices at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Sheffield. The lid was often left up after the offices were cleaned by property management giant Mitie. Mrs McKenzie suffered a torn cartilage and later needed surgery to repair it. Colleagues reported they had also tripped on the socket lid. After Mrs McKenzie tripped over it a second time she contacted her union. She wasn't injured in the second trip but felt that something needed to be done to stop the further injuries. Lawyers for the union argued Mitie had a responsibility to ensure it left the workplace in a safe condition. Mitie settled the claim out of court. Mrs McKenzie said: 'At first I was uncertain about claiming compensation but when it became clear that the problem still hadn't been addressed I felt it was important to claim to make sure it didn't happen again.' Carl Banks, health and safety officer for PCS, said: 'We hope this claim will prompt Mitie to address its health and safety policies.' Nick Martindale from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to act in the case, added: 'This should act as a warning to other employers. Something as small as a socket lid can cause a painful injury if it is not stored away correctly. Care must be taken to ensure the workplace is free from all hazards, no matter how small.'

Other news

Panel finds safety reps are 'crucial' offshore

Safety reps are 'crucial' to ensuring safety offshore and should have more support from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a government-commissioned report has concluded. A panel headed by Professor Geoffrey Maitland of Imperial College, London concluded 'workforce safety representatives have a crucial role to play.' The report accepted union evidence that union reps were being denied the opportunities for the necessary training and involvement. 'The view of the panel is that more could be done by operators to equip safety representatives with a higher level of competence, particularly concerning major operational hazard risks, which will in turn enable more effective results in the form of risk management, improved cultures and, ultimately, bottom-line business benefits,' the report notes. It says firms must ensure safety reps are 'freely and fairly elected' and calls on HSE to take responsibility for implementing recommendations including ensuring reps 'are provided with appropriate access to training over and above the statutory minimum requirements to develop competence in the identification of major risk hazards and communication skills, in addition to occupational safety matters' and 'are appropriately involved in the preparation and maintenance of safety cases.' The government-commissioned panel adds that safety reps should be 'encouraged to exercise their powers to report process safety concerns, inspect installations and investigate incidents, as part of their normal duties and without any fear of recrimination.' It calls on HSE to ensure it is 'in a position to recruit and retain inspectors and managers of the right number, quality, experience and range of specialities'. Responding to the report, energy minister Charles Hendry said 'we must not be complacent and I welcome the review's constructive suggestions for improvement.' He said he wanted 'regulators and industry to consider the panel's findings in detail' and to report back by July 2012.

  • DECC news release. Offshore oil and gas in the UK - an independent review of the regulatory regime, December 2011 [pdf].

Occupational health is a victim of the NHS cuts

The coalition government's pledge to protect the NHS has been questioned after four out of five doctors said they had seen patient care suffer as a result of health service cuts during 2011 - and occupational health is one of the key casualties. The Guardian's poll of GPs and hospital doctors, challenges David Cameron's promise to 'cut the deficit, not the NHS'. As well as cuts to occupational health support, doctors cite hospital bed closures, pressure to give patients cheaper, slower-acting drugs and reductions in community health services as examples of recent cost-cutting measures. Doctors.net.uk, which conducted the survey for the newspaper, asked medics: 'Have cuts to staff and/or services affected patient care in your department, area or surgery during the last 12 months?' Of the 664 doctors who responded, 527 (79 per cent) said yes and 137 (21 per cent) said no. Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association's hospital consultants and specialists committee, said the poll findings confirmed that the NHS was now 'retracting' and doing less for patients, contradicting repeated ministerial pledges that frontline NHS services would escape the government's deficit reduction programme. He told the Guardian: 'The reality is that whether you look at it from the point of view of a doctor, another clinician or a patient, there are NHS cuts ongoing and it adds up to a picture where the NHS is now retracting. So it's hard to marry that back to the original statement 'I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS'.'

Government accused of mine rescue 'complacency'

A Labour MP has accused the government of 'serious complacency and a total lack of understanding of mining'. Shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain accused Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, of a 'disgraceful' government response to his call for state aid for mining rescue services after four men died in the flooded Gleision valley colliery on 14 September 2011 (Risks 524). In a December 2011 report on the tragedy, Mr Hain said the Mines Rescue Service should be 'properly resourced' with access to Treasury reserves so it can do its work 'without the chaos and dependence on local goodwill evident at Gleision.' Mr Hain says the operation highlighted a 'potentially lethal flaw' in the way the service is funded, with a neighbouring mining company stepping in to pay a £4,500 bill for diesel to drive water pumps. The Department for Work and Pensions said any suggestion it did not take the matter seriously was 'utter nonsense.' Mr Hain said this response 'merely papers over some very wide cracks revealed at Gleision which, without proper government action of the kind I requested, could lead to a serious erosion of mines rescue capability threatening the lives of miners in the future.' An investigation into the Gleision mine incident is being carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and South Wales Police. A November 2011 report on coal mining health and safety trends warned the UK coal mine fatality rate is at a 50 year high (Risks 535).

Global firm fined over factory worker's death

A global manufacturer has been fined £180,000 after a worker was killed at an Andrex factory in Barrow-in-Furness. Christopher Massey was struck by a piece of machinery while working on a night shift at the Kimberly-Clark plant on 8 November 2007. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found a dangerous part of a machine, used to produce rolls of Andrex toilet paper, had been left unguarded. Preston Crown Court heard the 28-year-old had been looking through a gap in the machine to make sure the tissue was being fed through correctly. As he checked inside the machine at around 5.10am, it began to move a large, two-metre wide reel of tissue into place, striking him on the head. His body was discovered around 20 minutes later by colleagues shortly before the end of their shift. The HSE investigation found the machine had been modified four months earlier so that reels of two-ply as well as single-ply toilet paper could be fed through. The part of the machine used to hold the large reels of tissue had been moved back so that another piece of machinery could be added to handle the two-ply toilet paper. This created a potentially dangerous gap which Mr Massey and other workers had used to check the tissue was being fed through correctly. The court was told the factory had been short-staffed on the night of Mr Massey's death, with two of the four workers in the team off sick. He was moved to work on the part of the machine that fed through the giant reels, despite not having had training on how to operate it since its modification. Kimberly-Clark Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was ordered to pay £20,000 in prosecution costs in addition to the fine of £180,000.

HSE warning on hiring self-employed workers

Firms hiring self-employed contractors must be vigilant as they may not have the competence to do the job, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned. The warning came after Roger Jary, a 79-year-old self-employed maintenance contractor, died while carrying out minor repairs on a rented bungalow for an estate agent. In December, Chester Crown Court heard that, on 10 August 2010, a plastic roof panel Mr Jary was moving across gave way and he fell around two metres from the roof of a carport to the ground below. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found estate agent Morris, Marshall & Poole had contracted Mr Jary to carry out the repair work, but failed to ensure the work was properly planned and organised, or the contractor was competent to carry out the work. The company, which managed the property on behalf of the landlord, pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £11,153.95. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Chris Wilcox said: 'Roger Jary might be alive today if simple safety measures had been put in place. Morris, Marshall & Poole had a duty to ensure the safety of those they employed - whether working directly for them or not. If your business in managing properties then you must ensure that anyone you engage to maintain those properties is competent and carries out their work safely to ensure their safety and that of others.' In November 2011, the government said it would exempt self-employed workers from health and safety law where their work 'poses no potential risk of harm' to others (Risks 534). On 5 January this year, prime minister David Cameron confirmed in a speech to a business audience that the government was 'taking self-employed people out of whole classes of health and safety regulation.'

Workers buried in giant cement mixer

One worker died and another suffered severe shock after being buried under tons of limestone dust in a giant cement mixer. Father-of-two Neal Webber, who was 28, died on 9 February 2008 whilst carrying out maintenance in the hopper at Whatley Quarry in Frome, Somerset. Hanson Quarry Products Europe Ltd and Robert Alan Taylor, who was then trading as Quarry Maintenance Service Engineers, were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Taunton Crown Court. Mr Webber and colleague Neil Myers were removing compacted material from the inside of the hopper when the material they were standing on collapsed. Mr Webber was buried under approximately 12 tons of limestone dust and was suffocated. Mr Myers was buried up to his chest but managed to pull himself out and attempted to help Mr Webber. He suffered severe shock. The court heard that while both men had been wearing harnesses, the equipment used by Mr Webber - his own - did not prevent him from being buried under the limestone dust when the compacted material he was standing on collapsed. Mr Myer's harness was attached to a shorter, fixed length line and consequently he was not fully buried by the limestone dust during the collapse. Neal Webber's widow Claire said: 'Overnight, everything in our lives changed. It is now nearly four years since Neal died and the girls still miss their dad and have their ups and downs emotionally in dealing with it. I have obviously been affected as well and financially it has not been easy either. We married when I was 17 and we were both working full-time at the time of the incident. Now in order to look after Emily and Ashleigh I have become dependent on benefits, which has not been easy to cope with.' Hanson Quarry Products Europe Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £27,500 and £27,000 costs. Robert Taylor, the owner of Quarry Maintenance Service Engineers, pleaded guilty to a criminal offence and was fined £1,500 and order to pay costs of £10,000.

Steel giant prosecuted after workers are crushed

A global steel firm has been fined after two workers suffered major injuries when a warehouse door, weighing over 300 kilograms, collapsed on them. The employees at Corus, now Tata Steel UK Ltd, were trying to repair a roller shutter door at its plant in Workington when the door and a supporting pillar gave way. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to make sure a suitable risk assessment was carried out for the work, putting the lives of its staff in danger.

Both the workers, who were maintenance fitters from Workington, suffered badly broken legs in the 20 April 2009 incident. Part of the falling structure also struck one of the workers, 51-year-old Anthony Ryecroft, on the head, splitting his hard hat and cutting his head and shoulder. He was unable to work for 15 months as a result of his injuries. The other worker, 59-year-old Geoff Anderson, never returned to work for the company and has now taken voluntary redundancy. Workington Magistrates' Court heard the firm did not have a robust system in place for making sure its maintenance staff were planning and carrying out work safely. Tata Steel UK Ltd admitted a criminal safety breach and was fined £13,300 and ordered to pay £11,631 in prosecution costs on 22 December 2011. Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at HSE, Mike Griffiths, said: 'These two workers have suffered major injuries, with long term effects to their lives, because their employer didn't do enough to make sure they stayed safe. One of the workers could potentially have been killed if he hadn't been wearing a hard hat.'

Farmers fined after worker is run over by tractor

Three farming brothers have been fined after a farmworker was severely injured when he was run over by a tractor with a faulty handbrake. Derek Benney, Richard Benney and Roger Benney, of FH Benney and Sons, were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at Higher Nansloe Farm near Helston in September 2010. The Court heard that Colin Jenkin, 55, was spreading manure on a field when he got out to open a gate. The tractor, which was parked on a slope, began to roll forward and ran over him. Mr Jenkin suffered multiple injuries including seven broken ribs, crush injuries to his back and permanent damage to his eye socket. Despite being unable to see he was able to find his mobile phone and call for help. He has been unable to work since the incident. The HSE investigation found that the handbrake on the tractor had failed and had not been maintained properly. Derek, Richard and Roger Benney each pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. Derek Benney was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £3,000 costs, Richard Benney £3,500 with £3,000 costs and Roger Benney £2,000 and £3,000 costs. HSE inspector Gareth Cottle, speaking after the hearing at Truro Magistrates' Court, said: 'This incident could very easily have resulted in Mr Jenkin's death. He is still suffering with back pain and loss of vision. In addition to this, he does not yet know when he will be able to return to work. His life has been changed significantly as a result.' He added: 'Farmers must ensure equipment used on their farms is properly maintained and serviced to avoid future incidents like this.'

International News

Australia: Unions 'speak up for health and safety'

Australian unions have launched a nationwide awareness campaign to inform workers of their rights and employers of their obligations under newly harmonised health and safety laws. Announcing the 'Speak Up' campaign, Michael Borowick, assistant secretary of the union federation ACTU, said it was important that workers know they have enhanced rights to elect their own health and safety representatives under the harmonised occupational health and safety (OHS) system. 'Workers need to know that when they are confronted by a health or safety issue in their workplace, they don't have to deal with it alone,' Mr Borowick said. 'They have an iron-clad right, under law, to elect their own health and safety representatives. These reps act as watchdogs within the workplace, making employers comply with the law well before regulators have to become involved. They have rights to stop work and demand improvements when there are health or safety concerns.' Alongside the distribution of Speak Up campaign materials in workplaces around Australia, a new website www.safeatwork.org.au has also been launched. ACTU says the website will be a hub of information for workers and safety reps about common health and safety issues, rights and obligations, tips for safer workplaces, legislation, and news. Workers will also be able to post questions about health and safety and get advice from union experts.

Global: Call for action on media killings

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has urged the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon to take drastic action against the governments of the most dangerous countries for media. The call came as the global union body revealed 106 journalists and media personnel were killed at work in 2011. In a letter to the UN head, the IFJ calls for effective implementation of international legal instruments to combat what it describes as a prevailing culture of impunity for crimes against journalists. 'It is abundantly clear that deadly violence against journalists is not just a blip due to conflicts around the world but has become a regular cycle in many countries where journalists are hunted down, targeted and murdered by the enemies of press freedom,' noted the letter, signed by IFJ president Jim Boumelha. 'In a situation where governments are in denial or indifferent to what has become a regular pattern of targeted killings of journalists, it is incumbent upon yourself and the United Nations to remind them of their responsibility to protect journalists.' The IFJ list of work related media killings is coordinated with the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and contains 106 journalists and media personnel who died during 2011, up from 94 killings recorded in 2010. An additional 20 journalists and collaborators also died in accidents and natural disasters while working. The deadliest region in 2011 was the Middle East and Arab world with 32 journalists and media personnel killed. Iraq had the region's highest death toll with 11 dead.

Russia: 53 oil workers die as oil rig capsizes

The sinking of an oil rig on 18 December in icy seas off the Russian coast claimed 53 lives, officials have confirmed. A total of 67 people were on board when the Kolskaya rig capsized under tow in icy seas off the country's east coast. Only 14 survived. One of the survivors, Sergei Grauman, told Russian TV a strong wave had smashed potholes in the dining room on the rig's platform, destroying equipment. Russian media questioned why so many people had been on the rig, when regulations stipulated that only the captain and a small crew were allowed to be there while it was being towed. Global union federation ICEM extended condolences to its affiliate, the Russian Oil, Gas and Construction Workers' Union (ROGWU) following the tragedy. The Kolskaya, owned by a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned company Zarubezhneft OJSC, had been drilling for Gazprom subsidiary Gazflot on the West Kamchatsky shelf since September 2011.


Workers' Memorial Day 2012

It's time to start preparing for Workers' Memorial Day, Saturday 28 April. In December, TUC called on 'unions, trades councils, and others to make 28 April 2012 a 'Day of activity to defend health and safety'' (Risks 535). 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. Now, Hazards magazine has produced a series of new 'remember the dead, fight like hell for the living' images for union reps to use in the campaign.

Events and Courses

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