Risks 554 - 5 May 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 23,000 subscribers. 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

Bad stats and policies add up to deadly workplaces

A government safety strategy 'built on myth and dogma' is making the UK's workplaces more deadly, unions have warned. Unite accused the government of hiding behind poor statistics, with workplace deaths 'underestimated by more than 800 per cent' in the official toll. Unite's general secretary Len McCluskey, speaking ahead of Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April, said: 'The government is hell bent on reducing health and safety regulations, and standards. It will lead to fewer inspections, less enforcement and more deaths, injuries and ill-health at work. The government's strategy, built on myth and dogma, puts workers at greater risk.' The union estimates up to 50,000 people could die each year as a result of work-related injuries and diseases. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis, calling on the government 'to think again about its damaging cuts,' said: 'The government is wrong in believing that health and safety rules are a burden on business. Cut the funding to develop and enforce these rules and business and the taxpayer will face the bigger burden of an injured and unwell workforce.' A statement from PCS, one of the main unions representing Health and Safety Executive (HSE) staff, noted: 'We believe that health and safety hurts nobody. In fact, businesses responded to the government's Red Tape Challenge by saying that they wanted more advice, not less. However, the government ignored the results and the HSE remains under threat.' Chris Keates, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said 'the Coalition wheels out apocryphal stories about health and safety for the amusement and entertainment of the public.' She said the government's 'underlying, sinister intention' was to use the stories as 'decoys' to excuse a 'disgraceful stripping away' of critically important workplace safety rules. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, speaking at a 28 April event in Liverpool questioned 'how many in the Cabinet of millionaires know a relative, friend, workmate, or pensioner, who worked with asbestos?' Asbestos cancers kill several thousand people each year in the UK.

Unions condemn 'dangerous' low risk line

The official decision to abandon official spot-check inspections in 'low risk' sectors including docks, agriculture, quarries and retail ignores the real dangers of the jobs and is driven by government-imposed cuts in the safety enforcement budget. Safety campaigners, speaking out on the 28 April, Workers' Memorial Day, warned the hands-off policy sends a signal to businesses they need not be so concerned about the safety of their staff. John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers' union Usdaw, said: 'Despite the fact a shopworker is assaulted, threatened or abused every minute of every day, the Tory-led Coalition thinks the shops where the majority of our members work are 'low risk' workplaces and are hell-bent on removing the protections in place to help keep them safe. Three separate reviews over the past year have concluded that the basic framework of health and safety law is fit for purpose, yet the government remains committed to an ideological attack on what it calls 'health and safety red tape'.' He added: 'What workers need is more effort and resources put into helping people comply with existing laws but instead the government offers only wholesale deregulation and cuts to the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities that advise on and enforce the law.' Three Workers' Memorial Day events in Humberside and others at ports around the country commemorated dock workers who had died in the last year. Despite a high death rate among dock workers (Risks 547), it is one of several jobs the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has rebranded as low risk, meaning docks will no longer be subject to proactive spot-check inspections. Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign said: 'If the HSE aren't going out and doing spot checks - and companies know that this isn't happening - it'll be very dangerous and make the situation worse.' Workers' Memorial Day saw hundreds of events across the UK, many attracting several hundred people.

Hull ship's crew 'has had enough'

The crew of tanker anchored outside Hull has called for union help after being left without adequate food and water. The owners of the Liberian registered tanker Leon had refused to take on food at the port, claiming UK prices were too high. The London-based ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation) received the calls for assistance. 'The crew were complaining that they were owed wages and had no fresh food provisions,' explained ITF inspector Tommy Molloy, who last week took a launch out to the vessel, owned by Roswell Tankers Corp of Athens, Greece. 'When I boarded the first thing the crew did was take me to the food stores. Most shelves are empty. There is flour for baking bread, sugar, butter; some canned fish, which they claim has been their staple diet for a number of weeks. There was no sign of fresh food apart from some lemons and some chillies. No fresh or frozen meat, poultry or fish, no vegetables and no fruit.' He added: 'When I asked why food was not brought on board when the vessel was alongside in Hull I was told the company had claimed it was too expensive in the UK.' Molloy, who also acts as an inspector for the UK seafarers' union Nautilus, has a copy of a medical report from a doctor in Poland for one crew member who has constant stomach pains, which stated that the crew member should 'go home to his local hospital for longer treatment'. But the company did not repatriate him from either Poland or Hull. 'The company are putting great pressure on the crew to sail the vessel but the 11 crew members are adamant they do not want to sail the vessel anywhere, they just want to be paid their owed wages and repatriated from the UK', Molloy said.

Dismay at Sunday trading laws move

The government's use of emergency legislation to force through a suspension of Sunday trading rules during the Olympics has left shopworkers 'bitterly disappointed', their union has said. MPs voted through The Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Bill on 30 April, after just nine hours consideration and debate in both the House of Commons and House of Lords. The legislation will suspend the Sunday trading laws in England and Wales for eight weeks this summer starting from 22 July. In a break with the convention that MPs have a free vote on the issue of Sunday trading, Coalition MPs were subject to a three-line whip, meaning all Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs were compelled to back the Bill. The shopworkers' union Usdaw said the government's decision to deny its MPs a free vote reflected the shambolic way the issue had been handled and the failure of the government to make a convincing case for the suspension. Responding to the vote, Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said 'only a handful of large commercial interests who would prefer a permanent deregulation of Sunday trading backed the temporary suspension.' He added: 'The vast majority of shopworkers are against longer Sunday opening hours and they will be bitterly disappointed by the vote. Thousands of our members contacted their MP to ask them to vote against this Bill and they will feel let down by the many MPs who failed to recognise the importance of shopworkers having time off with their families. While the government has said this Bill is only a temporary measure, Usdaw will monitor the situation very closely and we will campaign hard against any further deregulation should the Coalition fail to live up to its commitment."

BT engineer speaks up on hearing risks

A British Telecom engineer from Sheffield who suffers from a high pitch buzzing in his ears after years of working with faulty equipment is warning others of the risks. Stephen Starosta has now received £7,500 from BT to cover the cost of equipment to help deal with his tinnitus, which can be caused by exposure to excessive noise. The 56-year-old started work for the company as a telephone engineer in 1989. His job involved using BT's 'green set' and 'yellow set' oscillators, devices that transmit a constant high pitched sound through a headset, allowing the user to listen for changes in tone and track faults in telephone cables. Although the telecoms giant has since admitted that the equipment is dangerous and has withdrawn both oscillators from use, Stephen and his lawyers are concerned that other companies, who have been sold the old devices by BT, are still putting workers at risk. Stephen said: 'I only hope my case encourages employers to do all they can to keep workers safe and check tools supplied are fit for purpose. The consequences can be devastating and to know my tinnitus may easily have been avoided is a difficult thought to live with.' Mark Allen, the expert in tinnitus at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors who represented Stephen, said: 'It is vital that employers check their workers are not using these incredibly harmful oscillators to prevent them developing deafness and tinnitus.' Tony Rupa, head of legal services with the Communication Workers' Union (CWU), commented: 'People traditionally associate tinnitus and hearing damage with heavy manufacturing and music industries, but there are many people who work in the communications sector who are exposed to loud, continuous and high pitched noises.' He added that the union 'is assisting around 3,500 members with claims arising from the use of oscillators/amplifiers in their work, many of whom are suffering with tinnitus.'

Tanker drivers say safety is the top priority

An erosion of safety standards is the number 1 concern for tanker drivers, their union has said. Conditions for drivers - who on average carry 36,000 to 42,000 litres of flammable liquid on board a tanker every time they make a journey - have been eroded for years, Unite says. At a meeting last week of Unite's oil trades conference, delegates expressed 'deep concern' that proposals put forward by the employers' side in talks at Acas did not go far enough in bringing stability and security to the sector through industry minimum standards. 'Delegates expressed disappointment at the employers' failure to give sufficient guarantees on maintaining standards, security of employment, pensions and subcontracting,' a Unite spokesperson told the Morning Star newspaper. Unite represents 2,062 tanker drivers, covering 90 per cent of supplies to forecourts. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said the latest proposals 'represent progress on some of the key areas such as health and safety. But it is clear that they do not give enough guarantees that the instability and insecurity gripping the industry will come to an end. It is in everyone's interest that we end the contract merry-go-round and the erosion of standards in a vital industry.'

Tube train narrowly escapes disaster

Tube union RMT has demanded an independent investigation into London Underground maintenance and staffing cuts. The call came after photographic evidence emerged suggesting that a train that hit the buckled lining of a Bakerloo Line tunnel during rush hour on Thursday 26 April came within inches of being 'ripped open like a sardine can with potentially lethal consequences.' The union accused London Underground chiefs of 'breathtaking complacency' for trying to play down the seriousness of the incident. RMT said there is 'political pressure to cover up safety failures in the run up to the Olympics and the fact that the Bakerloo Line is the service that Boris Johnson intends to switch first to driverless operation despite the fact that it was a driver who sounded the alarm on Thursday morning potentially saving lives.' RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'It is grossly irresponsible for London Underground to make politically and financially motivated statements about the seriousness of Thursday's incident as it is clear from the pictures that if the buckled tunnel lining had moved another few inches it could have ripped open the train that hit it like a tin can with potentially lethal consequences. It was pure luck that the train lights hit the serious tunnel defect and the damage to the train roof shows just how close we came to a disaster, we will not accept a Tube safety regime that relies on luck and an ad-hoc emergency response unit cobbled together ill-equipped and ill-trained during the Tube Lines strike. The case for an independent investigation into the real impact of staffing and maintenance cuts is overwhelming.' The union leader said the case again highlighted the dangers of plans for driverless Tube trains (Risks 545). 'It was a driver who sounded the alarm on this serious incident once again proving the safety critical significance of the role they play as the network's eyes and ears down the tunnels.'

Union fears the 'Bad Tempered Games'

Train drivers' union ASLEF believes Londoners have no idea how much disruption the Olympics will cause to their commutes - and is worried about angry passenger reaction when they are faced with travel chaos during the Olympics and Paralympics. 'We urge everyone to prepare themselves for massive delays,' said union general secretary Mick Whelan. 'Because it is going to happen.' He added the underground network already struggles to cope, and with the influx of visitors for the Olympics the system 'will be at breaking point... I worry that there will be explosions of anger when the full scale of the problems are realised. I call on the Olympic authorities to make far more effort than they have so far to explain to the travelling public how massive the disruption is likely to be.' The union leader concluded: 'The Organising Committee can't hold its breath and cross it fingers and hope this will not happen. It will happen. We need a massive awareness campaign to prevent London 2012 being remembered as the Bad Tempered Games.'

Prospect rep wins STUC safety award

Colin Gourlay, a Prospect health and safety rep at engineering firm Babcock in Rosyth, has won this year's Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) safety award. Babcock is currently undertaking final assembly of the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, said: 'Colin has clearly demonstrated the difference that trade union health and safety representatives make in the workplace, he has worked tirelessly to retain and recruit health and safety representatives for Prospect as well as working with colleagues, management, other trade union as well as Prospect members at other sites involved in this project. The outstanding effort made by Colin and the thoroughness of his approach to health and safety make him a worthy recipient of this year's award.' The union leader added: 'The STUC have been impressed by the approach his employers, Babcock, have taken to engage with their trade unions to improve health and safety and the effort of Colin to ensure that the aim of Babcock that everyone goes 'Home Safe Every Day' is met.' The award, now in its fifth year, has this year been renamed in memory of Frank Maguire, a prominent personal injury solicitor with trade union law firm Thompsons, who died recently.

Other news

Electric shock director turns on HSE

A director of a company prosecuted after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences has claimed the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) only took the case to recoup is costs. Derek Offord, 45, suffered serious burns to his left arm and knee and open wounds to his forearm and left palm after receiving an electric shock while working at coating and treatment firm Tecvac Ltd's factory in Swavesey, near Cambridge. He was checking new cables on a hardening machine which had recently undergone maintenance, when he suffered the shock. Mr Offord spent 12 days in hospital and was unable to return to work for four months. Cambridge Magistrates' Court heard an HSE investigation found Tecvac had failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment, which should have identified the need to isolate the power supply before inspecting the cables. The firm admitted a criminal breach of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and was fined £3,500 plus £5,382.70 costs. However, after the hearing, Tecvac site director Richard Burslem told safety monthly SHP Online: 'I feel that the prosecution was not required because of our safety record and believe it was not in the public interest. In my opinion, the HSE only brought the case to court to recover their costs.' However, an HSE spokesperson told the safety quarterly Hazards magazine: 'It's nonsense to suggest that HSE brings prosecutions for financial reasons. We take employers to court when we have evidence of a criminal failure to manage risk and it is in the public interest to do so. The court's verdict reflects that the case prosecution was properly brought.'

Waste giant Veolia burned agency worker

Waste management firm Veolia Environmental Services has been fined after an agency worker was seriously burned by hot ash at an incineration depot in Deptford, London. The employee, who asked not to be named, sustained 17 per cent burns to his body whilst cleaning ash from a filtration hopper at the Veolia plant on 29 December 2009. The ash fell onto him when he entered the hopper and started prodding it with a rod in order to clear a blockage. He was hospitalised for almost a month. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Veolia did not follow its own policies and procedures and left a vulnerable worker at risk by failing to provide him with adequate information or supervision. City of London Magistrates' Court heard the employee, from Eastern Europe, spoke little English and had not been properly briefed in the working practices at the incineration plant. Veolia ES SELCHP Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £12,243. After the hearing, HSE inspector Kerry Williams said: 'The victim was a vulnerable worker who should have been protected whilst working for Veolia Environmental Services. However, he wasn't provided with the basic information, training or supervision to allow him to complete his job safely. As a result he was badly exposed and he sustained severe burns in an incident that could easily have been avoided.' She added: 'Veolia operates a high hazard site in Deptford and as such should ensure its systems are sufficiently robust to ensure people are not placed at unnecessary risk.' In October 2010, Veolia ES was fined £225,000 after a worker was killed in a vehicle collision while collecting litter from a busy road (Risks 477). In February 2010, Veolia was fined £130,000 for another workplace death (Risks 444). The company has been accused of being a 'serial safety offender' (Risks 445).

Global brick maker fined after worker crushed

The world's largest brick manufacturer has been fined after a worker suffered serious injuries when he was crushed on a conveyor belt at its Worcestershire factory. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Wienerberger Ltd following the incident on 19 October 2009 at the company's site at Hartlebury, near Kidderminster. Kidderminster Magistrates' Court heard how machine operator Michael Jordan, 48, was rectifying a fault which had stopped a brick packaging line from moving. He entered the safety zone around the line, which was protected by a perimeter fence with interlocked access gates, and climbed up onto the conveyor belt to fix the problem. However, the line suddenly restarted, activating a pallet lifter which came down and crushed him. He suffered a serious puncture wound to his back, several cracked ribs and extensive bruising to his face and leg. He was off work for six weeks. HSE's investigation found an interlock on one of the gates, which should have isolated the machinery, had been disconnected some days before the incident to allow a printer within the perimeter fence to be serviced. The company had also failed to carry out an adequate assessment of the risks arising from working on the printer within the perimeter security fence and the controls required. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Chris Gregory said: 'Deliberately bypassed interlocking devices are a common cause of injuries in the manufacturing sector. Free guidance on guarding standards for machinery has been available from HSE for many years and it is unacceptable to see such basic failings, particularly from a large company.' Wienerberger Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £11,611. The international building materials group had revenues in 2011 of over Euro 2bn (£1.65bn) and an after tax profit of Euro 41m (£33.5m).

Roofing boss tagged for dumping asbestos

The boss of a roofing firm has been electronically tagged after flytipping asbestos. Wallace Sharpless, who runs Advanced Roofcare in Gillingham, attempted to dump the hazardous material at two scrapyards on an industrial estate but both refused to take the asbestos. Having failed to find someone to take the waste, the 37-year-old then dumped the load at the roadside in Strood. Alan Conroy, prosecuting for Medway Council, told Medway Magistrates Court the asbestos was 'in a broken form on the back of an open truck.' He added: 'The aggravating feature here was that Mr Sharpless was told it was asbestos. He was told by two yards that they wouldn't take it and then he dispensed it on the high road regardless. We don't know where he got it, but it was certainly driven through open areas where there were members of the public and an industrial area where there were workers and people out walking their dogs.' Sharpless was sentenced to a curfew order between 8.30pm and 6.30pm for four months and ordered to wear an electronic tag. He was also ordered to pay costs of £1,020, including £720 to Medway Council for clearing the asbestos. He previously admitted transporting and depositing asbestos without a permit, failing to take it to an authorised place for disposal, not having the correct paperwork and failing to take reasonable steps to avoid exposure to others. Cllr Mike O'Brien, Medway Council portfolio holder for community safety, said: 'This man put members of the public at risk, as well as Medway Council's environmental health workers who cleaned this dangerous asbestos away. It is shocking that someone can have such little regard for others and act in this way.'

Farm firm partner fined after quad bike injuries

A partner in a Derbyshire farm business has been fined after an employee suffered life-changing injuries when his quad bike overturned. The 42-year-old employee of JD and RL Spalton, who has asked not to be named, was driving the all terrain vehicle (ATV) along a track at Lodge Hill Farm, Barton Blount, on 9 June 2010. He was rounding up sheep when the vehicle overturned. The man was airlifted to hospital with a damaged liver, broken jaw and stomach wound. He also lost his right eye, and was in intensive care for more than two weeks. He has since returned to work on light duties. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the vehicle was poorly maintained, with defects to the tyres, steering and brakes. The tyres were overinflated contrary to the manufacturer's clearly identified recommendations on a warning sign on the vehicle. The investigation also found that had a suitable helmet have been supplied the severity of the injuries to the man's head and face would have been greatly reduced. David Spalton, a partner in JD and RL Spalton, was prosecuted at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates' Court for failing to provide suitable protective equipment and failing to ensure the ATV was properly maintained. He admitted criminal safety offences and was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £2,000 costs. HSE inspector Berian Price said as well as all the maintenance problems, the company 'had also had a number of ill-advised home-made repairs carried out, including the use of bolts and screws inserted and glued into the tyres.'

Contractor fined after demolition tragedy

A building contractor has been fined after a worker was killed by a falling piece of masonry dislodged by his own son during a poorly planned demolition job. Agency workers Jamie Ford, 24, and his father, Stephen Ford, 50, were working under the control of contractor Do It Al to demolish a barn at Dunbury Farmhouse in Winterbourne Houghton near Blandford in November 2008. Jamie was using a handtool to demolish the wall when a piece came down and hit his father on the head. Neither man was wearing a hard hat and Stephen died of his injuries at the scene. Alaister Copland, trading as Do it Al, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay compensation to the family of £2,390 at Dorchester Crown Court. The compensation, awarded under the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, is to meet funeral and other related costs. The court heard no plan of work for the demolition was in place and Copland had no experience in demolition work of this kind. Speaking after the hearing, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Helena Tinton said: 'This is a tragic case which clearly demonstrates the dangers of carrying out demolition work without suitable planning. There were multiple failings with this project. In addition to having no written plan for the demolition work, there was inadequate supervision and no-one on site wore head protection. This demolition work should have been carried out remotely using machinery with clearly marked exclusion zones in place.' She added: 'In failing to plan and carry out the demolition of this building in a safe manner a family has suffered the devastating consequences of worker contributing to his own father's death - an absolutely tragic situation.'

Worker hurt by Crazy Frog

A fairground ride operator has been convicted of a criminal safety offence after a worker was thrown from a ride during the 2010 May Bank Holiday fair in Barnard Castle. Martin Brown, now 19, was working for Elliot Crow, of ride owners Alan Crow Amusements, as a ride attendant on the Crazy Frog Ride. Darlington Magistrates' Court heard on 31 May 2010 he occupied one of the cars in order to balance the ride. However, shortly after the ride started he was thrown from the ride and suffered serious injuries including a fractured skull, wrists, jaw and eye socket. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Mr Crow had failed to check the young worker, who has only been with the firm for three weeks, was seated in the ride properly or was adequately restrained. HSE inspector Andrew Mulligan said: 'It should have been clear to the defendant that Mr Brown was not properly seated or secured, particularly due to the number of times the car passed the control cabin prior to him being flung from the ride. If Mr Crow had supervised the ride properly he would have noticed this and could then have either not started the ride, or stopped it before the incident happened, thus saving Mr Brown the great physical and emotional harm he suffered.' Elliot Samuel Crow, 21, was found guilty of a criminal safety offence and was fined £520 plus £500 costs. Mr Brown, speaking to the Northern Echo after the case, said: 'I'm really pleased with the result. Hopefully, this will mean no one else has to go through this. I do get flashbacks and my wrists hurt, but I'm alive so I can't complain.'

International News

Asia: Warning over epidemic of workplace deaths

Asia is facing an onslaught of fatal occupational diseases, but this suffering is ignored, unreported and uncompensated, according to a new report by a labour rights group. Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) says unsafe workplaces are creating untold numbers of 'invisible victims of development.' The Hong Kong-based group's report on health and safety in six countries - Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand - was issued ahead of International Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April. Citing International Labour Office (ILO) figures, it says of the 2.2 million people who die each year all over the world as a result of work-related injuries or illness, 1.1 million are Asian. The report, 'Invisible victims of development: Workers health and safety in Asia,' notes that official data are lacking and the existence of hazardous work conditions is routinely denied. Yet grassroots accounts confirm that these workers and their families are marginalised, exploited and denied compensation and justice. 'Sick and injured workers in Asia remain invisible, as most countries in Asia do not adequately report work-related deaths, injuries and diseases,' said AMRC executive director Sanjiv Pandita. 'These victims are denied justice and dignity. Their deaths are the price that we as society have paid for the sake of development.' The report revealed that in India, a country of 1 billion people, only between 400 and 1,000 workplace fatalities are recorded each year, which would suggest it is one of the safest places in the world to work. In Indonesia, no worker has ever received compensation for an occupational disease.

Global: Top asbestos industry lobby group folds

The organisation that has for decades spearheaded the asbestos industry's global sales drive has folded. The closure of the Quebec-based Chrysotile Institute has been welcomed by unions and asbestos campaigners. The lobby group, formerly known as the Asbestos Institute, surrendered its charter to Canada's Ministry of Industry last month, days after vacating its Montreal offices. The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) reports the organisation left no forwarding address or phone number; calls made to the Chrysotile Institute and emails sent to its website went unanswered. Canadian human rights activist and ban asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff commented: 'Around the world there will be a cheer from all those working to protect people from asbestos harm, when the Chrysotile Institute finally closes its doors.' The Canadian Labour Congress also welcomed the news 'that the Chrysotile Institute, a pro-asbestos lobby group, that has received funding from the federal and Quebec governments, will dissolve and cease operation.' A statement from the union body added: 'The Canadian Labour Congress supports a total prohibition on Canada's production and export of asbestos along with a just transition program for displaced workers in the industry.' IBAS coordinator Laurie Allen said she believed the doors of the Chrysotile Institute are now shut for good, but warned 'there is no doubt that Russian, Brazilian and other asbestos lobbyists are waiting to pick up where the Canadians left off.'

Global: Italian widows highlight worker suicides

The grieving wives and family members of more than 25 businessmen who have taken their own lives because of financial woes linked to Italy's economic crisis took to the streets of Bologna on 4 May. The Guardian reports the organisers of the march, including the Italian Women's Union, believe there has been too little dialogue and not enough state support for families that have fallen into despair over unemployment, bankruptcies and loan defaults. The protest has focussed attention on the hardline economic policies that have driven many into hardship. A Lancet study published in July 2011 showed spikes in suicides across Europe during the recession (Risks 514). In October, the UK union Unite warned the government's austerity measures could lead to an increase in suicides (Risks 528). This type of economic strategy came in for harsh criticism last week from the International Labour Office (ILO). Its 'World of Work Report 2012: Better jobs for a better economy', published on 29 April, warned a new and more problematic phase of the global jobs crisis is emerging. A news release accompanying the report noted 'this is due to the fact that many governments, especially in advanced economies, have shifted their priority to a combination of fiscal austerity and tough labour market reforms. The report says such measures are having devastating consequences on labour markets in general and job creation in particular. They have also mostly failed to reduce fiscal deficits.' Lead report author Raymond Torres noted 'the prescribed cure is killing the patient.' ILO called instead for a strategy focused on growth and jobs.

USA: Obama drops child farm labour rules

The Obama administration has scrapped a plan that would prevent some children from working in dangerous farm jobs. The move has provoked a furious response from safety and child welfare advocates, who claim the president caved in to election-year pressure from the farming lobby and Republicans. The Labor Department spent more than a year working on the proposal to ban children younger than 16 from using power-driven farm equipment - including tractors - and prevent those under 18 from working in grain silos, feed lots and stockyards. Although the proposed regulation explicitly exempted children working on their parents' farms, there was an outcry that the measure would hurt family farms by preventing kids from working on them. Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, said: 'There was tremendous heat, and I don't think it helped that it was an election year.' He added: 'A lot of conservatives made a lot of political hay out of this issue.' Laura Clawson, writing in the Daily Kos, commented: 'That misinformation campaign included a Facebook post from Sarah Palin claiming, falsely, that 'The Obama Administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms'.' Clawson added: 'Many of the people concerned about the proposal to restrict child agricultural labour may have legitimately, if incorrectly, believed that family farming would be threatened. But more than 400,000 kids aged 12 to 17 work on farms in the United States. Most of them are not helping their farm-owner parents or grandparents out; many of them are migrant workers trying to help their families get by, working in the same harsh conditions adults face, and dropping out of school at high rates. There's big money in children working on non-family farms, and that played a major role in the organised, powerful campaign to keep kids in the fields.'

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