Risks 563 - 7 July 2012

Share this page

Risks
Asbestos - the hidden killer
Hazards magazine
Hazards at Work

Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others, read each week by over 23,000 subscribers. To receive this bulletin every week, click here. Past issues are available. This edition contains Useful links TUC courses for safety reps Disclaimer and Privacy

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

Union News

TUC alert as work death rate stays up

The TUC has called for a change of direction from the government after statistics on deaths at work showed the rate had remained the same for a second year, up over 17 per cent on the record low figure in 2009/10. Deaths normally dip in a recession as a result of reduced activity in the economy. But figures released this week by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal 173 workers were killed in 2011/12, up from the 2010/11 provisional figure of 171 (Risks 512), although two down on HSE's finalised figure for last year of 175 fatalities. The fatal injury rate remains at 0.6 per 100,000 workers. HSE figures for 2009/10 released in June 2010 showed the current government inherited a record low fatality figure of 147 worker deaths at a rate of 0.5 per 100,000 (Risks 464). TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'Although any drop in the number of workplace fatalities is to be welcomed, however small, these figures are still well above the historic low of two years ago. What is most worrying is that during previous economic downturns there has been a decrease in the rate of fatalities. The fact that this is not happening now suggests that deaths could rise sharply as Britain comes of out recession, unless urgent action is taken to improve workplace safety.' The union leader added: 'During the past two years we have seen a considerable fall in the number of routine safety inspections and at the same time both HSE and local authorities have had their funding cut. Yet still we see the government continuing to attack what they claim is an unnecessary health and safety culture, a view that is unlikely to be shared by the families of the 173 people who died last year as a result of their jobs. The responsibility for these deaths may lie with the employers who break safety laws but ministers also have a duty to ensure that the rules are enforced and that the protection of workers is seen not as a 'burden' on employers but as a duty.'

Scottish workplaces more likely to kill

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has expressed concern at an 'unacceptable increase' in workplace fatalities in Scotland. New Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show the number of fatalities in Scotland in 2011/2012 was 20, up from 14 the previous year. The fatality rate of 0.8 deaths per 100,000 workers in the country compares to 0.6 per 100,000 in Britain overall. STUC assistant secretary Ian Tasker said: 'Twenty Scottish workers lost their lives following incidents at work, up from 14 the previous year. However, these figures do not reveal the whole tragic story as they do not include deaths from asbestos related disease, work-related road traffic accidents or suicides. Under the coalition government's stewardship the HSE is facing cuts of 35 per cent while headline fatalities have risen from 147 to 173 in two years, a statistic of which they should be thoroughly ashamed.' He added: 'Their deregulation agenda, driven by the business lobby, that fails to accept that healthier and safer workplaces are good for business, is resulting in tragic consequences for victims and their families.' A Hazards Campaign spokesperson was also critical of the government's strategy. 'Under this government's incessant but false attacks on workers' protection as a 'burden on business' and 'pointless red tape', the number killed at work has gone up,' she said. 'They rose by 19 per cent in 2010/11, their first year in office, from 147 to 175, and have remained at that level in 2011/12 with 173 provisionally recorded. Work death rates usually decline in a recession, so it utterly shameful for this government to preside over an increase in the number of deaths in the deepest recession in many years.'

Protest at government attack on safety rules

Protesters demanding the government 'Stop it, you're killing us' gathered outside the London HQ of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on 3 July. The event, attended by over 50 placard and banner waving union and safety campaigners who want the government to stop eroding legal safety protection, came a day before the end of a government consultation on 14 measures that could see some safety rules, including the cranes register, axed. The event, which was organised by the Construction Safety Campaign with the support of unions and bereaved relatives group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), heard a succession of calls on the government to reverse its deregulatory policy. Commenting on the proposal to scrap the two-years-old Notification of Conventional Tower Crane Regulations, GMB national health and safety officer John McClean said: 'In the ten years before the tower crane regulations were introduced nine people were killed and there were 25 serious injuries in more than 60 accidents involving cranes in the UK. There are around 1,500 tower cranes in the UK and around 1,000 in use at any one time. These lifesaving regulations only came into force in 2010 and there has been insufficient time to evaluate the effect of the regulations on public safety.' He added: 'GMB is demanding that the register must remain in place. The regulations play a real part in saving lives and reassuring the public that the construction industry is taking the safety of workers and the public seriously.' FACK's Hilda Palmer said it was 'lunacy' to replace, or axe regulation, as companies will stop taking safety seriously. She added that cuts to the Health and Safety Executive's budget meant the safety watchdog is now 'reactive rather than proactive in dealing with unsafe work practices'. A request by protesters to meet a minister received no response.

Unions demand a halt to coastguard cuts

Unions representing coastguards and seafarers have demanded a halt to the government's planned cuts and closure programme to coastguard and maritime rescue centres. The move by unions PCS and RMT came as it emerged one of the threatened rescue facilities, Clyde, is set to be closed in December this year even though a planned new national Maritime Operation Centre is not due to open until 2014. The unions say this will leave the life-saving services with 'hopelessly inadequate' cover for months. They warn the 'botched' Clyde coastguard closure plan, confirmed in a letter from transport minister Mike Penning, shows that the nationwide reorganisation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is a cuts-led exercise that will have 'devastating' implications for safety at sea. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'We believe these cuts could put lives at risk, and we know our concerns are shared by seafarers and people in our coastal communities. Instead of gambling with people's lives, ministers should be investing to ensure we have the proper resources in place to run a safe and effective coastguard service.' Bob Crow, general secretary of seafarers' union RMT, said: 'Our members at sea depend on facilities like the Clyde coastguard day in and day out to ensure their safety and we are 100 per cent behind the PCS-led campaign to save these essential services from the government axe. Clearly, the whole botched handling of the Clyde centre, the first on the hit list, is a foretaste of what can be expected around the rest of the coast as the cuts plans are rolled out.'

Union no to relaxed train breakdown plan

Network Rail plans to relax train breakdown safety procedures during the London Olympics have been condemned by train drivers' union ASLEF. Last week Network Rail management told union representatives they wanted to introduce 'temporary working arrangements' for the duration of the London Olympics, which start on 27 July (Risks 562). Under the new arrangements, Network Rail has proposed using neither detonator protection to protect a failed train, nor having the driver's duties carried out by another 'competent person'. The company is thought to be pressing additional, potentially less reliable, stock into service to cope with a surge in demand, and anticipates a sharp hike in breakdowns as a result. 'We have agreed procedures that are safe,' responded ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan. 'It is ludicrous to suggest that we should adopt lower standards even for a limited period. We work to high safety standards. Full stop.' He added: 'We will advise our members to continue to work to the rules, regulations and standards we and management have agreed regardless of the Olympic Games or anything else. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.' Last week, rail union RMT called the proposed changes to safety procedures as 'potentially lethal.' The unions have written to Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation to protest at what they believe to be an attempt to lower safety standards.

Rail emergencies show need for safe staffing

Travel emergencies and a safe evacuation after a fire on a Virgin train last week demonstrate the crucial role of the train guard and other safety-critical staff, rail union RMT has said. The union said last week's weather-related travel chaos, including the safe evacuation of a Virgin Voyager train after a fire, 'are the most graphic recent demonstration of the kind of emergency situations that are thrown at rail and transport staff without any notice and which only skilled and trained staff in adequate numbers can safely deal with.' RMT is concerned that hundreds of these safety-critical jobs will be lost as the government has indicated it intends to push ahead with the extensive job cuts recommended in Sir Roy McNulty's cost-cutting review (Risks 561). RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'Once again rail and transport staff have been battling in atrocious conditions to get services running and to support passengers caught in this chaos and have shown their guts, skill and sheer commitment to keeping Britain moving.' He added that the safe evacuation of the Dumfries and Galloway train on 28 June 'should serve as a warning to Sir Roy McNulty that his cash-led plans to throw the guards off the trains would put lives in immediate danger.' He said those politicians supporting McNulty's proposals would be well advised to think again.

Public behind flight safety campaign

The overwhelming majority of the British public believe the UK should stick with existing flight safety rules rather than adopt new EU rules that could leave pilots dangerously fatigued. A YouGov poll found 73 per cent of people thought an opt-out from the proposed EU system was preferable unless the rules could be scientifically shown to be the UK standard. The findings were published ahead of a 27 June lobby of parliament by airline pilots. Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the pilots' union BALPA, said: 'The government must realise that the British public take their safety aboard British aircraft seriously and are not content to allow our good quality fatigue regulations to be watered down by Brussels.' He added: 'Proposals which allow pilots to land an aircraft having been awake for 22 hours, or fly very-long-haul with two pilots rather than the current three, are simply less safe than what we currently have in the UK. Unless anyone can show scientifically that these things are safe - and despite repeated asking no one ever has - the government must stand up to the EU, say no, and retain our current UK standards.'

School's out for caretaker injured in fall

A Nottingham school caretaker who was injured when he fell from a stepladder at work while trying to repair a faulty window had to take medical retirement as a result. The unnamed UNISON member, who was 64 when the incident occurred in 2008, suffering tendon damage to his neck and left shoulder, making it painful to work with his hands above head height. He was attempting to tighten a bolt on a primary school window, but it had been painted over and snapped when he tried to turn it using a spanner. He fell from his stepladder, hitting his head and shoulder on a desk. He underwent physiotherapy, but was never able to return to work. Faced with a union-backed compensation claim, Nottinghamshire County Council did not dispute liability but disputed the level of compensation to be paid. The case went to court, where the judge awarded the UNISON member over £25,000 in compensation. UNISON's Helen Black commented: 'The government has redefined schools as 'low-risk workplaces' which sends completely the wrong message to those responsible for the health and safety of pupils and staff. The fact is, and this accident proves it, that schools can be as dangerous as any other workplace if systems of regular inspection and maintenance are not kept to.' Katrina Rowan from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to act in the case, said: 'Simple health and safety housekeeping avoids accidents and costs very little. We are constantly told that health and safety is a burden, but where is the burden in making sure that buildings are safe? This case shows just how badly things can go wrong if employers cut corners - and how.'

Injured groundsman never returned to work

A council groundsman suffered a knee injury at work so serious he wasn't able to return to his job. UNISON member John Brown, 65, from Mitcham in Surrey needed surgery on his right knee after he suffered ligament damage when he tripped on a piece of protruding concrete at Morden Recreational Ground. He was unloading his work truck and placing tools in the park's shed when he tore the ligaments in his knee. He needed surgery and was forced to walk with a stick for five months. He still suffers from pain in his knee when he attempts to kneel. In a union-backed compensation case, the London Borough of Morden admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £11,000. The council was liable because it had been aware of the protruding concrete but did nothing to fix it. After the accident Mr Brown was diagnosed with cancer and decided to take voluntary redundancy. He said: 'My initial thought was that I might be off work for a couple of days but in fact I needed surgery and the recovery was very slow. When I was diagnosed with cancer I took voluntary redundancy but I doubt that, being unable to kneel, I would have been able to return to my role as groundsman in any case.'

Other news

Piece work increases the work injury rate

Almost twice as many piece rate workers suffer from workplace injuries as those on standard contracts, according to research from Lancaster University Management School. The increased productivity gained by employers from piece rate work is lost through increased absence and the cost of compensation, the authors note. The researchers, writing in this month's edition of the Journal of Population Economics, looked at the experiences of 33,000 employees across Europe, including the UK, and found 14.4 per cent of piece rate workers had suffered from a workplace injury - most commonly back and other musculoskeletal problems - compared with 7.5 per cent of non-piece rate employees. They say after taking into account the greater levels of hazard and strain involved in particular jobs, workers are 5 per cent more likely to suffer an injury when on a piece rate contract. The paper notes: 'Manual workers on piece rates have an incidence of injury of nearly 7 percentage points higher than workers without performance related pay. The estimate easily clears all standard tests of statistical significance. The corresponding figure for non-manual workers is only 1.4 percentage points, although this is still statistically significant at the 5 per cent level. Interestingly, there is weak evidence that group bonuses may be associated with higher rates of injury for manual workers.' Group incentives have been linked to 'blood-in-pocket' syndrome in the US, where workers hide injuries so not to jeopardise bonuses for their workmates. The practice, which has been criticised in June evidence to a government committee by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), could mean the real level of injuries in workers on group bonuses could be significantly higher.

  • Keith A Bender, Colin P Green and John S Heywood. Piece rates and workplace injury: Does survey evidence support Adam Smith?, Journal of Population Economics, volume 25, number 2, 2012 [abstract].

UK workers are overwhelmingly drug free - study

A study by a global drug testing firm has confirmed the overwhelming majority of UK workers are drug-free. However, the report from Concateno, which looked at drug tests conducted by 856 UK employers in industries including logistics, haulage, policing, utilities, retail, occupational health, manufacturing, construction, commerce, and healthcare, also suggests there has been an increase in companies demanding testing. This is a concern to the TUC, which says there are few circumstances in which these tests can be justified. Concateno says it report is based on the results of 1.7m UK workplace drug tests over the past five years, and found in the five years from 2007 and 2011 positive tests increased from 2.26 per cent to 3.23 per cent. However, traces of some drugs can persist in the body for months, so the findings suggest only a tiny fraction of the UK workforce is taking drugs with any frequency. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'Drug testing certainly does not show the number of workers coming to work under the influence of drugs, simply whether the residue of past drug use is in a person's blood urine or hair.' Mr Barber added that employers cannot ignore drug use at work, but the way to tackle this danger is by having proper policies in place for dealing with drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace, rather than introducing random testing which is not only a breach of a person's right to privacy and dignity, but is also of dubious legality (Risks 459). 'It is worrying that this company claims to have carried out 1.7 million tests when the UK's Information Commissioner's Code on workers' health information opposes most testing. The Code notes: 'Very few employers will be justified in testing to detect illegal use rather than on safety grounds'.' He said employers are being seduced by the marketing campaigns of drug testing companies into seeing random testing as the solution to sickness absence problems. 'This is why the government needs to produce clear and definitive guidance on testing, especially on the legal issues. Drug testing techniques are not going to help employers combat absenteeism and tests can never be a substitute for a comprehensive drugs and alcohol policy aimed at supporting staff, and ensuring that no-one in the workplace is working under the influence of drink or drugs.'

Lawbreaking firms to face £124-an-hour charges

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed its delayed cost recovery scheme, Fee for Intervention (FFI), will now start on 1 October 2012. The new approach, which is subject to parliamentary approval but has already got the green light from ministers, could see HSE recover costs of £124-an-hour from firms who break health and safety laws. HSE says the money is to cover the time and effort HSE spends 'helping to put matters right', including investigations and enforcement action. It adds law-abiding businesses will be free from costs and will not pay a fee. Gordon MacDonald, HSE's programme director, said: 'It is right that those who break the law should pay their fair share of the costs to put things right - and not the public purse. Firms who manage workplace risks properly will not pay.'

Regulation low on burdens hitlist for business

In a marked contrast to government claims, regulations are not a big concern to business, who would much rather see ministers take action to drum up business and free up cash, an official survey has concluded. The Business Perceptions Survey 2012, published last week by the government's business department (BIS), found while only 14 per cent of businesses cite regulation as the main barrier they face, 45 per cent say that attracting and retaining customers is their biggest challenge and 16 per cent cite access to finance. Even when businesses did complain about regulation, there grumbles on health and safety were highly questionable. Half (50 per cent) said 'being ready for or dealing with inspections' by the safety enforcer was a burden, but most businesses are now exempt from preventive health and safety inspections and the others are unlikely to see an inspector for years and sometimes decades. Even then, safety inspections were more welcome than a visit relating to company law (56 per cent said this was a burden) or employment law (53 per cent). Finding guidance and advice on safety regulations was identified by 70 per cent of BIS survey respondents as burdensome, a finding at odds with HSE's own satisfaction surveys. HSE's most recent customer satisfaction survey on its website information, for example, found 91 per cent said it was 'very good' or 'good'.

  • TUC Touchstone blog. BIS Business Perceptions Survey 2012 [pdf]. Update on review of health and safety guidance, paper to the March 2012 HSE board meeting [pdf].

Firm guilty of manslaughter but bosses go free

A company has admitted the corporate manslaughter of a worker in a 40ft fall - but three of its bosses have walked free from court after manslaughter and criminal safety charges were dropped. Maintenance worker Stephen Berry, 45, died while working on a leaky roof at the premises of Lion Steel Equipment Ltd in Dukinfield in May 2008. He had received no health and safety training in the work he was doing, was not properly equipped and was working unsupervised. Three Lion Steel directors - Kevin Palliser, 59, Richard Williams, 42, and Graham Coupe, 59, went on trial at Manchester Crown Court charged with manslaughter and neglect. At the close of the prosecution case, the judge directed that charges against Mr Williams be dropped because he couldn't be held personally responsible for Mr Berry's safety. The prosecution then dropped similar charges against the other defendants. Criminal safety charges against the company were also dropped. This means no individual will be punished as a result of Mr Berry's death. Lion Steel Ltd will be sentenced on the corporate manslaughter charge on 19 July. Alison Storey, specialist prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service's (CPS) special crime division, commenting after the company's guilty plea, said: 'This is the second time a company has been charged with, and now convicted for, the new offence of corporate manslaughter. Steven Berry fell through a fragile roof panel and tragically died as a result of injuries sustained in the fall on 29 May 2008. My thoughts are very much with Steven's family at this difficult time.'

AMEC convicted over worker's fatal fall

Construction giant AMEC has been convicted of criminal safety offences after a worker fell 22 metres to his death in Manchester. Christopher Heaton, from St Helens, was working on the Spinningfields development in Manchester city centre he was dragged over the guardrail on a scaffolding platform after becoming entangled in a chain. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted principal contractor, Amec Group Ltd, and steel erection company Shawton Engineering Ltd following an investigation. Liverpool Crown Court heard the 25-year-old suffered fatal injuries after falling approximately seven storeys on 29 April 2004. Another worker, who does not want to be named, was also injured and the incident has had a long-term psychological impact on him. The court was told Mr Heaton had been using a chain from a scaffolding platform to adjust a steel beam three stories above him, when one of the supporting brackets gave way. He was struck by a falling steel block, became entangled in the operating chain, and was dragged over the edge of the scaffolding. An HSE investigation found the wrong studs had been used to secure the chain, and that the work had not been properly planned or monitored. HSE's Neil Jamieson commented: 'This was a major construction site, and the work taking place there should have been properly planned and managed. If either Chris's employer, Shawton Engineering, or the principal contractor on the site, Amec, had acted differently then his life could have been saved.' Amec Group Ltd was found guilty of a criminal safety breach and was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £333,866 towards the cost of the prosecution on 29 June 2012. Shawton Engineering Ltd, which HSE says has gone into administration, pleaded guilty and received a nominal fine of £1,000 with no costs. Shawton Engineering can still be contacted at the same address and has an active website which claims it has a 'a turnover approaching £10m which is generated with blue chip clients such as Bovis Lend Lease, Laing O'Rourke, BNFL and Rolls Royce.' An employee answering the company's published telephone number this week told Hazards magazine Shawton Engineering is not in administration and 'the company has been going a long time.'

Company boss fined after worker left paralysed

A demolition boss has been prosecuted after a worker was left paralysed following a fall from the roof of a Sunderland pub. The 67-year-old injured man from Sunderland, who has asked not to be named, was working for David Brian Riseborough, trading as The North Eastern Demolition Company, when the incident happened on 29 June 2010. Mr Riseborough's firm was demolishing a pub in the city and had chosen to remove the slates and timbers off the pitched roof by hand. A mobile access platform was used to provide access for the workers and act as a barrier to prevent falls from the roof edge. However, as the platform did not cover the whole length of the roof, Mr Riseborough should have implemented additional controls to provide a safe system of work but many of these controls were lacking, or where provided, not effective. While working on the roof the worker fell two-storeys, around 18-20 feet, to the ground. He suffered serious injuries including several fractures to three vertebrae, his right elbow and both bones of his lower right leg. He also suffered a dislocated right hip and his right lung collapsed. As a result of the injuries to his spine, all his limbs are now paralysed and he requires permanent care in a nursing home. David Brian Riseborough, 67, was fined £20,000 for two criminal safety offences and ordered to pay £7,434 in costs.

Blacklisters face professional abuses charges

Top construction industry managers implicated in a blacklisting scandal are facing allegations they are guilty of serious professional misconduct. The first complaints referred to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD), whose new Code of Conduct came into effect on 1 July, were submitted this week by the Blacklist Support Group (BSG). It says five prominent, high-level construction industry managers should face action for professional misconduct and serious breaches of the CIPD code governing acceptable practice by human resources professionals. CIPD members named in the complaint are Gerry Harvey and Elaine Gallagher from Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Limited, Liz Keates from Carillion Health, John Edwards from Carillion and David Cochrane, the former head of human resources at Sir Robert McAlpine. BSG alleges all five 'actively participated in the illegal Consulting Association conspiracy that blacklisted trade union members in the construction industry. They either attended meetings or covertly supplied personal data on trade union members to the secret blacklist which was used to systematically deny work to 3,200 individuals.' Raising workplace safety concerns was the top reason someone could find themselves on the blacklist. The BSG complaint raises five areas where it believes the code has been breached, including requirements that CIPD members 'safeguard all confidential, commercially sensitive and personal data acquired as a result of business relationships and not use it for personal advantage or the benefit of detriment of third parties' and 'comply with prevailing laws and not encourage, assist or collude with others who may be engaged in unlawful conduct.' All five managers subject to the BSG complaint have faced blacklisting-related allegations at employment tribunals and were named in evidence last month to a select committee investigating blacklisting (Risks 560).

Outrage at new asbestos mine in Canada

UK asbestos victims have joined a global chorus of disapproval at a decision by authorities in Canada to underwrite the development costs of a giant new asbestos mine. On 29 June, the provincial government in Quebec announced it would provide a multimillion dollar loan guarantee to allow the reopening and expansion of the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine. It is anticipated five million tonnes of asbestos will be exported from the mine to developing countries, predominately in Asia, over the next 20 years. Tony Whitston, chair of the UK Asbestos Victims Support Groups' Forum, said: 'Just a week before Action Mesothelioma Day, 6 July, when hundreds of UK mesothelioma sufferers remember thousands who have died from mesothelioma, mostly from the use of Canadian asbestos, this is truly shocking news. Shame on the Quebec and Canadian governments for putting profit before the lives of the poorest people! Shame on Canada for its hypocrisy: its callous disregard for the lives of others while imposing a de-facto ban on the use of asbestos for Canadian citizens. Shame on Canada!' The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Public Health Association, as well as the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, have all called for the use of chrysotile asbestos to end. Adrian Budgen, head of asbestos litigation the law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: 'It is appalling that a developed G8 country can make this decision despite the evidence about how harmful the use of asbestos can be.' He added: 'What is truly terrible is that Canada opposes the use of asbestos domestically but is still intending to export the material to developing nations. Often the countries such as India using asbestos in the construction industry have very few regulations on how the material is handled and many workers and young people are being unnecessarily exposed. It is simply unacceptable.'

International News

Europe: Unions call for a new work safety strategy

Unions are calling for an ambitious European agenda on workplace health and safety, and are demanding EU-wide action to tackle work-related cancers and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They warn that the economic crisis should not be used as an excuse to backtrack on safety standards. The European Commission's consultants have accepted the need for a new EU strategy, but the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says the proposals so far completely ignore the 'fundamental' role of labour inspectorates and safety representatives. 'The crisis cannot be used as an excuse to deregulate health and safety rules or delay action on hazardous substances killing tens of thousands of workers a year in Europe', ETUC confederal secretary Judith Kirton-Darling told an official EU conference. 'It is in a crisis, that worker protection must be strengthened to avoid long term health damage which will increase the cost to the public purse and the workers concerned.' Laurent Vogel, coordinator of the workers' group in the European Advisory Committee on health and safety, added: 'We have to have better engagement in tackling the impact of rising precariousness at work in Europe, this labour market trend is driving the increase in stress and work-related diseases.'

USA: Watchdog steps back from voluntary programmes

The official US workplace safety enforcer is stepped back from the controversial Voluntary Protection Programmes (VPP) that reward workplaces reporting lower-than-average injury and illness rates, and is supporting greater employee involvement and whistleblowing instead. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) run programmes that exempt 'model workplaces' from routine inspections have been around for 30 years. VPP tripled in size between 2000 and 2011, as OSHA's inspection staff were lost and membership requirements were relaxed. However, disquiet about the programmes came to a head in 2011 when a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that at least 80 workers had died at VPP sites during that period, with many of the firms subsequently retaining their VPP status (Risks 514). At a hearing last week before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Jordan Barab, the Labor Department's deputy assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, said while the department 'is committed to VPP... we need to make some very hard decisions about how to allocate our limited resources where we will get the most worker protection bang for our buck.' He said an internal OSHA workgroup review of VPP recommended there should be a switch of resources to a programme offering free advice to small businesses on workplace safety practices and an expansion of a whistleblower programme. This includes four new laws designed to protect workers from retaliation for reporting potential safety hazards. Barab told the committee there would also be a shift away from incentive programmes based on keeping injury and illness rates low. Such programmes often discourage workers from reporting injuries, he said. OSHA now promotes programmes that encourage and reward employee involvement instead.

Events and Courses

TUC courses for safety reps

COURSES FOR SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER 2012

Useful Links

  • Visit the TUC www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s website pages on health and safety. See what's on offer from TUC Publications and What's On in health and safety.
  • Subscribe to Hazards magazine, supported by the TUC as a key source of information for union safety reps.
  • What's new in the HSC/E and the European Agency.
  • HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995
Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Share this Page