Risks 562 - 30 June 2012

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Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

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Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at [email protected]

Union News

Olympics rail proposals are 'potentially lethal'

Last minute Olympics rail proposals are designed to cut corners on existing safety procedures in the event of a broken down train 'with potentially lethal consequences', rail union RMT has warned. The union was commenting on 26 June, after the Traffic Operations Management Standards Committee (TOM SC) 'bounced' the proposals on union reps. RMT says Network Rail is proposing using neither detonator protection to protect a failed train, nor having the driver's duties carried out by another 'competent person'. The oral proposal, with no supporting paperwork, did not include a risk assessment. According to RMT, Network Rail believes a dramatic increase in journeys during the Olympics, expected to be up by 24 per cent, will mean a higher likelihood of train failure. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Leaving this proposal to such a late stage is typical of the whole rail industry approach to managing the transport system during the period of the Olympics. There has been no consultation with the trade unions on these proposals which leads us to suspect that they have been presented as a fait accompli in the hope they can simply be bulldozed through.' He added RMT had registered its formal objection to the proposals. 'RMT will not stand back while corners are cut on Olympics safety at the eleventh hour just because the management have suddenly realised that they are likely to have a spate of broken down and defective trains on their hands as they struggle to cope with demand,' he said. On 28 June, RMT said transport chiefs has confirmed to the union it should 'expect a massive increase in train breakdowns as every unit of clapped out rolling stock is dragged out of the sidings and pressed into service to try and cope with the surge in Olympics demand.'

UCATT demands answers after site fatality

Construction union UCATT is demanding answers after a site death in Glasgow was linked to lifting equipment it is suspected was defective. On 20 June, a boom lift failed during construction work at Buchanan House in Glasgow city centre. One man, 39-year-old Gary Currie, was killed when he fell 130 feet, while co-worker Alex Nesbitt, 35, is recovering in hospital from serious head injuries. The Daily Record reports that on 17 June last year the fire brigade had to rescue workers from the same machine, provided by Craig Services and Access Ltd, when its boom broke in the same place. The paper reports that the previous owner of the equipment, ES Access, had discovered a problem with metal fatigue in the boom but went into administration before commissioned repairs could be completed. Harry Frew, UCATT's regional secretary in Scotland, said: 'Our thoughts are with the family of Mr Currie. It is tragic when any worker dies in these circumstances.' He added: 'Information that is emerging about the condition of the plant is extremely worrying and raises questions which must be addressed by the Health and Safety Executive's investigation. It now appears that the equipment may not have been fit for purpose due to company changes and repairs that were required. Mr Currie's family deserve answers as to how this terrible incident took place and why this plant failed.'

UCATT welcomes Labour gangmaster pledge

Construction union UCATT have welcomed a commitment by Ed Miliband to extend the reach of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). The Labour leader made the pledge in a 22 June speech on immigration policy to the IPPR thinktank, promising to extend the scope of GLA to all sectors where workers are being exploited. UCATT said it had long campaigned for the GLA to be extended to cover the construction industry, 'where in recent years there has been a huge increase in the use of employment agencies, which has led to high levels of exploitation.' UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: 'This commitment is warmly welcomed. It shows that Labour understands the problems that workers face and is dedicated to stamping out workplace exploitation.' He added: 'This shows a clear dividing line between Labour and the Coalition. Labour will protect workers while the Conservative-led government are trying to dismantle the GLA in order to help boost the profits of their friends in business.' A government decision to prune back the GLA sparked Labour anger and Tory backbench anxiety last week. The Morning Star reports that dozens of MPs have signed a Commons early day motion warning that the cuts will 'put vulnerable workers at serious risk of exploitation, injury and death.' And Tory MP Stephen Barclay put a government minister on the spot by launching a Westminster Hall debate on 20 June and expressing concern that the GLA was now 'in limbo.' He called for more resources for the GLA, new civil penalties and repayment orders to hit illegal gangmasters 'in the pocket,' and guidelines to ensure tougher sentencing following any criminal prosecutions. 'Indeed, there have only been 11 prosecutions across the whole of the UK in the last two years,' he added.

Vibration failures cost worker his job

National Grid has been made to twice pay compensation to a worker who was forced to take medical retirement, aged just 48. Keith Rydings, now 49, developed painful carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) after working with vibrating tools for employer National Grid Gas. The GMB member was first diagnosed with the conditions in 2000 and was removed from work with vibrating tools after he sued the firm for negligently exposing him to excessive levels of vibration. Six years later, new management made him use vibrating tools again. Despite entering a grievance, Mr Rydings was forced to return to his old job in 2007 after an agreement by his bosses to put another member of staff onto the tools failed because that employee was just 17. Staff have to be 18 to use vibrating tools. Mr Ryding was signed off sick with vibration-related ill-health in May 2009 and had to take ill-health retirement in October of that year. 'When my new boss first asked me to return to working with vibrating tools I thought he was crazy,' he said. 'My medical history was clear but he just wouldn't listen to my concerns. When they said they'd provide another member of staff and I then discovered he was too young to use the tools I felt like I had no choice but to get on with it.' Peter Magee from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by GMB to act in the compensation cases, said: 'The government constantly attacks health and safety regulations as being a burden on business. Cases like Mr Rydings' show that the real burden is on employees whose health is ruined by breaches of regulations. Complying with regulations is a lot cheaper than having to pay compensation to employees who have been injured in circumstances that could easily have been avoided.'

Pipe fitter suffered serious scalding

A self-employed pipe fitter was left with a nine inch scar on his thigh after he was scalded by boiling water. Unite member Graham Tyers, 61, needed to take five weeks off work as a result of the injury, which happened when he was working as a sub-contractor for Ailsen Limited. He was contracted by the company to insert new pipe work in a manhole at the University of Nottingham. As he sat at the edge of the manhole pulling up the ladder at the end of the job, the ladder caught on a valve and scalding water gushed onto his left thigh and his right ankle and hand. He needed emergency treatment and has been left with a nine by five inch scar on his leg. Solicitors brought in by Unite to act in a compensation case discovered Ailsen had sent Mr Tyers in to do the job without undertaking a risk assessment, which would have identified safer ways to do the work. Ailsen admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for over £7,000. Gary Guye from Unite commented: 'A bit of common sense and checking the job out first could have prevented the agony and the wage loss that Mr Tyers suffered.' Susan Peters from Thompsons Solicitors, the union law firm that acted in the compensation case, said: 'Self-employment means no payment if you can't work so it was important to get Mr Tyers his lost wages back as well as compensation for his extremely painful injury and the scarring he will have for the rest of his life.'

Other news

Firms could benefit from better sick leave rights

Workers who fall sick during their annual leave are entitled to take corresponding paid leave at a later date, the European Union's top court has ruled. And the ruling could be good news for businesses too, with a forthcoming US study linking paid sick leave to a dramatic reduction in workplace injuries and related costs. The European Court of Justice ruling, which is legally binding throughout the EU including the UK, came on 21 June in a case against a group of department stores taken by four Spanish trade union organisations. 'The right to paid annual leave cannot be interpreted restrictively,' the court ruled. It said the EU Working Time Directive grants workers a right to at least four weeks' paid annual leave 'even where such leave coincides with periods of sick leave.' The ECJ found 'the point at which that temporary incapacity arose is irrelevant. Consequently, the worker is entitled to take paid annual leave which coincides with a period of sick leave at a later point in time, irrespective of the point at which the incapacity for work arose.' According to an earlier ECJ ruling, workers who fall sick before a period of annual leave can also reschedule that leave period so that it does not clash with their sick leave. A US study to be published in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health links access to paid sick leave to a substantial reduction in occupational injuries. It will say: 'With all other variables held constant, workers with access to paid sick leave were 28 per cent less likely than workers without access to paid sick leave to be injured.' The authors conclude: 'Our findings suggest that, similar to other investments in worker safety and health, introducing or expanding paid sick leave programmes might help businesses reduce the incidence of non-fatal occupational injuries, particularly in high-risk sectors and occupations.'

HSE admits Legionnaires' concerns

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has admitted concerns about the possible extent of Legionnaires' disease risk after inspections at six firms in Edinburgh found two were falling criminally short of the legally required safe practices. Pam Waldron, director of HSE in Scotland, told the Daily Herald the fact two of six businesses inspected during the deadly outbreak had been issued with improvement notices highlighted the problem. However, she stressed that while this meant conditions at the North British Distillery and pharmaceuticals company Macfarlan Smith 'had fallen below standards required by code of practice,' it did not mean either was responsible for spreading Legionella. She said: 'That's something we may have to look at.' So far two deaths have been linked to the Edinburgh outbreak, with three patients in intensive care. By 25 June, the number thought to have been affected by the outbreak had risen to 95, with 48 confirmed cases and 47 suspected cases. The first case was confirmed on 28 May (Risks 560).

HSE chair to remain in top seat

Judith Hackitt has been reappointed for a second term as chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The former director of chemical industry lobby group the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) has already occupied the top seat for five years, and her tenure has now been extended until October 2015. Safety minister Chris Grayling said he was 'delighted' she had agreed to another four days a week term as chair. He added: 'Her challenging of poor decision making in the name of health and safety combined with a pragmatic, risk based approach to regulation and enforcement will ensure that the deserved reputation of HSE as a fair and open regulator is maintained.' Judith Hackitt said she too was 'delighted' to continue. She added: 'My focus is clear - ensuring that we continue to drive down death, injury and ill-health in Britain's workplaces, while delivering changes to the regulatory system that make it clearer and simpler for employers to understand what they need to do to manage serious risks.'

Asbestos compensation timebomb for academies

Academy and free school governors have been warned that they are legally and financially liable for occupational diseases linked to asbestos exposure in their schools. Education weekly SecEd reported this week that campaigners tabled a series of parliamentary questions in a bid to discover to what extent schools are insured if pupils who are exposed to asbestos and later develop mesothelioma - a cancer related to the deadly material - go on to make a claim for compensation. In its responses, the government confirmed that, in general, schools cannot obtain public liability insurance that will cover them for pupil asbestos exposure risks. However, while local authorities can 'self-insure' to cover their schools, many academies and free schools do not have the resources to do this. The admission came after pressure from the Asbestos in Schools (AiS) group, which campaigns for the removal of all asbestos from schools in the UK. AiS says that some academies have been led to believe that they have full public liability insurance to cover pupils for asbestos exposure risks when in fact 'the wording in policies fails to give that cover'. The campaign believes 'it is unusual to find that cover for injury or death caused by asbestos is covered' in public liability insurance. AiS founder, Michael Lees, whose teacher wife Gina died of an asbestos related cancer, fears that because mesothelioma can take years to develop after exposure to asbestos, this loophole could result in academies facing claims for compensation from former pupils in 10 or 20 years' time. SecEd says more than 1,800 schools have been converted to academies so far, with education secretary Michael Gove wanting to see 'every secondary school take up academy status by the end of the parliament.'

Another study links night work to breast cancer

A new study has reinforced concerns that women undertaking night work can face an increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers at Inserm, the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France, compared the careers of 1,200 women who had developed breast cancer between 2005 and 2008 with the careers of 1,300 other women. In total, over 11 per cent of women had worked nights at some time during their career. Reporting their findings online this week in the International Journal of Cancer, the authors conclude the risk of developing breast cancer was 30 per cent higher in women who had worked nights compared to women who had never worked nights. This increased risk was particularly marked in women who had worked nights for over four years, or in women whose working rhythm was less than 3 nights per week, because this led to more frequent disturbances between night and day rhythms. The link between night work and breast cancer seemed to be more marked in women who had worked at night prior to a first pregnancy. 'Our work has corroborated the results of previous studies and poses the problem of taking night work into consideration in public health management, especially since the number of women working atypical hours is on the increase,' said lead author Pascal Guénel. A Danish study published in May found women who had worked nights at least three times a week for at least six years were more than twice as likely to have the disease as those who had not (Risks 558). A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) backed study published on 19 June indicated breast cancer linked to nightshift work is the second most common occupational cancer in the UK (Risks 561).

Standing at work is bad for a pregnancy

Standing for long periods at work while pregnant may curb the growth of the developing foetus, new research indicates. Dutch researchers, who published their findings online this week in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, assessed the foetal growth rates of 4,680 mums to be from early pregnancy onwards between 2002 and 2006. Midway through their pregnancy, the women were quizzed about their work conditions and the physical demands of their jobs, including whether these included lifting, long periods of standing or walking, night shifts and long working hours. Nearly four out of 10 (38.5 per cent) of the women spent a long time on their feet and 45.5 per cent had to walk for long periods. Heavy lifting was part of the job for just 6 per cent, while around 4 per cent worked night shifts. The results showed that physically demanding work and long working hours were not consistently associated with restrictions on overall size or birthweight, or with premature birth. And working up to 34 or 36 weeks of pregnancy had no adverse impact on foetal development. But women who spent long periods on their feet during their pregnancy, in jobs such as sales, childcare, and teaching, had babies whose heads were an average of 1 cm (3 per cent) smaller than average at birth, implying a slower growth rate. Those who worked more than 40 hours a week had smaller babies than those who worked under 25 hours a week. Previous research has indicated that long working hours may increase the risk of birth defects, premature birth, stillbirth and low birthweight.

Roads are workplace too, MP says

An MP has criticised an enforcement anomaly which means workers killed or injured on the roads do not come under the Health and Safety Executive's enforcement umbrella. Sheffield MP Meg Munn, speaking in a Commons debate last week, pointed to figures provided to MPs in March 2012 by under-secretary of state for transport Mike Penning, who revealed 24 per cent of serious injuries and 30 per cent of road deaths in 2010 could be linked to work-related road traffic accidents. Describing this as 'an underestimate' because road deaths at work are not reportable so don't make it into HSE statistics, Munn told the Commons: 'Even using those figures, we are talking about, on average, 11 deaths and 105 serious injuries every week.' She noted 'Employers have a responsibility to report work-related injuries to the HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 - RIDDOR - but that does not include a responsibility to report work-related road traffic accidents. Why are deaths and injuries resulting from those accidents not counted as workplace deaths and injuries?' The Labour MP continued: 'Deaths and injuries in other workplaces are properly investigated by the HSE, and what is learned is made available to other organisations. That does not happen for work-related deaths and injuries on our roads.' Ms Munn concluded: 'I want to make my fundamental point, which is that the Health and Safety Executive is a great body, which does a good job. It could do so much more in addressing the nearly two-thirds of fatalities at work that happen not in the areas that the executive currently covers, but on the road.'

Dye worker in Leek suffers severe burns

A Leek company that makes webbing for seatbelts and harnesses has been fined after an employee trapped both arms in a machine and suffered severe burns. Stewart Wood, a dye machine operative at Marling Leek Limited, was working a night shift on 2 August 2011 when webbing became wrapped around the machine's rollers. The 60-year-old climbed onto the machine without isolating it to try to unravel the webbing and his left arm was drawn in between the unguarded rollers. He tried to push the top roller upwards to open a gap but his right arm was drawn in as well. A colleague outside heard Mr Wood scream but did not know how to stop the machine so ran to get another employee. By the time he was freed he had suffered severe burns and skin damage. He was in a special burns unit for two weeks and has had skin grafts on both arms and has permanent loss of sensation to the injured area. He was off work for a number of weeks but has since returned to work for the company. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served two improvement notices after the incident. Marling Leek Limited pleaded guilty a criminal safety breach and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £5,827. After the hearing, HSE inspector Lyn Spooner said: 'The picture that emerged of Marling Leek is one that failed to develop an effective safety management system. In doing so they exposed their employees over a prolonged period to significant risk every day they came to work, ending in a tragic incident that could and should have been prevented.'

Wood planer shaves off finger

A glazing company has been fined for safety breaches after a worker lost part of a finger in a woodworking machine at its factory in Aldershot. Norbert Pietrzkiewicz's little finger on his right hand was drawn into a cutting block rotating at 7,000 rpm as he worked on reducing the thickness of lengths of timber at the Total Installations Ltd factory on 18 February last year. The rotating blades of the cutting block shaved down his finger resulting in it being amputated just below the first joint. The company was prosecuted at Aldershot Magistrates' Court after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found it had failed to ensure adequate safeguards. The court was told Mr Pietrzkiewicz was using a planer thicknesser to work on three metre lengths of timber. The machine had been set up by an untrained operative resulting in wood shavings blocking the revolving knife block. At the time of the incident Mr Pietrzkiewicz was sweeping shavings from the table with his hand and his glove was drawn into the rotating block. Total Installations Ltd pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £3,791.50 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector Alec Ryan said: 'Total Installations Limited failed in its duty of care to its employees by not considering the risks involved and acting to ensure there were safeguards in place to protect workers against accessing dangerous parts. This should have included the necessary training for the use of this machine.'

Jack fractures fitter's skull

A Suffolk haulage operator has been prosecuted after one of its workers suffered a fractured skull as he tried to recover a 17-tonne abandoned excavator. Experienced fitter Paul Collins, 51, had worked for Tannington Transport for only three months when he was struck on the head by a heavy-duty vehicle jack when it 'popped' out of position. The incident on 8 September 2011 triggered an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution against the company for a serious criminal safety breach. Ipswich Magistrates' Court was told Mr Collins was one of a team of three employees ordered by the firm to recover an old excavator that had been lying for years in a hedgerow in Chelmondiston. Most of machine's tyres were flat and sunken into the ground, wedging it firmly in place. The men decided to raise it using bottle jacks and to then place metal sheets under the wheels to make it easier to tow. It was during the lifting operation that one of the jacks 'popped' out under considerable force, hitting Mr Collins on the side of the head. He was taken to hospital and later diagnosed with a fractured skull. He has since made a good recovery and was able to return to work 10 weeks after the incident. The court heard HSE found Tannington Transport Ltd had failed to consider the potential risks or provide a plan to help get the job done safely. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £3,291 in costs. HSE inspector Anthony Brookes said 'Mr Collins was very seriously injured and could have been killed.'

International News

Canada: Feds knew 'safe' asbestos was a lie

Canada's federal government acknowledged years ago that the dangers of chrysotile asbestos warranted limits on its export - but still fought against international restrictions over the past decade - according to official internal records. The memorandum to environment minister Peter Kent, obtained by Postmedia News under an access to information request, states the scientific panel for the UN's Rotterdam Convention was on solid ground in 2002 when it first proposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen mined in Quebec, as a hazardous material requiring the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) of the importing nation. 'Since 2002, chrysotile has been proposed four times for addition to the PIC Procedure of the Rotterdam Convention. This decision requires the consensus of the Parties. At previous meetings and again last June, Canada acknowledged that all criteria for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the Convention have been met but opposed its addition,' states the briefing note, dated last autumn. In effect, asbestos exporter nations have operated a veto on the listing of asbestos, whose prime markets now are developing nations, particularly in Asia. New Democratic (NDP) MP Pat Martin, a longtime critic of the asbestos industry and a former asbestos miner himself, said the briefing note blows open Canada's public positions on asbestos. 'They've ignored the scientists. They didn't just deny the science. They acknowledged it but yet ignored it. That is unforgivable, in my view,' Martin told the Vancouver Sun. 'They've put commercial and political interests ahead of scientific interests, and in doing, compromised and undermined the whole purpose and intent of the convention.'

Europe: Unions to be 'REACH ambassadors'

Unions in Europe are to become 'REACH ambassadors' in companies using chemicals. The European Union-wide chemical safety law REACH says that industrial operators must register any chemicals they manufacture or import in quantities above one tonne a year with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to show that they can be used safely. Now the European trade union confederation ETUC and IndustriAll Europe, part of the global union federation covering workers in the chemical sector, say they 'are calling on their member organisations to alert employers about their responsibilities through a new campaign in collaboration with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).' An 'extensive' information campaign aimed at companies that market or use chemicals was launched at the annual trade union conference on chemicals and workers' protection, which took place this week in Brussels. The union bodies say too many firms in the EU, especially smaller companies, are still not aware of their obligations, and could end up being fined or having some of their production lines stopped by national enforcement authorities if they do not fulfil their obligations under REACH. ETUC and Industriall want their affiliated unions to pass on an information leaflet to employers. The leaflet provides a simple checklist on the actions to be undertaken by companies importing, producing or using chemicals in order to ensure they comply with the EU legislation.

Global: Union action on 'Black Sea of shame'

Trade unions from Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine say they intend to shame governments into action over the shocking condition of shipping on the Black Sea. A report, Black Sea of Shame, is intended to help unions raise the issue with their national governments. The unions allege ancient shipping, rock bottom and unpaid wages, assaults, sinkings and corruption are widespread. Steve Cotton, maritime coordinator with ITF, the global union federation that published the report, commented: 'This is a true catalogue of shame. Our inspectors and our member unions are dealing with the human costs of unsafe and ageing shipping, and managements who consider crews a dispensable luxury, to be paid at whim and undeserving of basic protections, including insurance against death and injury.' According to the ITF, Black Sea shipping, which totals around 2,400 active vessels, is dominated by vessels over 20 years of age - with 800 of them actually over 30 years old. It says the use of aged, smaller vessels, working well beyond their economic life and moving low value goods, is reflected in serious accidents and repeated abuse of seafarers. The report concludes: 'There would appear to be a high frequency of accidents, groundings and sinking of vessels in the Black Sea. In addition to poor weather conditions and geographical features, this is likely to be due to the proliferation of older vessels operating with substandard conditions. There would appear to be a lack of investment and poor maintenance due to a flawed economic model that does not sustain minimum safety measures.'

Korea: Protesters confront Samsung on work diseases

Dozens of environmental and labour rights advocates from across the globe rallied outside the Seoul headquarters of electronic multinational Samsung on 20 June, in protest at what they describe as an 'occupational disease crisis' on its production lines. About 30 international activists joined the large demonstration by bereaved families. The relatives link the death of a family member to blood disorders they allege were contracted as a result of working at Samsung Electronics and its subsidiaries. The international group joining the families included activists from the US, China, Indonesia, Mexico and other nations, carried placards written in their native languages. They had just wrapped up a three-day conference in Seoul on sustainable electronics. 'During the past three days we have come to better understand that electronics workers are facing similar issues globally, against electronics giants,' said Lee Jong-ran, a certified labour attorney with the broad-based campaign Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor (SHARPS). 'There was an outbreak of occupational disease at IBM factories in the Silicon Valley in the 1980s. The same outbreak is now taking place at Samsung, and it will be likely happening in other parts of the world.' She added 'we made a resolution to spread the word to every part of the world about the horrid march of death unfolding at Samsung.' SHARPS, the Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), Citizen of The Earth Taiwan, EU-based Good Electronics and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology jointly hosted the conference.

Events and Courses

Action Mesothelioma Day, Friday 6 July 2012

Events to highlight the toll from mesothelioma, the asbestos cancer that last year claimed over 2,300 lives, will take place around the country on Friday 6 July 2012. Action Mesothelioma Day events have already been confirmed in Tayside, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Southsea, Leicester, Plymouth and Newcastle Upon Tyne. Highlights this year include an appearance in Manchester by Canadian asbestos and human rights activist Kathleen Ruff, who is a key figure behind a global campaign to stop the Canadian government promoting the asbestos industry at home and abroad. Other events feature union speakers, industrial disease advocates and lawyers, and respiratory disease specialists.

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