Risks 555 - 12 May 2012

Share this page

Risks
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

Abuses still exist in Olympic supply chains

Workers making London 2012 Olympic sportswear for top brands and high street names including Adidas and Next are being paid poverty wages, forced to work excessive overtime and threatened with instant dismissal if they complain about working conditions, according to a new report. Researchers working for the Playfair 2012 campaign visited ten factories - eight of which were producing Olympic goods - in China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and talked to 175 workers about their working conditions. The report, 'Fair games'? Human rights of workers in Olympic 2012 supplier factories', documents a range of working hours, pay and safety abuses. At an Amerseas Enterprises Factory in China, producing sportswear for London Olympics sponsor Adidas, workers said they were unable to wear the safety masks to protect against dust because of unrealistic production targets. Playfair 2012 says this additional evidence should increase the pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to improve the working conditions in Olympic supply chains in the run up to Rio 2016. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Despite the London organisers' best intentions and its confidence that factory audits would be enough to expose any abuses, this report shows that there have been goods made in Olympic supply chains where the workers were treated in a way that cannot be described as ethical.' He added: 'We hope that the IOC can benefit from LOCOG's [London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games] experience and ensure that the lessons learned in 2012 lead to better and fairer working conditions for those producing sportswear or merchandise in the run up to Rio 2016. There is much too in this report for sportswear brands and our high street chains to take on board.' Playfair 2012, which includes the TUC and Labour Behind the Label, is the UK arm of the international Play Fair campaign.

Tanker crew finally fed and paid

The Russian and Ukrainian crew of the Liberian registered tanker Leon, which has been stuck at anchor outside the Port of Hull since 20 April (Risks 554), finally received their owed wages and fresh food provisions last week following the intervention of the global union federation ITF. The crew had refused to sail the vessel until the Greek owners, Roswell Tankers Corp of Athens, had paid wages owed from January and had provided food and water to replenish exhausted supplies. 'The crew had not eaten any fresh food - such as fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and so on - for a number of weeks and were left with no option but to seek our assistance to have this rectified,' said Tommy Molloy, an inspector for ITF and the UK seafarers' union Nautilus. Molloy was on board the vessel to oversee the arrival of provisions by tugboat and to verify wages had been paid. Eleven of the crew had originally asked to be repatriated to their homes from Hull. But following the arrival of food and wages six of the crew agreed to stay on board until the next port, believed to be Kaliningrad in Russia. Five crew were replaced, including a chief engineer with stomach pains who ITF said should have been repatriated on medical grounds following a visit to the doctor in Poland. Molloy said the ITF will keep a watchful eye on the vessel and the wellbeing of the crew. 'The fact that the ITF has to get involved to ensure that a company like this meets its basic obligations towards its crew is appalling. We should not have to remind them of the right of seafarers to receive their wages at the end of every month and the right to decent quality food. I genuinely hope we don't have to remind them again.'

Government set to ignore deadly rail lessons

Rail union RMT has warned the government another tragedy on Britain's railways is 'inevitable' if government plans to bulldoze through the McNulty Rail Review's proposals go ahead. The union comments came ahead of a commemoration to mark the tenth anniversary this week of the Potters Bar disaster, which claimed seven lives and injured 76 others when a train in Hertfordshire derailed on a faulty set of points. RMT is concerned key recommendations from the McNulty review - massive job cuts, de-staffing both on trains and on track along with opening up infrastructure to private companies through the creation of a series of mini-Railtracks - now form the basis of a government Command Paper. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Once again, under the McNulty plans adopted by the government, rail infrastructure is going to be run for profit, setting up the same poisonous set of conditions that led to the disasters of the past under Railtrack. We have witnessed the lethal truth at Potters Bar and Hatfield that when profit is the motive, repairs and maintenance work gets ignored and delayed because companies want to maximise returns for shareholders. This is what happened in the run-up to previous tragedies, corners were cut and the Government cannot be allowed to simply ignore the facts in the interests of a pro-privatisation ideology.' The union leader added: 'RMT is in no doubt that the end result will be further unnecessary deaths and injuries on the railways. The anniversary of the Potters Bar crash is a wake-up call 10 years on for the government to look again and realise that they have got the policy wrong and that the private profit motive is no way to run a safe and efficient railway."

Unions and MPs slam rail proposals

More than 100 MPs have signed an early day motion (EDM) criticising government proposals for the future of railways in the UK. The EDM warns that the government's plans will 'worsen passenger services through the loss of thousands of frontline workers from trains, stations, ticket offices, safety-critical infrastructure and operational roles,' and 'will result in higher fares, cuts in services and more crowded trains.' The EDM - tabled by Labour MP John McDonnell - has attracted cross-party support. Union leaders echoed the MPs' concerns. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This government has learnt nothing from the tragedies of the past and is allowing the profiteers to bleed the railways of desperately-needed investment while creating the perfect conditions for another Hatfield or Potters Bar. It is a national disgrace.' TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said fewer trains staffed by fewer workers will lead to 'a less safe and more confusing environment in and around stations. It is a national disgrace designed to benefit shareholders and allow government to deny responsibility.' And Unite national officer Julia Long said: 'Ministers think they can cut the size of this subsidy by pushing operating companies to sack staff and cram even more people onto old, tired rolling stock. The government's policy will also increase the potential for disruptions to intercity passenger and freight services.'

Cautious welcome for rail safety plan

Train drivers' union ASLEF has given a qualified welcome to some 'very encouraging remarks about health and safety' in the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) business plan for 2012/13. ORR says its plan, published on 1 May, is 'focused on bringing the rail industry together to ensure high levels of safety, delivering more for customers and reducing costs.' ORR has been criticised by unions for its dual role as both 'the independent economic and safety regulator for Britain's railways.' However, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: 'While much of the report is about the economic efficiency of the rail industry, it is heartening to see clear expressions of concern over rail safety.' One of ORR's key priorities for the year is 'insisting on excellence in safety culture and management.' The annual plan includes reducing passenger and worker accidents by 5 per cent, cutting level crossing incidents by 7 per cent, and taking action on fatigue. Mick Whelan commented: 'We will use the principles expressed in the ORR plan as we raise health and safety issues in the workplace, and will ensure the regulator involves ASLEF reps in implementing changes, as indeed they are required to do by law.' The union leader also sounded a note of caution on the ORR plan. 'While much of this sounds progressive and useful, it always rings alarm bells when 'safety' and 'reducing costs' appear in the same breath. In our experience, lower costs mean lower standards.'

Robot operator suffers brain injury

A system of inspection that would have spotted the need for a simple repair could have prevented an incident which left a welder with a brain injury. GMB member Peter Hibbert has memory problems and is unable to lift heavy objects after suffering the injury at Linde Material Handling in Basingstoke. He was employed as a robot operator for the firm, which builds forklift trucks. Investigations found that a machine that makes the lift mechanism was faulty, but this had gone unnoticed because there was no inspection programme to identify defects. Mr Hibbert was struck on the head by the defective machine and knocked unconscious, leading to severe headaches and short term memory loss. He also suffered from whiplash-type injuries to his neck and shoulders. After 18 months off work he was made redundant. Since then he has since been able to find work as a welder fabricator and engineer, but is limited in the type of roles he can do as he is unable to lift heavy objects. He still suffers from short term memory loss and finds it difficult to keep up with conversations. Faced with a GMB-backed compensation claim, Linde admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. Mr Hibbert said: 'I'm very angry about what happened to me as it has had a dramatic effect on my life. I'm limited in the type of jobs I can now apply for and socially I find it difficult. My memory problems mean I find it difficult to keep up with the conversation. I've learnt over the years to adapt to my physical limitations and I've fortunately now found work but my accident was totally avoidable.' GMB regional secretary Paul Maloney said: 'A system of inspection would have picked up that a simple repair was needed and the accident would never have happened. Regular inspection and maintenance is something good employers have been operating since machines were first introduced into the workplace.'

Polish cleaner suffers costly slip

A GMB member who suffered a knee injury after a fall at work has received £12,000 in compensation. Arkadiusz Chmiel who lives in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but who is originally from Poland, twisted his knee after slipping on flooring whilst working for Timbet Door Solutions in the town. The cleaner was moving a 30 kilo wooden sawbuck when he slipped on the paint-treated floor, falling to the ground. His knee was injured as he twisted to avoid the heavy equipment falling on top of him. As well as arranging legal support, GMB also put him in touch with a Polish-speaking organiser, Dominika Tyszkowska, who was able to act as a translator. Investigations revealed the floor Mr Chmiel was working on had been painted with regular paint, when it should have been treated with a specialist anti-slip paint. Timbet Door Solutions admitted liability and settled the claim out of court. Andy Worth, regional secretary at the GMB, said: 'This member was left unable to work because of an accident which could have been avoided had his employers taken care to apply anti-slip paint to the workplace floor. Language should not be a barrier to claiming compensation and we were more than happy to provide Mr Chmiel with translation help and legal support in the aftermath of this accident.'

Other news

Regulators to face 'sunsetting' threat

A law intended to push forward the government's plans to strip employment regulation and further limit or even abolish regulators will form part a key part of the government's plans for the next session of parliament. The Department for Business (BIS) said the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, trailed in the 9 May Queen's Speech, would include measures to 'reduce inspection burdens on business and strengthen the legal framework for sunset clauses on regulation' and 'repeal unnecessary legislation, cutting the burden on business and citizens.' John Cridland, director-general of the business lobby group CBI said 'the jury's out' on the government's regulatory reform plans, and called for the new law to be used to cut regulations and regulators. 'We hear a lot about regulatory reform, but the big prize for businesses would be to major on the new power for 'sunset clauses' on regulation and regulators. Every new bit of regulation should be time-limited and then reviewed.' He added: 'It is employment regulation where the shoe pinches for growing firms. We await the government's bold reforms in this area.' TUC however indicated dangerous firms were already overlooked by regulators. A TUC spokesperson said: 'Despite all the evidence, the government retains its obsession that businesses are over-inspected. Changes introduced last year mean that most employers will never have the benefit of a health and safety inspection unless they report a death or serious injury. This will mean employers will be both less likely to report injuries, and also will be less likely to take adequate measures to protect their workforce.' He warned: 'We are already seeing evidence that fatalities seem to be rising in many industries as businesses cut back on health and safety. If the government continues to give the message that good health and safety is a burden then this can only increase.' Commenting on the wider attack on employment rights included in the legislation, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'What is worst is that ministers are wrapping up a real attack on rights at work as good for growth and employment.'

Grayling turns again to job killer 'claptrap'

Employment minister Chris Grayling has told employers he believes 'unneeded' workplace safety regulations 'stifle' economic growth. Speaking at an Enterprise Forum meeting in London last week, he said: 'That's why we are cutting health and safety bureaucracy. We're making good progress and I am determined to cut the number of health and safety regulations in half.' The minister responsible for workplace safety added: 'Of course we have to protect people against death and serious injury in the workplace and we won't do anything to risk this but if we stifle their employers with unneeded rules and regulations those people won't have a job in the first place.' Critics again refuted government claims about safety regulation being a job killer (Risks 495), pointing out that good safety enforcement makes business sense (Risks 499). Each 'accident' death at work costs over £1 million. Each occupational cancer death - and TUC estimates there are over 15,000 each year - comes at a cost to society of over £2.5m. Families Against Corporate Killers co-ordinator Hilda Palmer rubbished Mr Grayling's comments as 'ideological claptrap' based 'on no evidence whatseover.' She said: 'Too many regulations don't kill people, too little regulations do and the government is failing to protect workers from serious safety risks.' The minister also trailed the publication of a new Health and Safety Executive guide intended to help businesses avoid unnecessary safety tests on portable electrical appliances.

If retail is low risk, why's it so dangerous?

A national chain of newsagents has been prosecuted for the second time in 18 months for serious safety offences. The criminal prosecution of Martin McColl Ltd, which has 1,200 stores nationwide, is the latest incident to raise questions about the government stipulation that 'low risk' workplaces, include retail premises, farms and docks (Risks 551), should be exempted from routine preventive health and safety inspections by regulators (Risks 507). In September 2010, the firm was fined £5,000 after the branch manager of a shop in the Martin McColl chain was seriously assaulted in an early morning robbery (Risks 473). The court heard the violent incident was one of a number recorded at the firm's shops in the north-west of England. Last week the chain was fined £25,000 and order ordered to pay £14,299 costs after admitting a catalogue of criminal safety breaches at stores in Cornwall. Bodmin Magistrates heard the company had put staff and customers at a number of stores at risk from asbestos, electrical hazards, slips and poorly maintained premises with inadequate welfare facilities. Lance Kennedy, Cornwall Council portfolio holder for Community Safety and Protection, said: 'The fines awarded by the magistrates reflect the seriousness of this case. We do try to work with businesses, but we will not hesitate to take formal action through the courts if they ignore our advice and fail to take the appropriate steps to protect the safety of their workers or members of the public.'

Risks posed by debt-ridden private fire firm

Debts at the private company operating London's fleet of fire engines threaten its ability to tackle blazes in high-rise buildings, official papers warn. A report obtained by the Observer, written by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, warned that AssetCo, which owns the capital's 500 appliances and 50,000 pieces of critical safety kit, was beset by crippling financial problems that were affecting its aerial operations in particular. These involve the high-reach appliances used to tackle fires in offices and large industrial blazes that are considered to be of critical importance in the capital. The report notes: 'The overall availability of the aerial fleet continues to be poor because of the ongoing excessive downtimes for maintenance, repairs, fault diagnosis and technical investigations. AssetCo has not yet achieved a maintenance and repair regime for the aerial fleet which brings downtimes within acceptable levels.' Firefighters' union FBU said the London Fire Service should follow the example of Lincolnshire which recently cancelled its contract with AssetCo. 'AssetCo's London subsidiary is in dire straits and could collapse or be put up for sale at any moment,' FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the Observer. 'In the run in to the Olympics either of these options would be a disaster for London. There is complacency and indecision at the very top of London fire brigade management. Lincolnshire took decisive action and took back control of their assets, London is still dithering.'

Guilty director fined £2,500 after fall death

The director of a building firm has been prosecuted after a self-employed contractor fell to his death through a fragile roof on an industrial building in Penryn. Paul Gibbons, 59, was carrying out re-roofing work for Acryflor Ltd on 22 September 2008 when he fell eight metres through the asbestos cement roof onto the floor below. He was taken to hospital but died of his injuries later that day. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Onyx Europe Ltd (formerly Acryflor Ltd) had failed to put adequate safety measures in place. Truro Crown Court heard the work had not been adequately planned and no safety nets or crash deck platforms had been provided to mitigate the effects of a fall. Acryflor director Matthew Peter Williams pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,500 after the judge heard he was £1.5 million in debt and had an annual income of £15,000. HSE inspector Jon Harris, speaking after the hearing, said: 'Mr Gibbons' death could have been prevented if the work had been planned properly and industry standards, such as providing netting, had been applied.' He added: 'The company should have employed a planning co-ordinator to develop a construction plan for this work and the project should have been overseen by someone with appropriate knowledge and experience. Safety nets are the industry recognised standard for this purpose and in this case were installed following the incident.'

Egg firm fined for broken legs

A Shropshire egg supplier has been prosecuted after a female worker suffered serious injuries falling two metres through a hole in the floor of a poultry barn. The 43-year-old Shropshire woman, whose name has not been released, fractured two bones in her left ankle and the heel bone in her right leg as result of the fall on 26 July 2011. The injuries have prevented her returning to work at Staveley's Eggs Ltd, where she had been an egg packer for six years. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told Shrewsbury Magistrates' Court that floorboards had been taken up for building work immediately behind a door regularly used by the worker on an upper floor. No warning signs had been posted and no one had informed her of the repair work being carried out. The woman opened the door outwards and fell more than two metres onto the concrete ground floor below, shattering bones in both ankles. The court heard she spent eight days in hospital for an operation to have two plates inserted into her left ankle in order to stabilise the joint. She has since had a further operation on this ankle and suffers from poor mobility. Staveley's Eggs Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £2,386 costs. HSE inspector Lyn Mizen said after the hearing: 'This incident could have easily been prevented if a suitable risk assessment had been carried out. Fundamental and basic measures such as nailing the door shut or posting warning signs had not been taken. Bean bags or air bags underneath the hole would have provided appropriate and relatively inexpensive fall protection for all employees.'

Firm convicted after forklift mangles leg

A Yeovil construction company has been convicted of criminal safety offences after a subcontracted worker suffered serious injuries when he was struck by a forklift truck. Experienced ground worker Paul Daniels, 50, suffered shattered bones and almost lost his foot in the incident on 10 September 2010. His employer CJL Construction Ltd had been subcontracted by Brookvale Homes SW (Ltd) to install external drainage to a row of newly built terrace properties in Langport, Somerset. Yeovil Magistrates Court heard that Mr Daniels was hit in the chest and knocked down by the front right stabiliser of a forklift truck that drove towards him. The wheel ran over his lower right leg, crushing his bones and partially amputating his foot. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Brookvale Homes (SW) Ltd had failed to manage the safe movement of pedestrians and vehicles around the construction site because there were no designated walkways, pavements or restricted vehicle only areas. The location of storage areas and skips meant there was a significant amount of vehicle traffic across and around one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares. On the day of the incident, there was an obstruction that significantly narrowed the width of the carriageway and the space available to the forklift driver. Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Annette Walker said: 'Luckily an extensive operation saved Mr Daniels' foot. However, this was now over a year ago and he has required further operations and treatment and is still unable to return to work.' She added: 'The law clearly states that construction companies have a duty to organise sites in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles can move safely and without risks. However, it is evident that Brookvale Homes (SW) Ltd gave very little consideration to the matter of segregating pedestrians and site vehicles.' The firm was found guilty of a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and fined £10,000 plus £7,576.40 costs.

Fruit packer suffers slashed hand

A horticultural business in Southampton has been prosecuted after a worker injured his hand on an unguarded machine. General labourer Edmund Skweres, 52, suffered a deep cut that required 11 stitches in the incident at AE Roberts (Fruitgrower & Nurseryman) Ltd on 7 February last year. Fareham Magistrates' Court heard he was attempting to clear waste around the jaws of a root packing machine when his right hand was caught between a metal drive wheel and a guide rail. The machine uses a hydraulic ram to push a moveable jaw against a fixed jaw to compress compost around the bare roots of plants. The drive wheel cut into his hand through his glove and lacerated the skin between his thumb and forefinger. He was off work for a month as a result of the injury. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that guarding could and should have prevented access to dangerous moving parts on the root packer. AE Roberts operated five similar machines, each lacking guarding, HSE discovered. The company pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £2,000 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector Michael Baxter said: 'Mr Skweres suffered a painful and entirely preventable injury for the sake of a simple guard that would have prevented access to the hydraulic drive mechanism. This incident highlights the importance of ensuring dangerous moving parts are strictly off limits. Guards are there for a reason, and there is no excuse for compromising safety by failing to fit them.'

International News

Australia: Warning on blue collar cancer risks

More than 90,000 blue collar workers in Australia could be at risk of cancer owing to a lack of coordination between regulators to reduce exposure to carcinogens and the absence of any incentive for industries to act. A national cancer at work forum hosted by Cancer Council Australia (CCA) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) heard the highest numbers of at-risk workers are employed in machinery manufacture, printing and allied industries, the food industry and plastics manufacture. The chair of CCA's occupational cancers committee, Terry Slevin, said Australia remained in the dark ages when it came to reducing the risks of occupational cancer. 'There is no cohesion in the regulatory framework, no incentives for industry to reduce the use of toxins and no integrated approach to fixing these and other problems,' Mr Slevin said. ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said fragmentation was evident in the absence of regulatory links between three of the key government agencies involved - Safework Australia, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme and the National Pollutions Inventory. 'These three bureaucracies operate in silos, despite all of them having some responsibility for helping to protect Australian workers from occupational cancer,' he said. 'Compare this to the European Union, which is introducing REACH, based on 'no data, no use principle' which will coordinate and require action from companies throughout the EU, which has 27 member states, as many languages and 500 million people.' CCA's Terry Slevin added: 'Australia is seen as a leader in cancer prevention, yet we lag well behind many comparable economies when it comes to protecting our workers from cancer risk. The government is looking at ways to improve the system, so we hope the evidence presented today encourages the establishment of an integrated national approach to reducing workplace cancer risk.'

Australia: Asbestos criminal duped the stock exchange

Seven former directors of Australian building materials giant James Hardie misled the Australian Stock Exchange about the company's ability to fund compensation claims from asbestos victims, the High Court has ruled. The High Court's decision overturned a ruling in favour of the directors in 2010, who had successfully challenged court finding against them the previous year. However an appeal by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission against that ruling found that former chair Meredith Hellicar and ex-directors Michael Brown, Michael Gillfillan, Martin Koffel, Dan O'Brien, Greg Terry and Peter Wilcox approved misleading and deceptive statements about the company's ability to meet its asbestos compensation liabilities. Ged Kearney, president of the national union federation ACTU, commented: 'It is quite appalling that the directors continued to cause pain and suffering to these families, forcing this matter to go all the way to the High Court. Hopefully now, they can rest a bit easier, knowing that justice is a step closer to being done.' She added: 'These people were at the helm of a company which was responsible for one of Australia's worst corporate crimes and it is incomprehensible that they sought to get off scot free.' Paul Bastian, national secretary of the manufacturing union AMWU, called for Australia's Corporations Law to be tightened 'to hold corporate directors to account for their moral behaviours and to be able to impose lasting and meaningful penalties on them such as having to attend death-bed hearings of victims and their families or imposing heavy community duty fines.' He added: This is not simply about numbers on the bottom line or about misleading statements. It is about people's lives. That's why it is critical that we make sure the law is able to ensure directors engaged in such behaviour fully accept their responsibilities, are taught life altering lessons and don't ever believe they are above the law or moral decency.'

Canada: Campaign to enforce work deaths code

On the 20th anniversary of Canada's deadly Westray mine explosion, the United Steelworkers union (USW) has embarked on a renewed effort to ensure enforcement of the 2004 Westray Act. The landmark changes to Canada's Criminal Code, introduced after a lengthy union campaign, were intended to make corporations, their directors and executives criminally accountable for the health and safety of workers. 'We made history when we led the way for the Westray Act to go forward,' said USW national director Ken Neumann, but he added: 'There needs to be better and more consistent enforcement by police and prosecutors.' Neumann said the union campaign will target attorneys-general across the country, whose job it is to see that the Criminal Code is upheld. 'If the Westray Act is properly enforced, more negligent bosses will be held to account for putting workers' lives at risk and ultimately we will see fewer fatalities,' said Neumann. 'We are tired of workers' death and injury being considered an acceptable cost of doing business.' An entire shift of 26 men died at the Westray Coal mine in Nova Scotia, which exploded in the early morning of 9 May 1992. 'I can't help thinking that the reality of corporate greed, lack of political will and oversight, bad managers and a continuing lack of justice are still with us today,' said Allen Martin, a member of the Westray Families Group, whose brother Glenn was one of the mine victims. 'People like my brother Glenn are still dying today because of the same self-serving attitude of corporations and governments,' Martin said. 'How sad is that?' The Canadian Labour Congress, the national union federation, marked the anniversary with the publication of a guide to the effective use of the Westray Act. It says it can be used to help ensure negligent employers are held criminally responsible.

New Zealand: Big increase in safety agency welcomed

Plans to boost the number of frontline health and safety inspectors in New Zealand are a step in the right direction, the public sector union PSA has said. The government, which has seen workplace safety spend months in the headlines throughout a lengthy hearing into a mines tragedy, has announced a full review of New Zealand's health and safety system along with a 20 per cent increase to the number of health and safety inspectors over the next three years. Last year the Council of Trade Unions (Risks 519) said the enquiry into the November 2010 explosion at Pike River in which 29 miners died showed a beefed up inspectorate was absolutely necessary (Risk 514). Commenting on the government's announcement, PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said: 'At a time of massive public sector cuts and a squeeze on health and safety operations at the Department of Labour, it is good to see some commitment to health and safety and investment in frontline public services. Our members have been telling us for some time that the health and safety inspectorate has been slowly run down and they have little time for proactive work - most of the time they are acting in response to complaints or events. This might go some way towards changing that.' PSA warned 'serious concerns' remain about how health and safety regulation will maintain its independence in a new business-focused super Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise. 'Hopefully the review will address some of those issues. It's in everyone's interests to have a well-resourced, trained and staffed health and safety inspectorate and we look forward to getting some details about exactly what the review will look at and how it will be carried out.' He said the government was sitting on millions of dollars raised from a health safety employment levy which should be released to improve workplace safety.

Thailand: Asbestos supporters 'are liars'

The asbestos industry has turned its promotional efforts towards Thailand, with critics saying it is using lies emblazoned on t-shirts to drive home its asbestos-is-good-for-you message. Laurie Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) notes that 'it comes as no surprise that asbestos vested interests in Thailand are liars.' But she adds the latest deceit, used to promote chrysotile (white) asbestos in Thailand, is 'in a class of its own'. Writing on the IBAS website she notes: 'Where other vested interests may have tried to spin the truth to their own advantage, these industry stakeholders engaged in out and out, bald-faced lies.' She points to t-shirts distributed by asbestos manufacturer Oranit, bearing this message alongside its logo on the front: 'A toothpick is more dangerous than Asbestos.' On the back, it says: 'Only Chrysotile can be digested and not accumulate in the body. 85 per cent of the world's population still need it. WHO certifies that it is safer than substitutes. USA accepts that TOOTHPICKS are more dangerous. GOOD and CHEAP.' The move prompted the World Health Organisation's (WHO) office in Thailand to issue a strong rebuttal. A WHO statement concluded: 'In collaboration with the International Labour Organisation, intergovernmental organisations and civil society, WHO is actively working towards the elimination of asbestos-related diseases. The most effective way to eliminate asbestos related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos.'

Events and Courses

TUC courses for safety reps

COURSES FOR APRIL 2012 TO JUNE 2012

Useful Links

  • 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
Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Share this Page