Risks 560 - 16 June 2012

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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk

Union News

Unions call for action on diesel fumes cancers

Unions have called for urgent action to protect workers and the public from diesel exhaust fumes after the common workplace hazard was confirmed as a proven cause of cancer in humans. An expert panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a United Nations body, announced on 11 June that diesel had been reclassified as a top rated 'Group 1' carcinogen. Dr Christopher Portier, who led the panel, said: 'The scientific evidence was compelling and the Working Group's conclusion was unanimous, diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans. Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide.' A statement from the panel noted: 'The Working Group found that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer (sufficient evidence) and also noted a positive association (limited evidence) with an increased risk of bladder cancer.' In the run up to the panel's deliberations, industry groups had run a costly campaign to cast doubt on the evidence, commissioning and publishing a series of reviews of the research and sending representatives to the panel sessions. But the IARC panel wasn't swayed and its decision proved the need for action, unions said. A TUC spokesperson said: 'This research proves categorically what many unions have claimed for years which is that exposure to diesel exhaust is a significant workplace killer. Unfortunately many employers see diesel exposure as being something they can do nothing about. This is not the case. A lot of the heavy exposure in places like garages and workshops can be easily prevented through ensuring that engines are always turned off when idle, installing proper exhaust ventilation and by scheduling regular preventive maintenance.' He added: 'We need urgent action from the government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to ensure that measures are taken to reduce the high levels of exposure to these dangerous fumes in our workplaces.' An HSE discussion paper in May 2012 estimated there were 652 deaths from occupational diesel exposure due to lung and bladder cancer, with around 100,000 workers exposed. GMB senior safety representative Brian Terry, speaking at the union's congress this week, said: 'GMB calls on the HSE to take immediate, decisive action to safeguard the many workers who will be worried by this report.' Workers at high risk include professional drivers, miners, construction, tunnelling and railway workers.

Screw turns on blacklisting employers

Firms who were involved in a massive covert blacklisting scheme targeting union and safety activists are facing a three-pronged attack and public exposure. A report from the union GMB released this week exposes widespread use of the blacklist by construction giant Carillion. It came as a House of Commons committee heard evidence of the extent of the scandal, and MPs were told a complaint of police collusion in production of the blacklist was to be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. GMB says its report, published at the union's congress on 11 June, 'pulls back the curtain of secrecy'. The Information Commissioner has confirmed that 224 construction workers from around the UK were victims of blacklisting by Carillion. These names, on the files of the blacklisting body The Consulting Association, were released in the course of an Employment Tribunal earlier this year when Carillion was accused of blacklisting former construction union safety rep Dave Smith (Risks 552). Launching the report, 'Blacklisting - illegal corporate bullying endemic, systemic and deep-rooted in Carillion and other companies', GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: 'This GMB report pulls back the curtain of secrecy to give a glimpse how employers like Carillion have illegally used their power and money to blacklist citizens and to deny them their rights to employment. The report shows that the level of wrong doing and abuse around this blacklisting is the construction industry's equivalent of phone hacking by newspapers and is equally serious.' The union leader added: 'For far too long, vested interests have sought to ignore these discriminatory activities by Carillion and others. GMB will campaign to expose these activities. GMB will call on politicians to bring social justice to the victims of blacklisting by these companies. Carillion and others should apologise and compensate victims who have fallen foul of their illegal activities.' Of the 3,213 people on the blacklist, 2,863 are still unaware that their details were held by The Consulting Association, the union warns.

MPs hear blacklisters named and shamed

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee has heard a marathon two hour evidence session from Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith as part of its ongoing investigation into blacklisting in employment. As part of his 12 June evidence, the former UCATT safety rep who an Employment Tribunal this year accepted was blacklisted for his union safety activities, revealed a number of elected politicians had files kept of them by covert blacklisting company The Consulting Association. Mr Smith was able to make the claim after having been granted a Court Order to view the entire unredacted blacklist as part of his Employment Tribunal this year against the construction giant Carillion (Risks 552). Mr Smith also for the first time 'named and shamed' senior managers and directors of construction firms who had personally taken part in the illegal blacklisting conspiracy. Among those exposed included key company figures from Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES, formerly Balfour Kilpatrick), Carillion, John Mowlem Construction PLC (now Carillion (JM) Ltd) and Sir Robert MacAlpine. He told the select committee all of these names were backed up with documentary evidence including Employment Tribunal judgments, witness statements and invoices from The Consulting Association. The Blacklist Support Group is to ask the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate allegations that the police supplied information about them to an industry blacklist, he said.

  • Blacklist blog. Parliament TV coverage of testimony by the Blacklist Support Group's Dave Smith to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee enquiry into blacklisting in employment. ITV News.


Safety should be an election issue

Health and safety must be put firmly on the election agenda, bakers' union BFAWU delegates has declared. Delegates to the union's conference this week raised concerns over a phased 35 per cent cut in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This has already led to a dramatic decline in HSE's activity, including a fall of a third in proactive inspections, with most workplaces now exempted entirely, and has seen the virtual disappearance of HSE's occupational health wing (Risks 558). BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper declared the union executive's full support for the motion, which received unanimous backing, pointing out that more people would die at work as a result of the cuts. 'We need to invest in stronger health and safety laws that will keep our people safe,' he said, adding: 'There are unscrupulous employers who will cut corners to make money. How many more deaths will we be mourning? Every worker has the right to return home as healthy as when they left it.' The union leader added that only trade union campaigning would change the situation. 'This motion is about trade unionists looking to maximise the protection of working people in this country. Health and safety has to become a manifesto issue.' This echoes the message of the grassroots 'We didn't vote to die at work' initiative, co-ordinated by the national Hazards Campaign. This week the campaign produced a new 'Stop it, you're killing us' poster critical of the government's safety strategy.

Sick notes get computer-generated

The TUC is urging union reps to make sure their employers are aware of changes to the sick note procedure. The current sick note, also called the 'fit note', Med3 and medical statement, is to be computer generated from this month, although some GP surgeries will not be using it until later this year or even early in 2013. According to the TUC, the only change will be that the GP will complete the sick note on their computer and print it off, rather than give out a handwritten sick note. TUC stresses the GP will not be able to send the computer-completed sick note electronically, for example by email, to an employer. The computer-completed sick note also contains a system-generated barcode, which cannot be altered once the fit note is printed by the GP, and contains key information from the fit note that the employer can check. TUC is advising safety reps: 'It would help if you ensure that employers are aware of the new procedures as early as possible. It is also important that they know about the virtual impossibility of forging the new note so that they do not make accusations against employees who present a printed copy.' The DWP is due to issue brief guidance for employers and employees later this month. Meanwhile the TUC guidance for health and safety representatives on the revised sick note has been updated to take account of the change.

  • Updated TUC fit note guide [pdf].

CWU calls for end to dog law delays

The mauling of a Swindon toddler by an out of control dog shows why the government must act now to tackle irresponsible owners, the union CWU has said. Keiron Guess, aged two, had his nose and left ear were ripped off in the attack last week by a neighbour's dog. He also suffered horrific eye and head injuries when he was mauled as he played in an alley yards from his home. Dave Joyce, national safety officer with the post and telecoms union CWU, said: 'Yet again we hear the tragic news of another child victim of a dangerous dog attack caused by an irresponsible owner. This again sends a clear message to government that unless legislation and enforcement is toughened up, our streets, gardens and public parks are not safe from the menace of dangerous dogs and there will be more attacks like this one.' CWU points out that 'two postmen were nearly killed in dog attacks in Sheffield and Cambridge in recent years and 6,000 postal workers are attacked every year whilst delivering the country's daily post. Last month, a Bristol postwoman nearly had her forearm torn off in an attack in the Kingswood area and dozens of postal workers lose fingers and suffer debilitating injuries from dog attacks.' Dave Joyce commented: 'We've been campaigning and lobbying for changes to the current law because it just doesn't go far enough to tackle the issue. The public agree that the current law does not provide adequate protection.' Action has already been taken to tighten the law in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. 'We want the Westminster government to stop shilly-shallying and act now,' Dave Joyce said.

Injury stopped printer working

A print factory worker is still unable to return to work almost two years after injuring his elbow in a fall. Since the incident in 2010, the Unite member has even found it impossible to pick up his toddler. The unidentified 35-year-old printer with Impression Ltd, where he had worked for six years, was attempting to fix a problem with a roll of paper on a machine. As he stepped backwards his foot struck a pallet truck parked directly behind him, causing him to fall. His right elbow was fractured and dislocated. He needed emergency surgery and two weeks later required a second operation to replace his elbow joint. He need a further operation when his elbow failed to heal and has been told that he may need another surgery in the future. He now has limited movement in his dominant right arm meaning that he cannot pick up his son and is restricted in what he can do to help at home. He lost his job with Impression UK and is looking for alternative work. Impression Ltd accepted responsibility and settled his union-backed compensation claim out of court for £190,500. The printer said: 'This accident has turned my life upside down. I haven't been able to return to work. I still can't pick up my son or even change his nappies. I'm extremely worried about what job I can do in the future.' Unite North East regional secretary Karen Reay commented: 'Our member has been left with a long term disability and his future working life is now uncertain. Employers have a duty to ensure that the working environment is safe. He was focused on doing his job, trying to fix a machine, unaware of the dangerous tripping hazard behind him. Had the employer taken a more responsible attitude to health and safety this accident could have been prevented.'

Electrical engineer suffers vibration injury

An electrical engineer suffered permanent damage to his hands caused by the vibrating tools he used at work. Graeme Kelly, 56, from Jarrow, developed carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) after working with vibrating tools for 34 years at Gateshead-based De La Rue Currency. De La Rue should have monitored the Unite member's use of vibrating tools to keep it within safe levels, but failed to assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks of harm from exposure to hand-arm vibration. Mr Kelly was diagnosed with HAVS in 2009 after suffering from numbness in both hands. His employer's occupational health department advised he should no longer work with vibrating tools and he was moved into a different role. He started to suffer from loss of dexterity in his fingers and he was later diagnosed with CTS. Faced with a union-backed compensation claim, De La Rue Currency admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for a 'substantial' sum. Mr Kelly said: 'I used vibrating tools most of my working life but never imagined it could do so much damage to my hands. I noticed over a gradual period of time that I was beginning to suffer from loss of dexterity in my fingers. When I was diagnosed with both HAVS and carpal tunnel I decided to contact my trade union for advice.' Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: 'Any employer with staff using vibrating tools must have a policy in place to ensure they are monitored and are not exposed to excessive use. It has been known since 1975 that excessive exposure to vibration can cause industrial injury. De La Rue Currency is a large employer and should have understood it duty to protect its workers.'

Airport fall ended in hospital

A civil servant member needed hospital treatment after falling at Gatwick Airport. The 54-year-old PCS member from Croydon still suffers from exacerbated arthritis in her knee and limps as a result of tripping over loose wiring in April 2011. The Home Office employee, who works for Immigration and Passports but whose identity has been withheld, was going through security at the airport before beginning her shift when she fell over loose wiring from a machine being used by security staff to take swab samples from passengers' luggage. She banged her head and right knee as she hit the ground. Her knee immediately swelled and she had to go to hospital. Gatwick, which was responsible for the security area, admitted liability and settled the claim for £4,000. The PCS member said: 'I was going through security on a normal morning at work when I suddenly tripped and fell. My knee swelled up and I wasn't able to walk. Over the next few weeks I struggled through work in pain and limping. I still have pain in the knee and at times it still causes me to limp.' Paul O'Connor, PCS national officer for the Home Office, commented: 'Our member already suffered an arthritic knee which was exacerbated by this accident and is still causing her problems. We supported her in her claim as the airport should have had a safer system in place to ensure that wires weren't causing a tripping hazard to both members of the public and those who work in the airport. The government is forever knocking health and safety regulations, but it was a failure to observe the regulations that caused this accident.'

Prospect says inspection prevents infection

The union representing Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors and specialists says the Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Edinburgh, which by 13 June has claimed one life and left 11 others in intensive care, is a stark reminder that cuts to public services can create dangerous and ultimately expensive health-related problems in the longer term. Prospect points out that as a result of a ministerial instruction, the government's safety regulator has reduced the number of preventive workplace inspections by one-third, down from 30,000 to 20,000 a year. Negotiations officer Michael Macdonald said: 'In order to 'reduce the burdens on business' HSE field inspectors' primary focus is now on reactive investigations that respond to known incidents. Whole sectors of industry have now been explicitly exempted from proactive inspections. The current Legionella outbreak in Edinburgh highlights the risks to society of diminished proactive inspections.' Simon Hester, Prospect's HSE branch chair, said the outbreak 'is a stark reminder of the danger of denigrating health and safety at work and the value of effective inspection by the HSE. Due to spending cuts, HSE's occupational health expertise is extremely thinly spread, which has led to a lack of sufficient advice in the field. Cooling towers are common in many industrial processes and the risks created by poor health and safety management are well known.' He added: 'It is always preferable to avoid incidents that harm people, rather than merely investigating after the event, so Prospect believes that decisions on proactive inspection should be based on professional expertise and that adequate resources are made available. HSE needs more inspectors, not less.' The union points out that the government has deemed to be 'low risk' and exempted from proactive workplace inspections: the whole of the public sector including health, education, prisons and emergency services; public transport including buses and airports; the post office and parcels delivery; agriculture, docks, electricity generation; and manufacturing industries including light engineering, plastics and rubber, printing and electrical engineering.

Other news

Over 80 cases suspected in Legionnaires' outbreak

The total number of cases of Legionnaires' disease confirmed in the Edinburgh outbreak had risen to 41 on 13 June, with a further 47 suspected cases. One person, 56-year-old building worker Robert Air, has so far died of the disease. His family said he had previously been in good health and was working on site immediately prior to falling ill. The overall number of cases, either confirmed or suspected, remained unchanged at 88. Of those cases being treated in hospital, 11 are in intensive care and 19 are on general wards. The first case was identified on 28 May. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Edinburgh City Council are continuing their investigations into the possible source of the outbreak, which is thought to have been caused by a cooling tower. HSE has taken enforcement action at two sites. On 11 June, it issued an improvement notice requiring Macfarlan Smith Ltd to undertake thorough cleaning of one of its cooling towers and to provide access for inspection and maintenance of that cooling tower. On 8 June, North British Distillery Company Ltd had an improvement notice served on one cooling tower, although the company chose at the time to take all three cooling towers out of operation. Prof Hugh Pennington, the leading bacteriologist from Aberdeen University, said the outbreak was very easily preventable. 'This is not an act of God. This is a failure of maintenance by someone and simply should not happen,' he said.

Cutbacks 'could have allowed' disease outbreak

Severe cutbacks in the number of safety inspectors and inspections could have allowed the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Edinburgh and may cause future outbreaks in Scotland, experts have warned. Environmental journalist Rob Edwards, writing in The Sunday Herald, reported City of Edinburgh Council has cut its environmental health officers by 18 per cent within the last three years - double the average cut of 9 per cent imposed by all Scottish councils. The number of officials responsible for protecting public health in the city has reduced from 61 in 2009 to 50 in 2011. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which helps to prevent companies across the UK from harbouring and spreading the deadly legionella bacteria, has also suffered serious cuts. Its UK field operations division responsible for inspections has lost 18 per cent of its staff - more than 250 - between 2007 and 2011. Tom Bell, chief executive of the Royal Environmental Health Institute and a former environmental health officer for Edinburgh council, said he was worried about the 'soft touch' regulatory agenda being promoted by the UK government. 'Inspections should be related to the actual risk, and not be about helping businesses,' he said. An HSE spokesperson told Edwards: 'HSE has maintained the broad number of inspectors and other staff based in Scotland over the last five years. It is wrong to claim that numbers have been significantly reduced.' However, official figures obtained by Hazards magazine show the number employed at HSE's Edinburgh office has dropped by 8.5 per cent since 2009, from 102 to 94 staff. Across Scotland, the watchdog has lost 4.3 per cent of its staff in this period.

Anger at axe threat for cranes register

A proposal to revoke the register of tower cranes, introduced just two years ago, had provoked anger from safety campaigners. The move to axe the Notification of Conventional Tower Cranes Regulations 2010 was announced in a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) consultation document published in April (Risks 551). Other measures targeted include the docks regulations and the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989. But the Construction Safety Campaign (CSC) and the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group (BCDAG) say they were instrumental in winning the cranes register after a spate of related deaths (Risks 446), and intend to fight for its retention. CSC's Tony O'Brien and BCDAG's Liliana Alexa said at a two hour meeting on 7 June with HSE their call for retention of the cranes regulations was supported by the main industry organisation, the Construction Plant Hire Association (CPHA), whose representatives were also in attendance. They said HSE representatives at the meeting claimed the regulations had not achieved anything. 'Both myself and Liliana argued that this was not the case,' said CSC's Tony O'Brien. 'There had been no fatalities from the use of tower cranes since the register was introduced in 2010. If revoked we could see this reversed.'

Unpaid labour firm in minibus smash

The security company at the centre of a row about its treatment of unpaid workers has faced fresh questions after a minibus carrying 15 of its stewards overturned on a motorway and its driver was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving. The Independent reports that Close Protection UK Ltd, which apologised after unpaid stewards employed on a £500,000 contract for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations were forced to sleep under London Bridge in abysmal weather, confirmed that all the people on board the vehicle were its employees and that one man had suffered an open fracture of the hand. The minibus, which was taking the group to Weymouth, overturned on the M40 near the Oxfordshire-Warwickshire border at about 3.15pm on 9 June, forcing the closure of the motorway while ambulances ferried all 16 CPUK workers to six different hospitals. The bus, the only vehicle involved, came to rest on its side. In a statement to The Independent, released through publicist Max Clifford, CPUK founder Molly Prince said the seriousness of the motorway crash had initially been unclear. 'When we heard there had been an incident, we had no idea of the severity... Once the extent of the accident was explained and understood, there was absolutely no question of any of [the stewards] continuing to their event.' The company has received a contract reported to be worth £850,000 to provide fire marshals for the London Olympics.

Network Rail fined after another death

Network Rail has been fined £356,250 after a women died on an unsafe level crossing in Wiltshire. It was the fourth time the company had received a six figure plus fine this year. The latest case involved Julia Canning, who was hit by a train at the Fairfield crossing, near Little Bedwyn, while walking her two dogs in May 2009. The sentencing at Southampton Crown Court followed a lengthy investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). The regulator found Network Rail had failed to provide a safe crossing for pedestrians. ORR's deputy director of railway safety, Tom Wake, said: 'ORR's investigation found extensive evidence showing that Network Rail knew that the crossing was unsafe for pedestrians. Not acting to minimise the known risks was a serious failing on Network Rail's behalf. We recognise that Network Rail has now made a number of improvements at this crossing, making it safer for pedestrians. Safety is the regulator's top priority, and we continue to push Network Rail and the industry to deliver safety improvements at all level crossings.' The rail infrastructure giant has now faced the courts on serious criminal safety charges in each of the last four months. In May, Network Rail was fined £150,000 for criminal safety breaches related to the death of a track maintenance worker and devastating injuries to another in two separate incidents in the Thames Valley region (Risks 558). In April, Network Rail was fined £4m over the Grayrigg crash in Cumbria in which 84-year-old Margaret Masson died and 88 people were injured when a Virgin train derailed after going over a 'degraded' set of points (Risks 551). In March, it was accused of 'corporate blindness' by a judge and was fined £1m after the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, who were hit by a train in December 2005 as they crossed the railway line at Elsenham station (Risks 548).

Decorator fell through dodgy guard rail

A Reading building firm has been prosecuted after a decorator was seriously injured when he fell through a substandard guard rail at a housing development in the town. Phillip Williams, 63, fractured his hip, broke five ribs, chipped a bone in his spine and was left with internal bleeding and clotting around his lungs as a result of the fall on 30 August last year. Reading Magistrates' Court heard he had been sub-contracted to work at the property by the main contractor W Pocock and Sons Limited, a local family-run business. Mr Williams was walking towards a first floor light well to talk to workers on the ground floor. As he leant against a wooden guard rail it gave way and he fell approximately 2.6 metres to the ground floor below. He was hospitalised for three weeks, and needed three months recuperation before gradually returning to work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the guard rail in the light well had been removed and replaced prior to the incident in order to pass materials from the ground floor to the first. This caused the fixings to deteriorate, making the guard rail inadequate to prevent a person from falling. W Pocock and Sons pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,706 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector James Powell said: 'Mr Williams sustained serious injuries as a result of his fall, which could easily have been avoided had the guard rail been adequately secured to ensure that it could not be displaced.' He added: 'A thorough inspection of the guard rail after re-installation would have identified any weakness and could have saved Mr Williams a great deal of trauma. It underlines the need to routinely inspect fall protection equipment used for work at height.'

Director fined after failing to control asbestos

A Brighton estate management director has been fined after failing to manage the spread of asbestos during the demolition of a building. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Brian Marshall, 44, managing director of Supply on Demand Ltd, for breaching asbestos safety regulations. Brighton Magistrates' Court heard that between 7 and 20 May 2011, Mr Marshall instructed a worker to dismantle a building at Bluebell Business Estate, Uckfield, with an excavator. No asbestos survey was carried out before work started and asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were disturbed during the demolition. An HSE investigation found that Mr Marshall was told about his duty to manage asbestos by Lewes District council in September 2008. He had obtained a quote in February 2011 for an asbestos refurbishment survey on another project nearby. After the hearing, HSE inspector Russell Beckett said: 'Mr Marshall was well aware of the need to carry out an asbestos survey but decided to carry on without one. This is a shocking case of a director who did know better simply ignoring the law.' Brian Marshall pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. He was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,449.

Safety lobby gives heart attack advice

Employers should do more to help workers with heart problems, Britain's top safety professionals' organisation has said. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has also warned that workplace factors can be at the root of these conditions, and is urging firms to take action to remove risks. IOSH says 1.5 million people now living in the UK have suffered a heart attack. Its new Occupational Health Toolkit includes tips on rehabilitation and how to accommodate someone in work, signs and symptoms of someone suffering a heart attack and helping employees to lead a healthy lifestyle. It also includes legal advice on employers' statutory duties on occupational health. Jane White, IOSH research and information services manager, said: 'Employers are now more than ever recognising that they have a corporate social responsibility to provide a healthy working environment for their employees.' IOSH notes factors that are often linked to the workplace - a poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and excessive noise - can 'contribute significantly to the chance of developing a heart problem.' According to Jane White: 'Work can have a big influence on how active you are, what you eat, and how you deal with stress and mental health issues.' Unions and campaigners have warned that 20 per cent of all heart disease deaths could be work-related, with occupational stress, unfair treatment (Risks 434), noise (Risks 477), shiftwork, long hours (Risks 501), infections, passive smoking (Risks 542), chemical (Risks 424) and dust exposures (Risks 550, Risks 297) all implicated. They argue that it can be counterproductive for employers to concentrate solely on changing their employees' lifestyles, when addressing risk factors in their jobs could have a quicker and more effective impact.

International News

Australia: Businesses not bothered by safety rules

The common claim by governments that businesses, particularly small businesses, are clamouring for deregulation of safety has taken another knock. The June 2012 Sensis Business Index clearly found almost a quarter of Australian small businesses want taxation regulation to be reformed most of all. Only 2 per cent believed occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation should be the top target for reform. CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, Peter Strong, commented: 'The findings... provide a framework for many important areas of regulatory reform that will benefit small business.' Safety commentator Kevin Jones notes the media release accompanying the survey mentions small businesses have many concerns about 'red tape' - contractor management, energy rebates, fair trading - but health and safety 'does not get a mention. From this survey data it is reasonable to conclude that OHS is not an issue of great concern for small businesses.'

Global: Union rights violations worsened in 2011

The situation faced by trade unionists across the world grew steadily worse in 2011, according to the annual survey of trade union rights violations published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). This year's survey, which reported on 143 countries, found that 76 trade unionists were murdered in 2011, with thousands more dismissed and arrested. The Americas is still the most deadly region for trade unionists, but the report notes Arab Spring workers also paid dearly. Colombia is once again the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Of the 76 people murdered for their trade union activities, not counting the workers killed during the Arab Spring, 29 lost their lives in Colombia. Trade unionists in Guatemala also paid a heavy price, with 10 assassinations committed with impunity. A further eight trade unionists were murdered in Asia. Commenting on the findings, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Across the world, rogue employers are operating hand in glove with corrupt governments to exploit workers and deny them basic human rights. Trade unionists are standing up to this abuse and fighting for a better deal. It is disgusting that taking such a stand can result in imprisonment, beatings or even murder.' General secretary of the ITUC, Sharan Burrow, said: 'The situation of hundreds of thousands of workers is very disturbing. Most of them do not enjoy the fundamental rights of collective bargaining and freedom of association, and are in precarious employment. Their lives are thrown into disarray because they have to work long hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, in return for salaries so low they cannot meet their own needs or those of their families. That partly explains the worldwide recession.'

USA: Union workers keep workplaces ethical

Workers protected by a union contract create more ethical workplaces, a US study suggests. A report by the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), 'Inside the mind of a whistleblower,' found union employees, who are often provided explicit contractual protections, had much higher rates of reporting specific misconduct than non-union employees. Almost two-thirds of unionised workers were willing to blow the whistle (65 per cent) compared to less than half of non-union workers (47 per cent). 'In other words, unions provide the security that enables employees to do the right things,' comments the US national union federation AFL-CIO. It adds that the study was funded by big businesses Dell and URS Corp, 'neither of which could be considered remotely pro-union.' The report also suggests whistleblowers might well need union protection. Since 2007, the chance of retaliation against employees who reported misconduct had almost doubled to 22 per cent, up from 12 per cent. That's more than one in five who faced some sort of retaliation for their disclosure. In addition, 42 per cent of US companies were found to have weak ethics cultures, a steep rise from 35 per cent two years ago.

USA: Officials recognise post-9/11 dust cancers

People who developed cancer after being exposed to the toxic ash that was dispersed over Manhattan when the World Trade Center (WTC) collapsed on 9 September 2001 would qualify for free treatment of the disease and potentially hefty compensation payments under a rule proposed by US federal health officials. They say 50 different types of cancer should be added to the list of sicknesses covered by a $4.3 billion fund set up to compensate and treat people exposed to the toxic smoke, dust and fumes in the months after the incident. The decision announced by Dr John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), would allow not only rescue workers but also volunteers, residents, schoolchildren and passers-by to apply for compensation and treatment for cancers developed in the aftermath of the attacks. Among the cancers Dr Howard approved are some of the most common, including lung, breast, colon, trachea, oesophageal, kidney, bladder, skin, thyroid, blood and ovarian cancers. Dr Howard also approved childhood cancers, which are relatively rare, because children are more susceptible to toxic substances. The cancers will not be officially added to the list of covered illnesses until after a period of public comment and review that could last several months. And it poses a number of logistical challenges, since it will be difficult if not impossible to separate people who developed cancer as a result of ground zero from those who would have contracted the disease anyway, and because many cancer diagnoses are likely to be made years after the deadline for applying for compensation passes in 2016. Dr Howard said a New York Fire Department study published last year in The Lancet, which showed that firefighters exposed to ground zero toxic substances had about a 20 per cent higher rate of cancer than firefighters who were not exposed, had provided a strong foundation for a conclusion that some cancers had been caused by exposure to the World Trade Center debris.

Action

What's your experience of 'well-being' at work?

The TUC wants to hear of instances where unions have been involved in 'well-being' initiatives at work, aiming to promote good health in the workforce. This differs from traditional health and safety approaches, which focus on the avoidance of injury and illness. According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: 'It would also be helpful to know of any cases where management have introduced initiatives but bypassed recognised unions. The TUC is also looking for both examples of good practice where well-being programmes have made a positive difference and anywhere they have not been successful.'

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