Risks 561 - 23 June 2012

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
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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

Government must act on work cancer findings

Urgent action from the government is required to deal with the huge death toll from work-related cancer, the TUC has said. The TUC call came as government-backed research published this week in the British Journal of Cancer confirmed 37 new cases of occupational cancer are diagnosed every day of the year, with a worker dying of the condition caused by their job once every hour around the clock. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The researchers have found that around 13,600 new cancer cases every year are caused by risk factors related to work. At the same time the research acknowledges that this is likely to be a conservative number and the real toll could be even higher.' He added: 'Of these thousands of workers, over 8,000 will be killed by the cancer they contract. This is a huge number, made all the more tragic by the knowledge that these deaths are preventable.' The TUC leader said an official prevention effort should centre on effective regulation of workplace conditions. 'We should be making sure that carcinogens are removed from the workplace so that those working today will not develop cancers 20 or 30 years from now. No-one who reads this research can doubt that there is an urgent need for stronger safety regulation in the workplace, and for greater enforcement action against employers who take risks with their employees' health.' But he warned: 'Unfortunately what we have seen from the government has been a reduction in both regulation and enforcement. It is high time ministers stopped pursuing an ideological war against health and safety and instead started protecting those whose lives are being put at risk through no fault of their own.'

HSE accused of 'deplorable' rogue consultation

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been accused of a 'deplorable' attempt to 'to stitch together a case to scrap regulations which save construction workers' lives.' Construction union UCATT said it has caught HSE undermining its own formal consultation procedures by embarking on a 'rogue' parallel consultation involving only construction contractors. The official consultation on plans to scrap 14 legislative measures, including the cranes register (Risks 560) and the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989, was launched in April and concludes on 4 July (Risks 551). Unions and campaigners maintain both regulations have been followed by a marked drop in fatalities. However, the union says an email sent last week by HSE to members of its Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC) 'distorts' the consultation. The email spelled out how HSE wanted to 'supplement the information it receives from responses to the Consultative Document with more detailed feedback, and would like to seek the views of contractors about the proposed revocation through short one-to-one telephone discussions with an HSE researcher.' UCATT says this move by HSE is a breach of the government's code of practice on consultations. The union's general secretary, Steve Murphy, said: 'This is deplorable. The HSE is undermining its own consultation in order to stitch together a case to scrap regulations which save construction workers' lives. This is not an open, transparent consultation; the HSE has clearly already made up its mind.' UCATT has written to HSE chair Judith Hackitt raising its concerns. The unions says it has also spoken to a number of MPs. UCATT's Steve Murphy noted: 'By only seeking information from small contractors, who in general are the most opposed to any safety regulations and who also are the least likely to comply with safety laws, deliberately distorts the process.' An HSE spokesperson, however, denied any wrongdoing on the part of the watchdog. She told the workers' health and safety magazine Hazards: 'HSE has not altered the terms of the consultation on the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989 (CHPR). A final decision on whether to repeal the regulations will be taken in light of ALL the views expressed during the consultation process. The request for supplementary feedback through CONIAC relates purely to the information which HSE is required to include in the impact assessment.'

Screen slavers put health at risk

UK office workers are putting their mental and physical health at risk by working more than two hours extra each night on their commute and at home, a new survey for the physios' union CSP has found. About two-thirds (64 per cent) of the 2,010 office workers polled by the CSP said they continued working on smartphones and other devices after they left the office, and spent an average of two hours 18 minutes doing so. These stints were on top of an average of six hours 22 minutes in front of a screen in the office during their regular working day. The main reasons cited for doing extra work were to 'ease the pressure of the working day' (35 per cent) and 'too much work to do' (33 per cent). CSP chair Dr Helena Johnson said: 'The results of this survey are a huge concern to physiotherapists, who see the consequences of poor posture and bad working practices each day. While doing a bit of extra work at home may seem like a good short-term fix, if it becomes a regular part of your evening routine then it can lead to problems such as back and neck problems, as well as stress-related illness. This is especially the case if you're using handheld devices and not thinking about your posture. Talk with your employer if you are feeling under pressure.'

Health problems rife in call centres

The physical and mental health of the UK's million call centre workers is at significant risk, a survey by the public sector union UNISON has found. The union says the findings highlight the toll that pressurised, target-driven and closely-monitored working can take on call centre staff, preventing from taking the necessary measures to protect their health and wellbeing. A quarter of respondents said that even their access to a toilet is restricted. Nearly 70 per cent of respondents experiencing eyestrain at least some of the time, nearly 60 per cent reporting the same for hearing problems and more than half said they had problems with their voices. More than 80 per cent of respondents said that their work caused them to feel stressed, with nearly a quarter of those saying the stress experienced has reached a damaging level that impacts on their home and personal life. Describing the findings as 'a wakeup call for call centre employers', UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: 'The alarming number of health problems highlighted by the survey shows why health and safety matters, and the folly of this government's constant attacks on health and safety and the cuts in inspections in workplaces such as call centres.' He added: 'That this survey has shown more than a quarter have had their basic right to a toilet break restricted or monitored is bad enough, but the physical toll on call workers' eyes, ears and voices - the tools of their trade - is something that managers and organisations cannot ignore. Workers rightly expect their employers to have a duty of care not only to their physical health, but also to their mental wellbeing, and the findings of this survey - that 8 in 10 are experiencing stress, a quarter of them to a damaging degree - must be addressed urgently.'

Sacked for requesting a waterproof coat

A Barnet parking attendant required to brave the recent heavy rains was sacked by contractor NSL when he asked for a waterproof jacket. The union GMB is calling for the reinstatement of Babatunde Ojikutu, a GMB member and one of 60 Barnet council employees who transferred to NSL along with the parking enforcement contract on 1 May this year. GMB senior organiser Keith Williams said: 'GMB believes that Mr Ojikutu is the victim of NSL's bad management and a deliberate plan to deprive him of his job. NSL local managers have sacked him for asking for a waterproof coat during the recent heavy rain and for being unfortunate enough to need a bit of time off to sort of a problem faced by his young family. The right to protective clothing such as a waterproof coat in the awful wet weather that we have had recently can hardly be construed as an unreasonable request for a worker whose job is to patrol the streets. It is definitely not a reason to sack someone.' He said the union was demanding his immediate reinstatement.

RMT exposes 'lethal cocktail' of rail reforms

Rail union RMT has told MPs they should demand the government abandon its support for the 'catastrophic course of cuts and profiteering' recommended in an official rail review. RMT general secretary Bob Crow told the a Transport Select Committee inquiry on 19 June the McNulty rail review (Risks 507), whose findings were accepted in their entirety by the government, would create the perfect 'lethal cocktail' of conditions for another Hatfield or Potters Bar disaster on Britain's railways. Speaking ahead of his appearance before of the Rail 2020 inquiry, the union leader said: 'MPs are slavishly following the McNulty recommendations without thinking about the financial and safety implications for their voters - higher fares, increased profiteering, safety-critical job cuts and the running of infrastructure for profit through the creation of a whole series of Railtrack#2 operations.' He added: 'This situation is deadly serious and the McNulty plans are already being rolled out on South West Trains, London Midland and the new Great Western franchise, with dire consequences, before they have even been approved by parliament. The fight against McNulty, and the fight against the government's Command Paper, is a fight for a safe and affordable railway for all.'

Traumatised gardener left unprotected from pricks

A gardener contracted a life-threatening infection because his employer ignored his requests for thorn-proof gloves. The 59-year-old from Derbyshire, whose name has not been released, was in intensive care for two weeks after being pricked by the Berberis bush whilst working as a gardener for Broxtowe Borough Council. Initial flu-like symptoms soon turned potentially deadly as his arm swelled so much that the skin split open from his elbow to wrist. The gardener of 30 years was rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed with a serious streptococcal infection which had entered his body from the thorn-prick. The Unite member developed post-traumatic stress disorder and as a result has been unable to return to work as a gardener and is currently unemployed. In a union-backed compensation case, Broxtowe Borough Council was found liable by Nottingham County Court, where an undisclosed compensation payout was awarded. The Unite member said: 'I'd asked my bosses a number of times for gloves which were more suitable to my job but my requests were ignored. As a gardener you expect to be scratched by thorns but with the correct gloves it can be avoided. However, I never expected that I would end up in hospital with a life-threatening infection as a result of a thorn-prick. The accident left has left me scared of returning to a job I used to love. I can't imagine ever being able to go back to gardening again.'

Bottle factory worker loses his senses

A plastic bottle factory worker was left with a 90 per cent reduction in his ability to taste and smell after suffering two injuries minutes apart. The Unite member was initially injured when his hand was dragged into a bottle labelling machine at Artenius PET Packaging UK Ltd in Wrexham as he tried to fix it. He had opened the machine's door to gain access and thought this would deactivate it, but as he put his hand in the motor started up and dragged in his thumb. His thumb was cut and the bone broken and the nail was ripped off. The 51-year-old mechanical technician, whose name has not been released, had to walk to a first aid station, where he fainted as he waited for the first aider to arrive. He fell to the factory floor, hitting his head and suffering concussion. The concussion developed into headaches and he was off work for three weeks as he recovered from all of his injuries. He noticed a loss of sense of smell and taste during this time off work and was eventually diagnosed with a head injury affecting his olfactory nerve. In a union-backed compensation case, Artenius admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. Unite regional secretary Paul Finegan commented: 'Our member should never have been able to access the inner workings of a machine whilst it was still live. Having failed him on that front the employers then failed to get him first aid promptly which led to a further and more serious injury when he fainted. We hope lessons have been learnt on a number of different levels.'

Other news

Axe-wielding minister hides behind 'burdens' lie

The government's drive to cut health and safety regulation is going to plan, safety minister Chris Grayling has said, reiterating unsubstantiated government claims about safety 'burdens' to justify it. Launching the report of a review of government safety reforms at an 18 June gathering of business lobby groups in London, the minister indicated its plans were on track, with measures like the creation of two challenge panels and a move to exclude an estimated 30,000 injuries every year from official reporting requirements already completed. Questioned after the event by SHP, the publication of safety professionals' organisation IOSH, the minister was asked to justify government language on safety that has included negative terms like 'burden', 'monster' and 'jobs-destroyer'. He told SHP: 'It is an inescapable fact that there is a big burden out there that is unnecessary and has to go,' but only gave one anecdote to justify the claim. On the jobs issue, he said: 'If we try to legislate out all risk, we will lose jobs to other places.' A dramatic rise in work-related fatalities - up 16 per cent last year and with preliminary statistics suggesting this year's figure could be at least as high - 'pre-date our reforms', the minister said. However, they do not pre-date the dramatic cut in the Health and Safety Executive's budget. Nor does this year's high fatality level pre-date the government's March 2011 safety strategy, which introduced a drastic reduction in pro-active inspections by official enforcement agencies, including the blanket exemption of most workplaces from any preventive official scrutiny. A TUC spokesperson commented: 'It is sad that a government minister with responsibility for health and safety should have such a confused view of the subject. To claim that health and safety is 'all about the professionalisation of health and safety and removal of myths and nonsense' shows that he knows little about the reality of working life where millions of workers are having their health threatened by a failure of employers to obey the law and a failure of the government to enforce it.' He added: 'Nor is safety a 'job-killer'. Those developed countries with the highest job creation are those with the strongest regulation, and the best enforcement. These are countries that understand that health and safety is not a burden but a duty and that both workers and industry benefit from strong regulation and enforcement which help keep sickness absence rates down.'

UK dust standard leaves waste workers in peril

The waste industry must adopt 'much lower exposure limits' for dust at work or workers will be left at risk of potentially life-threatening occupational diseases, a study has concluded. The research project, commissioned by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation on the behalf of the Environmental Services Association Education Trust, found: 'The current regulatory limits for inert dust are not adequately protective for the types of dust encountered in the waste industry. Exposures to dust and/or bioaerosol at many waste handling sites are likely to give rise to significantly increased risks of chronic respiratory illness.' The report, prepared by experts from the Institute of Occupational Medicine, found operations that are 'particularly likely' to be associated with high levels of worker exposure to dust and/or bioaerosol include composting, working on picking lines at materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and cleaning and maintenance operations. 'Workers with pre-existing respiratory conditions or who are previously sensitised to moulds may experience an exacerbation of symptoms at very low exposure levels,' the report noted. 'About 5 per cent of the population are sensitised to common moulds and a greater proportion of the population are at increased risk of becoming sensitised as a result of mould exposure. Any workers with compromised immune function (for example, due to medication) are also at risk of aspergillosis.' The report authors 'recommend that the industry is proactive in monitoring worker exposure to dust and other hazardous substances and that it adopts much lower exposure limits for respirable and inhalable dust than currently required under UK law.' In September 2011, the TUC warned the official UK occupational dust standard needed to be reduced significantly, and recommending unions in the interim impose their own level at a quarter the current official limit (Risks 521). Unite has made the same call (Risks 522).

Brain damaged worker gets lifetime care package

The family of a Bristol man left fighting for his life after he was hit on the head by a section of scaffold pole that fell 18 floors down a lift shaft is calling for improved health and safety in the construction industry after he had an undisclosed 'substantial' seven figure lifetime care package approved at Bristol High Court. Father-of-five Richard Chodkiewicz, 54, was left with horrific, life changing head injuries as a result of the July 2008 incident during the construction of the Radisson Blu Hotel in the city. It was almost 18 months before he could leave hospital and he still requires 24 hour care. Commenting on the settlement, his wife Karen said 'the fact remains that Richard will never be able to lead a normal independent life. He has no concept of anything that happens on the left side of his body and he now walks with a stick. His short term memory is very poor and he needs constant care and monitoring for his own safety. Richard's long term memory has also been affected and at times he has difficulty remembering the names of his own children which is heartbreaking.' Deborah Bigwood, the serious injury specialist at law firm Irwin Mitchell who represented the Chodkiewicz family, said: 'This particularly horrific workplace accident highlights the importance of the health and safety regulations which exist to protect workers. People have a basic fundamental right to know that when they go to work they will return home safely and unharmed. Richard took steps to protect himself, wearing the appropriate safety equipment, yet because the correct tools for the job weren't provided, he suffered appalling injuries which were wholly avoidable.' In June 2011, Bristol Crown Court fined main contractor Miller Construction £40,000 and £17,232 costs and specialist lift company Hoistway Ltd £70,000 and £14,616 costs for criminal safety offences (Risks 512).

Nordex UK fined after teen's wind farm death

A wind turbine manufacturer has been fined £26,000 after admitting criminal safety failings at a site where a teenage worker fell 100ft to his death. Basilio Brazao, 19, from Brazil, died instantly when he fell down the shaft of a wind turbine at the Earlsburn wind farm near Fintry, Stirlingshire (Risks 424). Mr Brazao had been working inside the turbine at the time of the incident. Nordex UK admitted a number of health and safety breaches at an earlier hearing at Stirling Sheriff Court. The court heard Mr Brazao was working with his father at the site when the incident occurred. The manufacturer Nordex at that time used a fall arrest system - which is supposed to offer a form of fall protection to employees. However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had warned them to upgrade to a lift system in the months before Mr Brazao's death, but they had not done so. Prosecutor Gavin Callaghan said there was a 'total failing from the accused to meet the regulations.' Manchester-based Nordex UK admitted that between November 2006 and May 2007 it failed to ensure the health and safety of employees at the site. It also admitted failing to provide a safe way of getting up and down from the wind turbines. Fining the firm £26,000, Sheriff Fiona Tait said: 'It is accepted by the Crown that there is no link between the death of Mr Brazao and the offences Nordex UK have pleaded guilty to.'

Concrete slab kills carpenter on university site

A carpenter died when a large slab of concrete fell on him during construction of a new accommodation block at Bath University. Philip Hames, of Weston-super-Mare, was working for Creagh Concrete Products on the university's Claverton Down Campus when he adjusted a metal prop without realising it was securing a concrete plank above him. The concrete plank dropped onto Mr Hames, killing him instantly and narrowly missing a co-worker. In a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, Creagh Concrete Products Ltd was convicted of a criminal safety offence and was fined £100,000 plus costs of £140,000 at Bristol Crown Court. After the case, HSE inspector Ian Smart said: 'Unfortunately there has been a rise in the number of fatalities caused by the collapse of structures under construction or refurbishment over the past few years. Mr Hames was an experienced carpenter but Creagh failed to recognise the scope of the work he was undertaking and failed to ensure he was made aware of how critical the placements of the props were and the fact they should not be adjusted. Therefore, Mr Hames would not have understood the outcome of his actions. It was foreseeable he and other workers on site would seek to move props and robust steps should have been taken to prevent this.' He added: 'Since this incident, the published standard for temporary works has been revised. It provides additional clarity on respect of the safeguards associated with the temporary support of structures. It is crucial that this guidance is followed by the construction industry.'

Scaffold collapsed after firm ignored safety pleas

A now defunct Croydon construction company has been prosecuted after a worker fell eight metres from a scaffold tower that he hadn't wanted to build for safety reasons. Green Acre Homes (South East) Ltd, which ceased to operate a year ago, failed to listen to the concerns raised by handyman John Morgan, who had been instructed to build a tower scaffold on a building site in Peckham, south London. Mr Morgan, 44, was finishing building the top of the tower on 25 November 2009 when a strong gust of wind sent it crashing to the ground. He plummeted some eight metres, fracturing his ribs and breastbone, compressing his vertebrae and wounding his head. Westminster Magistrates' Court was told an investigation into the incident by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that Mr Morgan and a colleague were initially asked to erect the tower scaffold in an area that didn't provide a stable base. Despite protesting to site management they were told to continue. A representative from Wandle Housing Association, the client company, then saw the unsafe scaffold and ordered it be taken down. The court heard Mr Morgan was then told to build the tower in a second location. Again there was a space problem and again he and his co-worker raised concerns with managers about safety. Once more Green Acre Homes failed to take any action and the workers went about building the scaffold tower. As it was nearing completion, Mr Morgan was at the top of the tower when high winds struck, sending the tower toppling to the ground. Mr Morgan was unable to work for three months. He now suffers persistent ringing in his ears and has permanent scarring. Green Acre Homes (South East) Ltd did not appear in court and was found guilty in its absence of a criminal safety offence and fined a £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,969.

Fine after worker has his body ripped open

A West Yorkshire engineering firm has been fined after a worker miraculously escaped death when he became entangled in a rotating machine tool that caught him by the neck. Tomas Cisarik, 33, suffered a deep gash running 20cm long and 8cm wide on his back, which left his internal organs exposed. He also had a cracked foot bone and severe friction burns from his neck, down his left arm to his wrist. Huddersfield Magistrates' Court was told that Mr Cisarik had on 7 September 2011 pre-programmed one of the CNC machines at P Craven Engineering Co Ltd's Heckmondwike factory for a short warm-up cycle where the machine tool would rotate at around 300rpm. He returned later and went inside to clean up the metal shavings. As he entered the machine, he felt a pull on his neck and his clothes were ripped from the top half of his body. A colleague heard a loud bang and Mr Cisarik's screaming and saw he had been pulled into the machine and was trying to climb out of a side door. The court was told that if the safety interlocks had been working, the machine would have stopped as Mr Cisarik entered the machine. Instead the safety interlocks had been intentionally disabled as the key had been placed into the main switch on an opposite door. Following the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served four prohibition notices on the company preventing further use of the CNC and three other machines because of inadequate guarding. The firm admitted a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,302 in costs. After the hearing, Mr Cisarik said he had been working alone, but colleagues heard his screams and called for help. 'You could see my kidney, my ribs, my spine,' he said. 'It was an open wound. I'm really lucky that I'm not paralysed, or dead.'

Teens 'narrowly escaped death' at work

A Derbyshire manufacturing firm and its director have been fined after two teenage agency workers 'narrowly escaped death' in a fall from a platform above a heap of supermarket trolleys. Derby Crown Court heard that the two 18-year-olds were helping to put scrapped trolleys into a skip using a makeshift lifting platform designed by Storetec Limited director Brian Crossan to fit a forklift truck. As the platform was bringing the two workers back down to the ground, it was caught and dragged off the truck's forks. The workers and platform fell four and a half metres to the ground. Leon Payne broke his back and needed four operations after the incident in April 2009. Ricky Austin broke both heels and needed to have metal plates inserted in his feet. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Brian Crossan had not followed guidelines and standards in the design of the platform, as the fork extensions did not fit properly into the platform. The plate did not have any chains or any other means to secure it to the fork lift truck and it had an open edge. After the hearing, HSE inspector Fiona Coffey said: 'These two teenagers, who were just embarking on their working lives, narrowly escaped death and have now been left with life-changing physical and psychological injuries. One has even had to abandon his plans to join his father in the asphalt industry as it is too physically demanding. The company should have considered if it was necessary to use a platform like this in the first place, and if it was, used something that was legal and safe - this arrangement clearly was not.' Storetec Limited was fined £22,000 and £12,134 costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Brian Crossan also pleaded guilty a criminal safety offence and was fined £3,500 and ordered to pay costs of £7,866. The court was told the firm was among the leaders in repairing supermarket trolleys with an annual turnover of £4 million and a profit of £250,000.

International News

Europe: Unions demand action on strains

Union bodies have called on the European Commission to 'assume political responsibility' and produce 'without delay' a draft European Union-wide law to protect workers from musculoskeletal injuries. The demand for action on workplace strains comes in a statement this week from the European Trade Union Confederation and four other Europe-wide trade union bodies. They say a directive has been in preparation for nearly a decade, adding the European survey of 2010 on working conditions 'once again underlined the importance of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) which affect all industries, and are the source of a significant proportion of absences due to illness. In the most severe cases, they can prevent workers from keeping their jobs.' The statement notes: 'The European Trade Union Confederation wishes to stress that the Commission must assume political responsibility and submit without delay a draft directive to allow the Parliament and the Council of Ministers to fulfil their role.' ETUC confederal secretary Judith Kirton-Darling commented: 'A global Community legislation on musculoskeletal risks would represent added value for the Member States and boost prevention policies in a more effective manner.' Unions want the proposed directive to be linked to the preparation of the new Community strategy on occupational health and safety for 2013-2020.

India: Union concern after deadly steel blast

A massive explosion at a government-owned steel plant in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has killed at least 11 people. The blast occurred at about 8.30pm on 13 June and triggered a fire in the Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL) plant in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam. At least 16 other workers suffered serious burn injuries. It was the second fatal explosion at the plant in two months. The latest blast took place when workers were checking a newly-installed oxygen unit in a steel melt plant. Early reports indicated the death toll was likely to rise as some of the injured were in a critical condition. Witnesses said the explosion was so powerful that cars parked outside the unit were flung in the air. The 41-year-old RINL plant, located 600km (370 miles) from the state capital, Hyderabad, is one of India's biggest steel producers. A major expansion of the plant's production, from 2.9 million tonnes to 6.3 million tonnes per annum, was completed recently. Union representatives allege management negligence and a dearth of properly skilled workers has led to an increase in accidents at the plant. On 1 May this year, two contract workers were burnt to death in an explosion in one of the plant's blast furnaces. Rajashekar Mantri, vice president of the Indian National Metalworkers' Federation (INMF), said: 'Workers will not tolerate such negligent attitude of the management. At all costs the management should take immediate steps to ensure workers' safety.' He called for a thorough probe into the incident and expressed concern over the procurement of inferior quality materials.

Japan: Work suicides, heart disease and depression up

Official compensation payouts for work-related suicides and depression in Japan are running at a record high, the health ministry has said. Figures for 2011 reveal the number of payouts approved for work-related mental illnesses climbed to an all-time high of 325 in the 2011 tax year. This exceeded the previous year's tally by 17, setting a new record for the second straight year, a ministry report said. The authorities also recognised 66 suicides or attempted suicides as work-related, an increase of one on the previous year. The number of applications citing depression or other illnesses caused by work-related stress rose by 91 to 1,272, rewriting the record for a third consecutive year. Ministry officials attributed the increase to a growing awareness among workers that they can apply for mental illness-related compensation, but noted that 20 cases linked to the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami were also a factor. Applications for compensation for heart disease or stroke caused by overwork surged by 96 to 898 in 2011, with 310 applications approved, up 25 from the previous year.

USA: Unions are good for your health

Unions are good for your health, a new study has found. Researchers from Duke University in the USA found that more unionised American workers consider themselves healthy than do their non-union counterparts, an indication that membership is good for the body as well as the pay cheque. David Brady, a Duke sociology professor and co-author of the study, said: 'Unions are taking a beating in American culture. But here we can say that not only are unions better for your wages, they're good for your health.' The study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Social Forces, examines survey results of more than 11,000 full-time workers. It found 85 per cent of union workers reported being in good health, compared to 82 per cent of non-union workers. In real numbers, that 3 per cent gap represents 3.7 million American workers. 'Three per cent may not seem like a lot,' said Megan Reynolds, a Duke doctoral student and lead author of the study. 'But when you start looking at the number of workers in the United States, that's a lot of people.' Brady and Reynolds say the difference is comparable to the physical benefits found to be associated with being married rather than divorced or being five years younger. They believe this is the first study to do so and illustrates that union membership is another factor - like age, education level and marital status - that affects a person's health.

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