Risks 559 - 9 June 2012

Share this page

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 healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk

Union News

Deadly delays on sharps injuries law

The government must end the 'horror' caused to NHS nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants and other health workers at risk of bloodborne diseases from sharps injuries, health service union UNISON has said. Official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures suggest there are 85,000 sharps injuries across the NHS in the UK every year. UNISON says that many thousands of workers could be saved from the fear and misery of these injuries by the introduction of readily available safer needles. Speaking at the European Bio-safety Summit 2012, hosted on 1 June by the union in partnership with RCN, UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: 'An EU Directive in 2009 set May 2013 as the deadline for the introduction of safer needles across the European Union. But why wait till then to stop the misery of needlestick injuries? It is about time the government stopped dragging its heels and introduced safer needles across the NHS now.' She added: 'Each of the 85,000 sharps injuries in the UK leads to time lost while workers get treatment or take time off to recover. It leads to expensive treatments and increased legal costs, as well as untold distress to victims and their families.' A US law mandating safer needlesticks, introduced after a high-profile union campaign, led to a dramatic decline in injuries and related bloodborne diseases (Risks 547). Bill Borwegen, safety director with the health service union SEIU, said the 'wildly successful' law had saved thousands of lives.

Suspended safety rep back at work

A union health and safety rep suspended after trying to stop a workmate stopping a mechanical saw with his hand has been reinstated after a show of support from union members. Unite rep Jason Poulter was accused of bullying after the incident and was given a six-month suspension from his job at a Nottinghamshire power station. The Morning Star reports that last Tuesday more than 600 workers walked off the Ratcliffe-on-Soar site in a show of support for the suspended safety rep. Mr Poulter is now returning to his job and union duties after management at construction firm SPIE Matthew Hall agreed to withdraw the allegations. The paper reports the u-turn came after activists planned a second day of action at the coal-fired power station. It adds management had offered to withdraw disciplinary charges against him if he agreed to be transferred off the site but he rejected the offer.

CWU opposes government violence plans

CWU is opposing proposals by the government to make cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS). The postal workers' union is concerned that victims of dog attacks who previously relied on CICS as a last resort will now receive no compensation to help deal with serious injuries. CICS makes compensation payments to those who are physically injured by violent criminal acts. But proposals set out by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would make what CWU describes as 'savage cuts to this crucial compensation'. It notes: 'Significantly for CWU members, under the plans, the victims of dog attacks would no longer be able to claim for compensation unless the 'animal itself was deliberately used to attack a person or in other words was set upon the victim to inflict an injury on that person'.' CWU safety officer Dave Joyce, whose members are usually victims of poorly controlled dogs, said: 'Many CWU members who are dog attack victims face a situation where the owner is uninsured and has no money. Dog attack claims can involve people suffering permanent injuries and scarring, which often has a damaging impact on their lives. It is only right that dog attack victims are allowed to bring valid claims for redress. Equally, victims with serious injuries may need to take several months off work in order to recover from it.' A CWU response to the proposals strongly opposes the CICS changes. 'The government, in its reforms of civil justice, must stop to consider the needs of innocent victims and recognise that they need and deserve full and proper compensation. But by cutting crime victims compensation, the MoJ is cutting their access to justice,' said Dave Joyce.

Electric shock trauma cost worker his job

An electrician who fell onto a live electrical board and suffered serious burns to his hand four years ago has been unable to return to his work as a result of nightmares. The Unite member, whose name has not been released, was asked to assess an electrical fault at a local primary school by his employer AD Antrobus. He was told to access the board when it was still live so parts could be ordered without disrupting the school's electricity supply. It was planned that work on the fault would start immediately when the school day came to a close at 3.30pm. As he was assessing the board he slipped and his left hand came into contact with it. He was immediately shocked and the current stuck his hand to the board. He was only able to get free by placing his foot on the wall and ripping his hand away. He was severely burned and his arm was in a splint for 14 weeks. His hand has healed but he still suffers from limited movement. After 45 years as an electrician the 66-year-old is now too traumatised to undertake any electrical work. AD Antrobus denied liability but settled the claim out of court for £57,000. The Unite member said: 'I knew that accessing the electrical board was risky but it was normal practice at this firm to work in this way. I had received my orders so to speak and I was carrying them out.' Unite regional secretary Paul Finegan: 'This member felt compelled by his employer to work in a way which was highly dangerous. Cutting corners to save disruption to the school risked our member being killed.'

Pressure hose split worker's eye ball

A council worker suffered permanent damage to his eye when he was struck by a defective pressure hose. UNISON member Jason Symmonds, 41, needed surgery after the industrial hose hit him in his right eye, splitting his eye ball and causing him to suffer a detached iris. The mechanic for Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council had been asked to look at the pressure hose. He was unaware the hose section of the machine was switched on, so when he turned on the machine's pump the hose flicked up and hit him. The hose was later found to be defective. His injuries meant he had to take six months off work and then needed an additional week off work later to undergo surgery to remove a cataract which had formed over his eye. He still has a dilated pupil which means he cannot drive at night. He also has problems seeing objects up close and he has difficulties reading and judging distances. The council admitted 85 per cent liability and settled the claim out of court for £30,000. Mr Symmonds, who still works at the council but is now in a supervisory role, said: 'My sight has improved since the operation but it will never be the same again. Things take me longer to do because I can't judge distances and I find it difficult to see things close up.' Margaret Thomas, head of UNISON in Wales, commented: 'Clearly a more robust system for checking equipment should have been in place. Employers have a duty to make sure their staff are safe at work. The council where Jason worked must review its procedures to make sure the same thing does not happen again.'

Union concerned over offshore helicopter safety

Pilots' union BALPA has warned that decisions on which helicopters are used to serve Britain's oil rigs must be based on safety, not cost. BALPA's comments came after oil giant Shell decided against entering into a contract with Bond Offshore Helicopters. The aviation firm has suffered three major safety incidents in three years. BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said: 'The irony in this development is that it has been the oil companies who have brought in new helicopter operators to try and create a competitive market. But price is not everything and they will reap what they sow.' He added: 'All passengers and all pilots look to the UK regulator to provide a uniform high level of safety. The award of contracts should not involve commercial decision-makers in having to weigh up the relative safety merits of competing operators. It is down to the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure a level playing field in this respect. They should be able to reassure pilots, passengers and operators that any helicopter of any nation operating anywhere in the North Sea is safe.' He added the biggest concern for pilots 'is the reliability of new technologies.' On 10 May this year, sixteen passengers and crew members had to be rescued when one of Bond's Super Puma helicopters fell into the North Sea (Risks 556). Less than a month earlier the same helicopter had suffered an engine malfunction. The company temporarily suspended all its helicopter journeys before an Air Accidents Investigation Branch investigation found that the gearbox shaft had broken. On 1 April 2009, a Bond Super Puma crashed into the sea after a gearbox failure, resulting in the deaths of 16 people being transported to Aberdeen (Risks 416). Eighteen people had previously survived another North Sea crash in February 2009. The BBC reported this week that RMT safety representatives onboard several Shell platforms had raised concerns about a deal with Bond.

Unite warning on EU aviation hours plans

Cabin crew union Unite has echoed concerns raised by pilots' union BALPA (Risks 552) and the House of Commons transport select committee (Risks 558) that European aviation working hours proposals could jeopardise safety. The union, which represents about 25,000 cabin crew across the airline industry, reiterated their warning that the safety of passengers and crew could be at risk if the proposed rules are adopted. Under the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposals, rest provision between flights for pilots and crew would be reduced. The plans could lead to cabin crew having to evacuate a plane or deal with an emergency after being awake for 22 hours. Unite national officer Oliver Richardson said: 'Cabin crew do a hugely important job often fulfilling the role of the three emergency services. Relaxing the law on working hours for crew and pilots is dangerous and contradicts scientific evidence. We're delighted that the transport select committee supports this position.' He added: 'We need working hours limitations strengthened, not weakened and a definitive test created to determine if crew are fatigued or not. It is unlawful for a crew member to fly while fatigued. Yet Unite has received numerous reports of crew attempting to report in as fatigued under the current tougher legislation and being told that they are not fatigued but tired.'

Other news

Whistleblowing law undermined by the 'back door'

The government is bringing in an amendment which will undermine the law on whistleblowing 'by the back door', an employment law expert has warned - and the protection of safety reps and whistleblowers is in the firing line. David Lewis, professor of employment law at Middlesex University and convenor of the International Whistleblowing Research Network, has written an open letter to business secretary Vince Cable attacking the lack of consultation over an amendment to whistleblowing provisions in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which was presented to parliament on 23 May. The section 12 one-line amendment introduced in the Bill would mean disclosures made by whistleblowers would have to be 'in the public interest' in order to protect the individual if they are made redundant or suffer detriment as a result of doing so. Professor Lewis warns in his letter to the business secretary this will inhibit potential whistleblowers from making important disclosures about wrongdoing. Lewis told human resources magazine Personnel Today: 'My prime concern with this amendment is that most people have a choice whether to blow the whistle or not and they will keep quiet if they think it is the safest and most sensible option.' He added: 'What the bill is going to do is drop a bomb on the whistleblowing provisions by simply saying there is now going to be a public interest test for all cases in all circumstances, which completely sabotages the legislation.' He said that while a review of the legislation was needed, this change has been brought in 'by the back door' without consultation. The amendments would apply to the section 43B whistleblowing provisions in the Employment Rights Act 1996. Section 44 of this Act covers protection for safety reps raising concerns about workplace safety. It is believed the legal changes if introduced would have a dramatic impact on safety rights at work, leaving safety reps and whistleblowers without essential protection. Whistleblowers' charity Public Concern at Work says the 'public interest' qualifier would apply to any whistleblowing, including where 'the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered.'

Preventing work cancers is possible and preferable

A dispute about priorities for cancer prevention is simmering in the medical press, with top occupational and environmental cancer experts hitting back at those who say the focus should be limited to improving 'lifestyle'. The debate resurfaced this week in The Lancet Oncology. A March 2012 paper in the journal authored by Australian academic Bernard Stewart was dismissive of the precautionary approach and said an emphasis on removing the causes of cancer like occupational and environmental exposures 'could divert attention from proven means of cancer prevention.' US and UK academics, in a response in the journal this week, challenge this view 'that people will be diverted from addressing their risky lifestyles by too much public concern about environmental and occupational exposures. This view implies that people cannot hold two thoughts in their heads at the same time and we cannot as a society try to prevent cancer with several causes.' Authors Jamie Page, Paul Whaley, Andrew Watterson and Richard Clapp note: 'Dozens of known or probable human carcinogens are in use that could be controlled more strictly than they are now or phased out. We do not need to wait for more definitive proof that environmental or occupational exposures have contributed to a specific proportion of the overall cancer burden.' Richard Clapp is one of the authors of the 2010 US President's Cancer Panel report (Risks 456), which concluded: 'A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure,' adding that this new approach 'should be the cornerstone of a new national cancer prevention strategy that emphasises primary prevention.'

Fewer promotions mean more heart attacks

Civil servants working in departments with high promotion rates were 20 per cent less likely to suffer heart attacks, a UK study has found. Michael Anderson, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, tracked the employment histories and health outcomes of 4,700 civil servants in the London area as part of the on-going Whitehall II study. Their findings, published in the June 2012 edition of The Economic Journal, reveal those civil servants in departments with high rates of promotion were approximately 20 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than their counterparts in departments with low rates of promotion. They note: 'Doubling the departmental promotion rate decreases the number of new heart disease cases by approximately 20 per cent. These differences persist even when controlling for the initial prevalence of heart disease, the grade level at which a civil servant joined the service and differences in working environments across departments.' The authors say their findings reinforce a growing body of research that indicates upward mobility and socioeconomic status have important effects on physical health.

  • Michael Anderson and Michael Marmot. The effects of promotions on heart disease: Evidence from Whitehall, The Economic Journal, volume 122, issue 561, pages 555-589, June 2012 [abstract]. The Observer.

Government can't leave safety to business

The government's insistence that workplace safety laws hold back the economy and that safety enforcement is a diversion business could and should do without is 'a cynical - and ultimately deadly - lie,' a new report has charged. The new issue of the safety journal Hazards magazine examining the government's safety strategy notes: 'Your life just got a little bit cheaper. Safety regulations and enforcement are out of favour, and for more and more workers, this could mean they are out of luck.' It adds 'this immoral government strategy will exact a high human and economic cost.' The report is critical of ministers for giving business the inside track on policy making. It says this privileged access comes both in face-to-face meetings and increasingly in policy initiatives like its Focus on Enforcement, where only a business viewpoint is sought. Hazards says while safety minster Chris Grayling is happy to hold regular sessions with business lobby groups to hear their safety wishlist, relatives group Families Against Corporate Killers is still waiting a year after requesting an audience. The journal notes: 'The government would prefer to limit the business of consultation to business,' and points to the May 2012 Focus on Enforcement consultation which asked just those British chemical firms covered by the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) - those with the potential to cause the worst devastation if they go bang - how they'd like their safety enforced (Risks 556). 'No-one else - certainly not the workers or local residents who would be blown to smithereens - gets a look in,' it concludes.

Multinational recycling firm fined over death

The UK arm of an international recycling giant with a turnover in the billions has been fined £200,000 after a 21-year-old employee died from head injuries at its paper baling site in Tipton. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted SITA UK Ltd after Mark Bate was killed instantly when the arm of a JCB skid steer loader crushed his head on 12 June 2008. Wolverhampton Crown Court heard that Mr Bate had been driving the vehicle at SITA's premises for three months without being properly trained. Working on his own, he had stopped the loader and raised the safety bar from across his lap to isolate the machine, before leaning out of the front of the vehicle. However, the machine failed to isolate, the loader's arm dropped and crushed his head against the machine, killing him immediately. HSE's investigation found that Mr Bate had not been formally trained, assessed or supervised in the use of the vehicle. A self-employed maintenance engineer had also used it over several months with no training. The loader had not been maintained in the eight months before the incident; it should have been serviced at least twice during this time. In a statement released via HSE, Mark's mother, Catherine Jones, and his sisters Ann-Marie and Gemma Bate said: 'Nothing and no-one can bring Mark back but, four years on, we feel we are finally getting justice for what happened to him that day.' SITA UK Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £77,402 costs. It was also ordered to reimburse Mark's mother £4,450 in funeral expenses. The company's website boasts 'an annual turnover in excess of £700 million' - 3,500 times the size of the fine. SITA UK is part of the multinational SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT, which declares it 'has a presence on five continents, employs over 62,000 people and has an annual turnover in excess of 12 billion euros.'

Equipment supplier fined after hand is severed

A worker from County Durham had his hand severed while carrying out maintenance on glass cutting machinery. The 34-year-old maintenance technician, who has asked not to be named, was investigating a fault on a new tilt table with a colleague at the UK's largest glass manufacturer Solaglas. Lisec (UK and Ireland) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at Solaglas (Architectural) Ltd, in Bishop Auckland on 12 September 2007. The table was part of a glass cutting line manufactured and installed by Lisec at the Solaglas plant just four months earlier in May 2007. A jury at Teesside Crown Court heard the injured maintenance technician was on his hands and knees while trying to ascertain the cause of the fault and had activated the emergency stop. Suspended above his right wrist was a large laminated glass sheet measuring six metres by three metres and weighing almost a ton. The worker had his right arm extended with a mirror in his hand so he could check the status of a sensor relating to the release of the glass onto the table. But when a colleague moved past another sensor on the tilt table the glass sheet was released, falling onto the maintenance technician's wrist and severing his hand. Surgeons reattached his hand with partial success and he was off work for several months while recovering from his injuries. An HSE investigation found that there were faults within the programme controlling the movement of the glass as it allowed the glass sheet to be released, even when an emergency stop had been activated and that this fault was exacerbated by the installation of the new tilt table and the failure to integrate it properly with the existing equipment. Lisec (UK and Ireland) Ltd was found guilty of a criminal safety offence following a month-long trial and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £150,000.

Suffolk roofer's unbalanced power tool exhibition

The director of a Suffolk roofing firm has been fined for safety failings after he was caught on camera using a power tool while balancing on the ridge of a house roof. Anthony Nightingale was filmed using a petrol-powered disc cutter to cut through a tile while he and an employee worked on the roof without any measures in place to stop them being from falling. The director of 3A Roofing Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a member of the public spotted the unsafe work at Dennington, Suffolk in July 2011 and reported it to HSE. Ipswich Magistrates' Court was told Mr Nightingale, 34, failed to use a suitable roof ladder to reach the ridge and instead he and his employee were seen clambering up and down the tiles. They were seen walking along the ridge where there were no measures in place to prevent them from falling off the roof. Anthony Nightingale pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £1,300. He was also ordered to pay £3,000 in prosecution costs. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Elizabeth Fowle said: 'Mr Nightingale should have led by example, but instead he put his own life and the life of an employee at risk. Fortunately no one was injured on this occasion, but it is astonishing that Mr Nightingale thought it was acceptable to use a potentially dangerous piece of machinery while perched at the top of the roof. This case should serve as a warning to other company directors that if you work without the right safety equipment and put lives at risk, you could end up in court.'

Furniture firm gets fined for fire breaches

A furniture firm has been prosecuted by the fire service for flouting fire safety laws. CFS Furniture was fined £14,000 for seven offences that put workers at risk. The fine was handed out at Oldham Magistrates' Court on 31 May after the case was adjourned twice because the company failed to send anyone to the previous hearings. CFS was fined £2,000 for each of seven offences and ordered to pay the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service Costs of £3,500. The prosecution followed an October 2010 inspection where fire safety officers discovered a large number of dangers at their manufacturing units - an inadequate alarm system, inadequate fire escapes, a lack of emergency lighting, the failure to train staff in how to act in a fire and the storage of items that were a high fire risk. CFS Furniture Ltd was found guilty of seven breaches of the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005. Director Martin Muldowney pleaded guilty to the same charges. Muldowney had earlier provided proof of bankruptcy. The court treated him as having an income of £100 per week and fined him £100 for each offence and ordered him to pay £700 costs. A collection order was made, meaning if Muldowney does not pay he will face further action by the courts. He had previously received fire service enforcement notices in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Peter O'Reilly, director of prevention and protection at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, commented: 'These units were being used to make furniture and were full of items that would burn quickly in a fire. The company employed more than 40 people and, by failing to take basic fire safety measures, put their lives at risks. Martin Muldowney was no stranger to us and should have known what was expected of him.'

International News

China: No change for iPad workers

A controversial independent labour standards audit of a key Apple subcontractor in China which led Apple to promise sweeping changes has not so far delivered improvements, a study has concluded. The findings of the Hong Kong labour rights organisation Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) were released on 31 May, two months after the report of an Fair Labor Association (FLA) investigation of Apple supplier Foxconn was published (Risks 550). The SACOM report, 'Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers' references a recent remark by Foxconn CEO Terry Gou who, during a visit to Taiwan in late April, addressed Chinese workers with the rhetorical question 'What's wrong with sweatshops?.' He commented: 'There's nothing wrong with working hard, with blood and sweat, as long as no laws are broken.' The SACOM report is based on interviews with 170 workers in the Zhengzhou and Shenzhen export processing zones carried out between March and May 2012. The interviews established there were no changes at the work floor and that 'labour rights violations remain the norm in the Foxconn factories,' the report notes. SACOM found workers were unaware of the FLA report or the suggested remedial actions, hours and labour rights abuses were continuing, and inhumane disciplinary practices were still in evidence. According to SACOM, these include forcing workers to write and read out 'confession letters' and to clean toilets. Workers also raised continuing concerns about safety, including inadequate training. To coincide with publication of the report, SACOM and Chinese labour groups including the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions ((HKCTU), Workers Empowerment, Globalization Monitor and the Chinese Working Women Network staged a protest at a Foxconn shareholders meeting. A giant souvenir flag was offered to Foxconn declaring 'Foxconn is the world's no.1 sweatshop'. Foxconn declined to accept either the SACOM report or the flag.

Global: Doubt cast on 'ethical' production claims

When multinationals are discovered to be using exploited labour to manufacture their products, it doesn't go down well with consumers. Apple, Samsung, Hewlett Packard, Nike, Gap, Coca-Cola and Walmart are among those who have faced recent embarrassment over abuses ranging from child and forced labour to worker suicides and poisonings. And the boardroom response has frequently been to turn to independent auditors to vouch for their 'ethical supply chain.' It is an approach which has attracted criticism, with labour rights activists and unions arguing there is frequently too little worker involvement and too cosy a relationship between auditor and audited firms, an accusation that resurfaced this year when Apple agreed to an audit of a major subcontractor in China. Richard Locke of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology persuaded four global firms regarded as leaders in ethical supply chains - Nike, Coca-Cola, HP and PVH, a big American producer of clothing - to let him analyse six years of data from their factory audits, starting in 2005. His research, to be published this year in a book, 'Promoting Labour Rights in a Global Economy', concluded codes of conduct, compliance programmes and audits '[do] not deliver sustained improvements in labour conditions over time.' The approach instead helped gather information highlighting the problems without remedying them. Locke also found for firms trying to improve working conditions the fault may well be in their own business model. Just-in-time manufacturing has made supply chains leaner. Reducing inventory reduces costs and allows firms to move more quickly. As products' life-cycles shorten, this is a crucial competitive edge. But a last-minute design change or the launch of a new product can mean suppliers having to pull out all the stops to keep up - or face a stiff financial penalty. Aron Cramer of the ethical business and social responsibility consulting group BSR indicated better official oversight was required. He told the Economist: 'Governments are not pulling their weight,' adding there has been 'too much outsourcing of enforcement to the private sector'.

Korea: Blood disorder claims another Samsung worker

Campaigners in Korea say another young worker has died as a result of toxic exposures in a Samsung electronics factory. Former Samsung worker Yun Seul-ki, 32, died of aplastic anaemia, a condition she developed aged 18 while working for the company. Yun died after being hospitalised in May this year, suffering necrosis of more than 70 per cent of her hip joint. The campaign group SHARPS says 'her death marks her as the 56th Samsung victim and the fourth in this year.' In November 1999, the 18-year-old Yun collapsed on a Samsung cleanroom floor, where for the previous five months she had been cutting chemically glazed liquid crystal display (LCD) panels. In December 1999, after being diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, she was asked to leave her job. SHARPS says in the cleanroom of Samsung Electronics' plant in the city of Chonan, the only protective gear that stood between Yun and hazardous chemicals were thin cotton gloves. With bare eyes, she inspected the panels for cracks and cut them into size. She said the room was always full of glass dust and chemical odours. Yun passed the mandatory physical and medical exam performed on prospective employees at Samsung; she had no family history of the blood disease. 'It just took a healthy young girl less than six months at Samsung to become fatally ill,' notes SHARPS. 'It pains us to ask how long and how many deaths it will take for Samsung and the South Korean government to act to put an end to the tragedy wrought on the young workers and their families.' In April 2012, Samsung Electronics spun off the LCD unit, where Yun was employed, into a separate company, Samsung Display Co. The spinoff is already the world's biggest LCD maker. SHARPS says up to March 2012 it had profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukaemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anaemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea. Of these, 63 are now dead.

  • SHARPS news report and 5 June joint statement from SHARPS, Committee for Samsung Leukaemia Victims in Chungnam Province, Federation of Korean Metal Workers Trade Unions and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

USA: Rules on workplace toxics stalled

Workers in the US are suffering slow, agonising deaths from occupational diseases because improved standards on well-established killers like beryllium and silica are being stalled by industry interference and a legislative system that can keep new rules on the back burner indefinitely. 'These days the backlash against even the simplest efforts to protect workers is withering,' said Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and president of the Center for Progressive Reform. 'OSHA hasn't made a serious run at regulating chemicals in the workplace in a couple of decades.' The US Government Accountability Office, an official watchdog, reported in April 2012 that it takes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) nearly eight years, on average, to issue a health or safety standard (Risks 556). After issuing 47 significant rules, covering threats as diverse as asbestos and logging, in the 1980s and '90s, the agency has produced only 11 since 2000, the GAO found. Some of these aren't new rules at all but tweaks to existing rules, known as technical amendments. 'The standard-setting process at OSHA is broken,' Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said at a hearing on the GAO audit. It takes OSHA twice as long as the Department of Transportation and five times as long as the Securities and Exchange Commission to put out a rule, Harkin said.

USA: Employers don't pay injury costs

'Cost-shifting' by US employers and insurers is landing the bill for work-related injuries and ill-health on the public purse and the community at large. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concludes this cost shifting leads to artificially low workers' compensation premiums for employers. 'This is a classic example of what we call a 'negative externality' in economics - where prices do not accurately reflect costs that spill over to others and have negative social outcomes,' said Paul Leigh, lead author of the study and a University of California Davis professor of public health sciences. 'Workers' injuries and illnesses cost much more than what current workers' compensation payments suggest, and the resulting low premiums provide little incentive for companies to promote workplace safety.' The study showed that just 21 per cent - or $51.7 billion - of those costs were covered by workers' compensation. 'Cost-shifting affects everyone, because we're all paying higher Medicare and income taxes to help cover that 79 per cent,' said Leigh. There is another way to lower the bill. Writing this month in the Harvard Business Review, commenting on the findings of their May 2012 study (Risks 557), David I Levine and Michael W Toffel note: 'Managers should welcome OSHA inspections. Randomly inspected establishments improve worker safety and reduce employers' premiums for workers' compensation insurance. And we found no evidence that these establishments suffer any of the competitiveness problems suggested by political rhetoric - like disruptions leading to lost sales or solvency concerns, or any effects on wages - compared to our control group. The differences are small but telling: OSHA inspections offer substantial value to workers, companies, and society.'

Events and Courses

TUC courses for safety reps


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