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Workers' Memorial Day is days away!
Workers' Memorial Day, 28 April, is nearly upon us, and looks set to send a serious message to the government about its deadly safety plans. The TUC's call for a Day of Action to Defend Health and Safety is being heard nationwide, with events planned all the way from Penzance to Aberdeen, and Newport to Newcastle. TUC says with safety facing an unprecedented attack from the government, the national action will 'make it clear that we want clear commitments and action from those who should be protecting us.' It adds: 'Join any events in your area on that day and demonstrate that we will not give up our right to a safe workplace.' The message is being heeded outside the usual union and safety activist circles, too. This week UK-based IOSH - the world's biggest organisation representing safety professionals - is urging its members and staff to take up the issue. It has launching a new social media campaign, 'What does Workers' Memorial Day mean to you?', to mark the day. IOSH is calling on people to take pictures of themselves and their teams, holding up signs that describe what they see as the important message of the day. IOSH chief executive Rob Strange OBE said: 'We wanted to find a way of showing support to those people for whom Workers' Memorial Day has most poignancy, as well as for those who might need a reminder of why occupational safety and health is absolutely crucial. This campaign gets to the heart of the matter.' He added: 'We believe it's important that organisations like IOSH campaign and call for better occupational safety and health around the globe, in a bid to drive up standards and drive down statistics which currently show that too many people aren't returning home after work each day.' TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson commented: 'This is a welcome initiative from IOSH that illustrates the growing recognition of the importance of the day. We hope that as many people as possible will provide pictures of the reality of working life, in both the UK and abroad.'
- IOSH news release and 28 April tweets #workersmemorialday, mentioning @IOSH_tweets.
- TUC resources: 28 April webpage and events listing, Infographic, guides to dealing with the press [pdf] and lobbying MPs [pdf] and 2012 Workers' Memorial Day and TUC Day of Action list of activities.
- Check out the newly revamped ITUC/Hazards Workers' Memorial Day webpages, including a worldwide list of events and resources and the ITUC/Hazards 28 April facebook page. See what happened worldwide on 28 April 2011.
- Other resources: Get kitted out with Hazards Campaign forget-me-knot ribbons, free posters, lapel/stationery stickers [pdf order form], window stickers and t-shirts [pdf order form] - the perfect attire for a 28 April event. Further information from the Hazards Campaign, telephone 0161 636 7557.
TUC cops safety minister in high heels scandal
Health and safety minister Chris Grayling has been criticised for intending to use 'rubbish' stories invented last week by the tabloids to justify an attack on workplace safety rules. The criticism by the TUC came after comments included in a speech released by the minister, scheduled for delivery at an 18 April Policy Exchange conference. Mr Grayling was intending to say: 'It baffles me that at a time when we face a huge jobs challenge across Europe, that someone thinks it is sensible for the EU to be spending time legislating to ban high-heeled shoes in a hairdressers.' The minister opted to remove the contentious sentence after a pre-emptive criticism from TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson was posted on TUC's Stronger Unions blog an hour before the minister was set to deliver the speech, and which revealed the European Commission has no intention to do anything of the kind. 'What is happening is that discussions are taking place between the employers' and workers' representatives at European level through the organisations Coiffure EU and UNI Europa Hair & Beauty over proposals that they want to put to the European Commission on improving the appalling occupational health issues in this industry,' Robertson wrote. 'These proposals have not gone to the Commission yet and there is no suggestion from them that they plan any kind of legislation. Also the proposals do not mention high heels. They do mention preventing skin disorders, musculoskeletal diseases and the needs of pregnant workers. Having read the proposals they make some genuinely positive proposals around issues like substituting dangerous chemicals and protective equipment.' As far as footwear goes, all the draft says is: 'Workers shall wear suitable clothes for their activities or workwear clothing and, in particular, shoes with non-slip soles.' Robertson says it took less than five minutes to establish the press reports were 'rubbish'. His blog posting concludes: 'The problem is not that health and safety has gone mad, it is that employers are able to destroy the health of their workers with impunity because those who are meant to be protecting us are no longer willing to stand up for us. As a result, when sensible groups of employers, like those in hairdressing, are prepared to put their head above the parapet and say that they want to do something about it they will be far less likely to do so in the future for fear of getting ridiculed.'
- Stronger Unions. Policy Exchange conference, 18 April and YouTube clip of Chris Grayling's speech. National Hairdressers' Federation news release. Daily Mail.
Passenger jet's dive exposes pilot fatigue dangers
An incident in which an Air Canada passenger jet dived and caused injuries to 16 of those onboard provides a dire warning of the dangers of pilot fatigue, UK pilots' union BALPA has said. A report this week by Canada's Transport Safety Board found the 'confused and disoriented' Air Canada co-pilot, who has just awoken from a 'controlled rest period', mistook the planet Venus for an approaching aircraft. When he heard the cockpit proximity alarm warning and spotted an oncoming plane, he thought it was descending straight at them. The groggy pilot then overrode the auto-pilot and pushed the passenger jet into a dive. BALPA says the incident shows that pilot fatigue is a serious problem with potentially serious consequences, and warned about plans to relax pilots' hours in Europe. Jim McAuslan, BALPA's general secretary, said: 'There is little doubt that incidents like this will happen to UK aircraft more often if the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)'s plans are not changed. EASA's fatigue proposals, which will replace the UK's domestic arrangements, will drastically increase the total amount of time pilots could be awake for - up to 22 hours - before landing their aircraft. And, crucially given this incident, will allow pilots to fly far further without a relief crew member on board.' He added 'the number of pilots falling asleep at the same time - already distressingly high - is set to rise with EASA's plans. In a recent poll of BALPA members 43 per cent reported having fallen asleep on the flight deck, and of those, 31 per cent said they had awoken to find the other pilot also asleep.' He said the Air Canada incident should serve as a reminder to the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the government 'to take the pilot fatigue with the seriousness it deserves, and to agree an opt out for the UK so we can maintain the current high safety standards in the UK which we have enjoyed for decades.'
- BALPA news release. Transport Safety Board incident report. Globe and Mail. BBC News Online. Channel 4 News.
Tube bosses taking 'cavalier risks'
London Underground (LUL) bosses faced with a self-inflicted Olympics station-staffing crisis are taking 'cavalier risks' with passenger and staff safety, the rail union RMT has warned. The union says the Tube company is attempting to sidestep legally enforceable standards of training, and has called for an urgent safety summit. Standards of 'station familiarisation' introduced after the Fennell inquiry into the deadly 1987 King's Cross fire are being deliberately flouted 'in a cynical attempt to keep stations open at all costs during the games,' said RMT. According to the union, members of the Tube's Special Requirements Team, which provides extra station cover for special events, are being required to undertake station familiarisation in a fraction of the standard time - 'reducing potentially life-saving training to a box-ticking exercise.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'LUL is in a blind panic over the Olympics because it has cut 800 station-staff posts, and now it is trying to cover its back by abusing fire safety regulations brought in after 31 people died in the Kings Cross fire.' He said station familiarisation at the Bank-Monument station complex should take at least three days, but the union had evidence SRT members have been told by managers they have just one hour to complete the task. They are expected to complete familiarisation on several stations a day, the union said. 'We are seeking an urgent safety meeting with LUL to sort this out, but it is our members who will be held responsible if things go wrong, and we have advised them not to be pressed into rushing familiarisations or to sign competence certificates if they have any doubts at all,' RMT's Bob Crow said. 'We hope that LUL will see sense on this, but the company should understand that RMT will stand by any member who is disciplined for upholding these vital safety standards.'
RMT fears over Tube strike plans
Rail union RMT is demanding safety assurances from Transport for London (TfL) after the company said it aims to run services during next week's strike action regardless of whether essential maintenance and repairs work has been being carried out. The safety-critical Emergency Response Unit will be joining the strike action, the union said, heightening its concerns. Commenting on what the union described as 'a series of cavalier and politically-motivated statements,' RMT said managers at TfL subsidiary Tube Lines 'have attempted to create the impression that the essential day-to-day work of Tube maintenance and emergency staff is an irrelevance to the running of the system and have implied that they intend to ride roughshod over established and agreed safety procedures.' Tube Lines staff, including the Emergency Response Unit, will stop work at 16:00hrs on Tuesday 24 April 2012 and return to work for shifts starting after 16:00hrs on Friday 27 April 2012 in a dispute over pensions and employment rights. In letters to Mike Strzelecki, safety director at London Underground, RMT general secretary Bob Crow wrote 'the RMT does not believe it will be safe to operate the Tube network.' The letter continues: 'Should you attempt to run a service during the period of industrial action I shall advise RMT members of their option to remove themselves to a place of safety should they feel that their working conditions place them at risk of 'serious or imminent' danger.' RMT has copied the letter to the Office of Rail Regulation calling for its intervention on the safety issue and requesting an urgent report back.
Olympic 'bullying' risk for staff
The union GMB has warned that over one million shop and distribution workers face being 'bullied' by retailers that extend Sunday opening hours during the London Olympics and Paralympics. GMB is concerned people will be pressured into working longer shifts. The Morning Star reports that the union is also seeking 'Olympic premium' pay for staff required to work longer and compensation for the extra time it will take them to travel to and from work. It wants an assurance anyone working additional hours during the Olympics will be doing so voluntarily. GMB national secretary Gary Smith said: 'There is no recognition of the disruption that extending opening hours will have on well over a million shop and distribution workers across the country. We're concerned that they will be bullied into working and where's the fairness? Retailers will be making so much money and workers should share in that.' The government is rushing a Bill through parliament so Sunday opening hours can be relaxed for eight weeks around the Games. Retail union Usdaw has said its members are 'vehemently opposed' to any relaxation of Sunday trading laws (Risks 548). Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said he was 'extremely disappointed' the government had announced the measure without consultation. 'Shopworkers are entitled to expect some respect from the government and for their views to be heard and taken into account before any decisions of this importance are made,' he said.
Apprentice abuses must end, says UCATT
The government must take urgent action to stop safety and other abuses of apprenticeship schemes, the construction union UCATT has said. The union was commenting after 'serious safety concerns' were revealed in a BBC Panorama investigation broadcast earlier this month. The programme found private training providers were 'signing off' apprentices who had not been assessed and had not completed necessary training, using forged and doctored paperwork. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: 'Unless apprentices are directly employed by a company and have their education managed by a fully accredited college, then there is always going to be a fundamental problem with apprenticeship training. Private sector providers will invariably cut corners to boost profits. This creates real safety concerns as companies then employ someone who they believe is properly skilled and understands construction dangers when that is clearly not the case.' UCATT is campaigning for the number of construction apprentices to be increased. It wants the introduction of public sector procurement policies that require companies working on government contracts to train apprentices, with companies failing to do so not eligible for the work.
Physio injured in wet floor fall
A physiotherapy technical instructor needed two operations after her shoulder was dislocated in a workplace fall. The 61-year-old from Nottingham, a member of the Chartered Society for Physiotherapy (CSP), had to take early retirement following the incident at Aspley Wood School whilst she was working as a technical instructor training new physiotherapists for Nottinghamshire County Teaching Primary Care Trust. The grandmother-of-two, whose name has not been released, was unable to return to her job of 25 years after she slipped on a wet patch on the corridor in April 2007. As she fell she grabbed a handrail causing her left arm to dislocate. Her arm was put in a sling for four weeks but she developed a frozen shoulder and needed keyhole surgery in September 2007. Despite receiving extensive physiotherapy her shoulder was still painful. She was unable to work, sleep properly or do some household chores. By April 2008 it was clear she was unable to return to work and her contract was terminated. She felt she had no option but to take early retirement. Lawyers brought in by her union, CSP, argued that Nottingham City Council, which had responsibility for the school where the injury occurred, should have made sure that the corridor was kept safe. The council admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £54,000. Jess Belmonte, national officer at the CSP, said: 'The council's negligence means the Trust has lost a valuable member of staff with extensive experience. We hope lessons are learnt from this to avoid anyone else suffering the same plight.'
Lorry driver injured by falling fridge
A lorry driver damaged his shoulder after his employer failed to act on his warnings about the dangerous way vehicles were being loaded with scrap and rubbish. Unite member Alan Snook, 61, from Frome, Somerset, was working as a shunter for Wincanton Logistics on the firm's Comet contract when the incident happened in July 2009. His job involved moving and unloading lorries full of scrap from Comet's home delivery depots. Often the 40ft articulated lorries were full of discarded household appliances. He had complained to managers many times about the dangerous way the lorries were loaded. Items were often thrown in on top of one another and there had been several injuries to employees in the past. On the day of the incident, Mr Snook opened the back of the lorry and a fridge fell out, hitting him. He suffered injuries to his chest, neck and shoulder, which meant he had to take four months off work. He was unable to drive for two months. Shortly after suffering the injury, he was made redundant. Faced with a union-backed compensation claim, Wincanton admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. Mr Snook said: 'I've lost count of the times I spoke to bosses about the way the lorries were being loaded. Everything was just thrown in together and as a result many of my colleagues suffered injury. Our complaints were seen as 'just moans' and ignored and we had no choice but to get on with the job in hand.' He added: 'Unfortunately because there was no system I ended up with an injury which has affected the type of work I can take on. Luckily after I was made redundant from Wincanton I found a job which doesn't involve heavy lifting.'
Study highlights workplace lung cancer risk
A new study has confirmed the high numbers of lung cancers related to work. The research study in the Lombardy region of northern Italy used a new job-exposure matrix (JEM) to translate lifetime work histories into "never", "low" or "high" occupational exposure to six known or suspected lung cancer causes in a population-based case-control study. The results showed significantly increasing risks of lung cancer for exposure to asbestos, crystalline silica and nickel-chromium exposure. For exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, common in combustion products like soot and vehicle exhaust fume, an increased risk was found only for high exposures. No association was seen between exposure to diesel engine exhaust and lung cancer risk. John Cherrie of Edinburgh's Institute of Occupational Medicine, commenting in his OH-world blog, says from the finding of this and a recent UK study backed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 'it seems clear that an important fraction of incident lung cancers must be due to past occupational exposures.' The Italian study found the proportion of lung cancers in the population that could be attributed to exposure to asbestos, silica and nickel-chromium were 18 per cent, 5.7 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. 'The overall attributable fraction was estimated to be 22.5 per cent, based on cases ever being exposed to one or more of these agents,' Cherrie comments, adding the study for HSE 'estimated that about 21 per cent of lung cancers were attributable to occupational exposures, which is very similar to the Italian estimate. However, only about 60 per cent of the estimated cancers in Britain were due to the three agents considered by the Italian researchers.' The real risk, particularly in certain jobs, is considerably higher. Neither HSE nor the Italian researchers evaluated the full, lengthy, list of suspected and known causes of work-related lung cancer. And high risks limited to certain occupations, for example the established lung cancer risk to miners from diesel exhaust (Risks 546), can be buried or missed entirely in broader studies of this type.
- OH-world.org blog. S de Matteis and others. Impact of occupational carcinogens on lung cancer risk in a general population. International Journal of Epidemiology, published Online First, 31 March 2012.
- L Rushton and others. Occupation and cancer in Britain. British Journal of Cancer, volume 102, pages 1428-1437, 2010.
Government plans a 'big mistake' on work diseases
A campaigner who won a Supreme Court battle last month on industrial disease compensation has warned government legal aid plans could leave others without access to justice. Ruth Durham, who was involved in a landmark asbestos cancer compensation case (Risks 549), says a law being pushed through by the government would force those who contract illnesses at work to pay legal costs out of their damages. She said this would be a 'big mistake', seriously affecting access to justice. Ruth is joining others including unions and asbestos advocacy groups in urging MPs to support amendments tabled by Peers Lord Alton and Lord Bach to exempt industrial illnesses from the planned civil justice changes set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO). Commenting on her six year battle for justice for her father, Leslie Screach, who died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, she said: 'The final judgment shows how important it is that illness victims and their families are fairly compensated for the devastating illnesses contracted, often many decades previously. It would be a big mistake if parliament was to make it more difficult for future victims to access justice in these cases.' Her lawyer, Adrian Budgen, warned the government's legal aid changes would have 'consequences for the ability of industrial illness victims to access justice at a time when they need help from the law the most.' He added: 'We urge MPs to support the amendments and protect future innocent victims from having their access to justice eroded for illnesses they contracted through nothing more than going to work and doing their job, due to their employer's negligence.'
Bird-brained Daily Mail tells another hair-raising lie
If you want facts served along with your news and you are a Daily Mail reader, you'll have been left sadly wanting over the last few days. A headline on 13 April condemned the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after its Myth Busters Challenge Panel 'failed to come to a decision on the seagull in the pond case' (Risks 551). But HSE's panel had no need to respond to the Daily Mail's complaint, because a fire brigade's refusal to rescue a seagull had nothing to do with either HSE or workplace health and safety. HSE chair Judith Hackitt said the watchdog preferred to make decisions on the basis of facts, not 'hearsay', adding 'it is clear that it was not about health and safety at all.' A London Fire Brigade (LFB) spokesperson confirmed: 'The RSPCA called us out as an emergency. Our firefighters rushed to the scene only to realise they'd been called out to a seagull with a plastic bag round its leg which was swimming around quite happily and wasn't in any distress. This clearly wasn't an emergency so the firefighters left it to a local animal rescue charity to deal with and swiftly left the scene.' LFB added: 'Often, by the time our firefighters arrive at an incident, someone has waded in to try and rescue an animal only to get into danger themselves, so we send enough crews to deal with whatever we may find. The safety of the public and our firefighters is always our priority.' This failure of the Daily Mail to concern itself with the facts came hot on the heels of the paper's 9 April exclusive about a supposed ban on high heels for hairdressers 'under nanny state proposals being drawn up in Brussels.' The story was quickly kicked into touch by the TUC when it revealed employment minister Chris Grayling planned to use this as ill-founded 'evidence' to ridicule health and safety in an 18 April speech to the Policy Exchange. The minister had earlier told the Daily Mail: 'This kind of stupidity has to stop. It makes no sense and I will do everything I can to stop it.' In fact, the European Commission has no intention to regulate on high heels and the paper's claims are completely unfounded. TUC said rather than check the facts, the Daily Mail and the minister had lent damaging credibility to baseless claims in a scaremongering press release from the National Hairdressers' Federation, an industry lobby group.
- HSE statement. London Fire Brigade statement. National Hairdressers' Federation news release. Daily Mail getting it wrong on seagulls and high heels.
Full judgment exposes blacklisting scandal
A tribunal judge has issued a damning verdict on construction giant Carillion's use of blacklisting - and the weak laws which denied its victims justice. The judgment, which had been reserved from January, delivers a damning indictment on Carillion's role in the scandal. Employment judge AM Snelson criticised the lack of legal protection for Dave Smith, an engineer who took Carillion to an employment tribunal after he discovered his name was on the illegal Consulting Association blacklist (Risks 540). Carillion admitted that its subsidiaries Carillion (JM) and Schal International Management had used the Consulting Association's blacklist. It also admitted that its managers supplied damaging and false information to the blacklist about Mr Smith because he had raised concerns about safety when he was an accredited safety rep for builders' union UCATT. Mr Smith lost his tribunal case on a technicality, because he was not employed directly, but via an employment agency. But Judge Snelson said the tribunal had 'reached our conclusion with considerable reluctance.' He added: 'It seems to us that he has suffered a genuine injustice and we greatly regret that the law provides him with no remedy. We hope that he can take some comfort from the fact that the wrongdoing of which he complains has been exposed and punished and legislation passed designed to protect others from the misfortunes which he has experienced.' Following publication this week of the judgment, Dave Smith said: 'The written judgment says that I have suffered a great injustice at the hands of big business.' He added: 'It is not just me, but thousands of other workers who have suffered a grave injustice. The decision sums up by saying that, as an agency worker, I have no protection under UK law. In that case we need to change the law. That's why we are going to fight this all the way - we will appeal it to Strasbourg, if necessary.' An appeal to an Employment Appeal Tribunal is already being prepared.
Call centre workers suffer voice problems
One in four call centre workers suffer voice problems because managers are failing to properly protect their health, a study has found. Researchers commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) found around one in 10 call handlers had been diagnosed with a voice problem, while the same proportion said their work was now suffering because of the stress placed on their vocal cords. Of the call agents surveyed, 60 per cent reported having difficulty making themselves heard against background noise and 41 per cent said they had failed to be heard by the customer on the other end of the line. More than one in three call agents said their voice was hoarse often or very often. The researchers identified new starters, particularly female workers, as a high-risk group who are more likely to develop voice problems. Experts at Ulster University surveyed nearly 600 call handlers from 14 call centres across the UK and Ireland. Lead researcher Dr Diane Hazlett of Ulster University said: 'Policies on voice care should exist in all call centre environments, and should be reviewed regularly. Going forward, there needs to be an emphasis on the prevention of voice problems within the industry - to maintain optimal vocal health. Employers in this sector need to show they better recognise just how important the voice is, to having a healthy, well supported workforce and a thriving business.' In 2005, public sector union UNISON called for urgent action to address the voice loss risk for call centre workers, and made recommendations to tackle the problem (Risks 212). Adult education teacher Joyce Walters received a six figure payout in November 2010 for the occupational voice loss that forced her to give up her job (Risks 481).
- IOSH news release. Working voices: An epidemiological study of occupational voice demands and their impact on the call centre industry, IOSH, 2012 [pdf]. Hazards voice loss webpages.
Trustee fined after death of worker
A trustee of an estate trust has been fined after an employee was crushed to death when a tractor overturned and landed on him. Christopher Fox, 60, from Osberton near Worksop, was killed instantly when the tractor overturned during a tree felling operation. Mr Fox was standing by the tractor which was being used to control the direction of the falling tree as it was being felled. However, the tree fell in an unexpected direction and overturned the tractor, crushing Mr Fox. The incident happened on 4 November 2009 at Hodsock Forest Farm in the town. Mr Fox was employed by the GMT Foljambe 1996 Discretionary Trust, on the Osberton estate, of which defendant George Michael Thornhagh Foljambe is a trustee. After a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation Mr Foljambe of Mill Farm, Osberton, was prosecuted at Nottingham Crown Court for failing to ensure Mr Fox's safety and failing to ensure he had received adequate training in the equipment he was using. Mr Foljambe pleaded guilty to two criminal breaches of safety law and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,327. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector David Butter said: 'Felling trees is a high risk activity and anyone engaged in such activities needs to have had sufficient training for the task being undertaken and be provided with appropriate tools to enable them to carry out the task safely. These employees had not been trained to carry out felling on this size of tree and were using inappropriate tools to assist them, which has unfortunately resulted in a death of a husband and father."
Director fined after scaffold collapse
A former scaffolding company director has been fined after two employees were injured in a scaffold collapse. A 26-year-old man working for Robert Leslie Butler fractured his left ankle and right heel as he jumped six metres from a scaffold tower at student accommodation in Nottingham on 24 January 2011, as it fell to the ground. A second employee, 46, was working at a height of around 10 metres. He managed to hang on to the scaffold as it fell. It crashed into the building opposite and he was able to slide down to the ground, suffering minor injuries. The men, both of whom have asked not to be named, were in the process of dismantling the scaffold. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the scaffold tower had not been erected to industry standards and had not been fitted with adequate ties to secure it to the building. Robert Leslie Butler, 46, a director of the now defunct company RB & Son Scaffolding Limited at the time of the incident, pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £3,000 by Nottingham magistrates and ordered to pay costs of £2,000. After the hearing, HSE inspector Kevin Wilson said: 'The two men were extremely luck to survive this incident. There was no safe sequence of work in place to dismantle the tower. The fact the scaffold only had ties at the top meant that as soon as they were removed a collapse was inevitable.' He added: 'Work at height should be properly planned and a safe system of work developed. Mr Butler failed his employees in both respects."
Europe: Industry opposes strain injury rules
Employers' lobby groups from across Europe are opposing rules to reduce workplace risks from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). In a letter to Antonio Tajani, vice-president of the European Commission's Industry Committee, and László Andor, the Social Affairs Commissioner, nine European employers' associations say the European legislative initiative is 'neither necessary nor desirable'. The correspondence, dated 26 March, was circulated ahead of a meeting of the Committee on the socio-economic impact of a potential MSD directive. It says the directive would impose an unbearable administrative and financial burden upon companies, in particular smaller firms. The report cites an impact study by Matrix, a consultancy, which concludes legislation on MSDs would cost businesses 3.7 billion euro (£3bn). However the report has been criticised by the European trade union research body ETUI, which says it 'fails to mention the widely recognised fact that the human and economic cost of MSD is far higher than the alleged costs of better prevention. The European Commission recognises that MSD are the top cause of absenteeism (half of all absences of over three days) and permanent inability to work (60 per cent). According to some estimates, MSD account for a cost which is equivalent to between 2.6 and 3.8 per cent of Member States' GNP.' ETUI says an official proposed directive 'should come out in June 2012, if the Commission does not cave in to pressure from the employers.'
Finland: Workplace injuries up again
Workplace injuries in Finland are following 'a fairly alarming' upward trend, latest figures show. Trade Union News from Finland reports: 'Despite the best efforts of individuals and organisations to reduce the number of work accidents there has been a marked increase in 2011 - up by over six per cent from 2010. And this follows an earlier five per cent rise in 2010.' The report says the total number of cases where workers received workplace injury compensation rose last year to 132,000, a rate of 31.5 compensated work injuries per one million hours of work. Raili Perimäki, occupational safety expert with the union SAK, believes there needs to be a strengthening of occupational safety skills at workplaces. Those responsible for occupational safety should be required by law to undertake training in occupational safety, he said. More resources for safety inspection are needed, Perimäki added. He said: 'Work accidents should be analysed in a more detailed way to develop pre-emptive measures more specific as to industry-specific risks.' In recent years this has been done in the construction industry and results, at least in 2011, have been encouraging, he said.
South Africa: Anglo American blamed for dust disease
A South African miner who believes he contracted tuberculosis as a result of digging gold on behalf of Anglo American this week used the mining giant's annual meeting to demand compensation. Daniel Seabata Thakamakau, 66, represents more than 1,200 former miners who are suing Anglo American in a mass tort action. They allege the FTSE 100 company failed to provide protection from dangerous levels of dust created by deep-level gold mining between the 1960s and 1990s. The miners claim that Anglo American South Africa (AASA), a subsidiary of the UK-listed parent, is responsible for them developing silicosis, an incurable lung disease that often leads to tuberculosis. The often fatal lung scarring disease silicosis has been described by South African occupational disease expert Prof Tony Davis as a 'river of disease flowing out of the South African gold mines.' Leigh Day, the London-based law firm representing the miners, said the number of claimants could rise to tens of thousands and a potential payout could be worth hundreds of millions. Anglo denies any liability and points out that it was only a minority owner of the mines and does not currently have any stake in them. It is also disputing the right of the miners to bring the case at the high court in London because the case is against AASA, headquartered in South Africa. A decision on the jurisdiction of the case is expected on 9 May. Thakamakau, who started mining gold deep underground when he was 19 and was paid 1,000 rand (£100) a month, said: 'While Anglo became rich from the work that we did on their mines, we are now suffering. I have no money and I cannot afford to get medical treatment. All we are asking is for the company to provide medical assistance and our fair compensation.' Richard Meeran from Leigh Day commented: 'Anglo American is a multinational that prides itself on its commitment to corporate social responsibility. It is high time that the industry assisted in improving medical facilities in rural areas and establishing a compensation scheme to alleviate the suffering of ex-miners on whose backs it built its business.' The victims' campaign is supported by Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), War on Want, London Mining Network and Amnesty International UK.
USA: Concern after oil worker is boiled to death
California's largest oil company failed to warn employees of the dangers in an oil field where a worker was sucked underground and boiled to death last year, state authorities found - and then they fined the firm $350. The Los Angeles Times reports the small regulatory penalty has angered union leaders and reignited a debate over the risks of the extraction technique that led to the worker's death. The method, in which a rush of steam heats the ground and loosens oil deposits, yields much of California's crude. The paper says that for years union leaders have had safety concerns about the process, which they described as inherently dangerous because injecting steam into the earth at high pressures can create a minefield of craters-in-waiting. 'They let Chevron off the hook way too easy,' said Ed Crane, secretary-treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 12-6, the union that represents oil field workers. 'A guy died, for God's sake. If people aren't being trained properly, how does $350 handle that? Chevron is not going to pay attention to that.' According to state inspectors, Robert David Taylor and two Chevron co-workers were walking in a Kern County oil field last June when the earth opened up and swallowed Taylor. 'Immersed in a cauldron of oil fluids, he yelled for help as a co-worker tried to reach him - first by hand, then with a piece of pipe,' the LA Times reports. 'His body was recovered 17 hours later.'
Events and Courses
TUC courses for safety reps
COURSES FOR APRIL 2012 TO JUNE 2012
- Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
- Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
- What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
- HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
Issued: 20 April, 2012