Risks 565 - 21 July 2012

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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

Victimised over safety? That will be £1,200 please

Workers victimised for raising safety concerns will soon have to pay £1,200 if they want to seek justice at an employment tribunal. Unions have branded the move, announced last week by the government, 'a disgrace'. National union body TUC said the plans to introduce fees for tribunals covering the gamut of employer safety and employment law abuses will price low-paid workers out of justice and will mean workers will feel less able to raise safety problems at work. Changes scheduled to take effect in summer 2013 include measures that mean anyone who believes they 'suffer a detriment, dismissal or redundancy for health and safety reasons' may be required to pay an initial fee of £250 and a further £950 if the case goes to a tribunal, the maximum 'level 2' charges under the new system. A safety rep complaining of an employer 'failure to pay for or allow time off to carry out safety rep duties or undertake training' - denial of the legal right to safety rep training makes up the lion's share of safety-related tribunal cases - will have to stump up £160 to kick off a case and a further £250 to take it to tribunal. The same 'level 1' charges apply to workers complaining about an employer's 'failure to pay remuneration whilst suspended from work for health and safety reasons whilst pregnant or on maternity leave.' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'It is vital that working people have fair access to justice, but introducing fees for tribunals will deter many - particularly those on low wages - from taking valid claims to court. Many of the UK's most vulnerable workers will simply be priced out of justice.' He added the government move means 'workers will be more likely to be mistreated at work as rogue bosses will be able to flout the law without fear of sanction.' UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said it was a 'disgraceful move that tips the scales of justice heavily towards employers, and denies legal redress to those who do not have the cash to pay for it.'

Union blacklisting campaign gathers pace

A union campaign for a comprehensive law to protect union safety activists from blacklisting has led to the issue being progressed at the highest levels in Europe. Labour MEP Glenis Willmott, who took up the campaign after consulting with UK unions and the grassroots Blacklist Support Group, last week gave a cautious welcome to a confirmation from the European Commission that, as part of its upcoming review of health and safety legislation, it will ensure that EU law is being followed and that workers' health and safety reps are not being put at a disadvantage by employers. 'The practice of 'blacklisting' - where workers may be refused employment by employers across the whole sector - still exists,' said the East Midlands MEP. 'The EU Commissioner for Employment, László Andor, admitted in an earlier answer to me that the Commission is aware that some employers continue to blacklist workers.' By 2015, the European Commission must carry out a review of the implementation of EU health and safety legislation across member states. In a parliamentary question, Willmott asked the Commission to confirm whether this review would look at blacklisting of workers' health and safety reps, a practice which is illegal under EU law. 'Commissioner Andor confirms that the review will address the issue of protection for trade unionists and workforce representatives who deal with health and safety on behalf of their colleagues,' she said. 'He also confirms that if the review does find that blacklisting remains a problem, then the Commission will ensure that national governments apply 'dissuasive, effective and proportionate penalties' to infringers.' The Labour MEP originally took up the issue of blacklisting on behalf of a constituent and member of the building trades union UCATT. The first hopeful signs emerged when Willmott and Labour MEP colleague Stephen Hughes joined a delegation from the Blacklist Support Group in a 'very positive' 30 June 2011 meeting with EU employment commissioner László Andor (Risks 513). At the end of 2011, the European Parliament demanded an end to the blacklisting of employees through tougher sanctions on offending employers.

RMT exposes secret driverless train plan

A 'shocking' London Underground (LU) internal document obtained by the rail union RMT exposes a 'secret agenda' to move the entire Jubilee Line to driverless operation within three years, the union has said. The document reveals the system will be trialled later this year, with the other deep level Tube lines to follow. RMT says the blueprint was drawn up by senior LU management under pressure from London mayor Boris Johnson to meet his manifesto commitment of 'driverless operation.' The document, 'Deep Tube Railway - Generic Operations and Maintenance Concept - 2020', includes proposals 'to produce an operating concept for a world class railway founded on unattended train operation' with trains operating 'without manual intervention.' Ticket offices would be replaced by machines and help points wired to a call centre. The paper also proposes leaving many stations unattended. Criticising the 'poisonous cocktail' of a 'cash-led drive toward chaos beneath London', RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This is Boris Johnson's driverless and de-staffed plan for the future of the Tube in the raw and it is a lethal combination of cash-led cuts and ignorance that would leave Londoner's riding a daily death trap.' He added: 'The proposals seek to rip up every safety rule in the book - leaving stations unstaffed in contradiction of long-standing regulations and having the trains run by remote control from signal boxes.'

Union action to protect coastguard service

Coastguard workers this week took industrial action over jobs losses and closures they say will place the public and seafarers at risk. From 16 July until 24 July, PCS members across Britain will end their shifts an hour early and start the next shift an hour later. PCS is in dispute over the government's plans to close nine of Britain's 18 coastguard rescue stations and cut more than 140 jobs. The union, which has the support of seafarers' union RMT, has warned that the cutbacks would put lives at risk (Risks 563). PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'Instead of investing in our communities which are already suffering from high unemployment, ministers are ploughing ahead with unnecessary and unpopular closures and cuts. We believe these cuts will put lives at risk and it is time that ministers started listening to the very real concerns of their own staff and the public.'

Coca Cola worker suffers chemical burns to eyes

A Coca Cola worker feared he had been blinded after he had powerful cleaning chemicals sprayed in his eyes when a pipe burst on the factory floor. Unite member John Houghton, 56, suffered the injury after a colleague stepped on a pipe full of a hot caustic cleaning substance used to clean the lines of a machine in the process of making Coke. A defective clamp securing the pipe in place gave way causing it to explode into his face. The process technician at Coca Cola in Wakefield was rushed to hospital and his eyes were rinsed out. Once the swelling reduced he regained his full eyesight, although he has been left with burn injuries and scarring to his left shoulder and upper left leg. He had to take four weeks off work as he recovered from his injuries. Faced with a Unite-backed compensation claim, Coca Cola admitted liability and settled out of court for almost £6,000. Unite's Karen Reay commented: 'Caustic cleaning solution can cause serious acid burns when in contact with skin and it must have been a very frightening experience for Mr Houghton who was just getting on with his job. Coca Cola as a multinational company should know better than to allow inspections on equipment to lapse in this manner.' Keely Goldup from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm brought in by the union to act in the case, said: 'Coca Cola failed to run a safe workplace and allowed a defective pipe to remain in use. Mr Houghton suffered significant and painful injuries but also went through the trauma of thinking that he might lose his sight. He is very fortunate that he didn't.'

'Underhand' insurer tried to dupe injury victim

A trade union is warning members who are injured at work not to accept offers of compensation from their employers or insurance companies without taking independent legal advice. Factory worker Shaun Powell, whose foot was crushed by a huge metal beam while working for Joseph Ash Chesterfield Ltd, was called into work by a senior manager and offered just £1,700 in compensation by the employer's insurer, Garwyns. Now the GMB member has received more than £122,000 in damages with the support of the union's legal service. The 43-year-old from Chesterfield has been unable to return to work since the red hot 10 metre long, 1.25 tonne steel beam landed on his left ankle in 2008. His foot was so badly burnt and broken he needed a skin graft and suffered from chronic pain syndrome, which means he needs regular injections to control the pain. He also suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks. Just six weeks after the injury he was phoned by a senior manager and asked to come into the office to discuss the incident. At the meeting, a representative from Garwyns offered him just over £1,700 to cover his time off and injuries. Mr Powell, who was subsequently made redundant, has been unable to find another job due to his physical and mental injuries. After declining the offer on GMB advice, union law firm Thompsons commenced legal action against Joseph Ash when they denied any responsibility. The firm settled the claim for £122,000 shortly before trial. Mr Powell said: 'I thought it was a good offer and was ready to settle it. I had no idea that my injuries would cause me to be out of work for so long. Fortunately I asked the GMB and Thompsons for advice otherwise I'd be unemployed now and the £1,700 they offered would be long gone.' Jeremy Hague from Thompsons Solicitors said: 'This is the worst case I've seen of employers and their insurers attempting to take advantage of their employee's vulnerability. It's a return to the bad old days when insurers had offices in factory car parks and injured workers would be sent to them for a pay off if nothing more was said. Mr Powell was approached by his employer when he was still in shock over his very serious accident. He wasn't advised to seek independent advice but was being told by those with vested interests to accept an appalling low level of damages.'

Sports mad fitter not fit enough after injury

A mechanical fitter who was badly injured when he was struck by 15 kilos of unsecured cabling has been forced to abandon his sporting pastimes. Nathan Byron, 34, suffered a hairline fracture and ligament damage to his right shoulder as well as a neck injury when a large section of cabling fell from 15ft above him as he worked inside a huge generator. It hadn't been secured to the generator correctly and no inspection had been carried out by his employer - Converteam Electrical Machines in Rugby - to ensure that it had. The Unite member had to take two weeks off work and when he returned he was on light duties for a further five weeks. His shoulder is still causing him pain which means he can no longer take part in his hobbies of weight lifting and boxing. In a Unite-backed compensation claim, Converteam Electrical Machines admitted liability and agreed a £9,500 out of court payout. Mr Byron said: 'My injuries caused me a lot of pain and it was frustrating having to take so much time off work and then to return on light duties. The biggest impact has been on my sporting hobbies, which were a big part of my life. My shoulder injury means I will never really be able to do weight lifting again, and I've had to scale back my other activities considerably.' Unite's Des Quinn commented: 'We are forever told by the government that health and safety regulations are a burden on business. It is difficult to comprehend how a simple inspection programme to ensure that a workplace is safe can be a burden. It's far less of a burden to prevent an accident than to have to pay compensation to an injured worker.'

Other news

HSE pulls the plug on rock show lies

A claim by a rock show promoter that stars Bruce Springsteen and Sir Paul McCartney had the plug pulled on them at a Hyde Park concert for 'health and safety' reasons has been rubbished by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Kevin Myers, HSE's deputy chief executive and a self-confessed 'longstanding Bruce Springsteen fan', attended last week's Hard Rock Calling gig. In a statement critical of gig promoter Live Nation, he said he 'was doubly disappointed to hear Live Nation give 'health and safety' as the reason for cutting short Saturday's gig. The fans deserve the truth: there are no health and safety issues involved here. While public events may have licensing conditions dictating when they should end, this is not health and safety and it is disingenuous of Live Nation to say so.' HSE's top rock fan added: 'It's ironic that this excuse has been used in relation to Bruce Springsteen, who certainly knows what real health and safety is all about - look at the words of 'Factory' from Darkness on the Edge of Town referring to the toll that factory work can take on the health of blue collar workers. People will now only be able to speculate what the final number should have been. Given that he'd already played Wrecking Ball and that Paul McCartney was on stage, how about Don't let me down?' Westminster Council said the three hour show, which had over-run, was brought to a close by the organisers, not the authorities. In an email to the Wall Street Journal, Live Nation Europe chief operating officer Paul Latham subsequently shifted the blame for cutting The Boss short from health and safety to the well-heeled residents of some of London's most expensive neighbourhoods. 'Suffice to say the residents of Park Lane and Mayfair may not be numerous but they wield inordinate power over the Gogs and Magogs of City Hall and Parliament,' he wrote.

Prime minister is 'totally opposed' to asbestos trade

The UK government deplores Canada's plans to produce millions of tonnes of asbestos for export to the developing world (Risks 563), David Cameron has indicated. The response to Labour's Jim Dobbin came at prime minister's questions on 11 July. The Heywood and Middleton MP, who had pledged to raise the issue when he attended an Action Mesothelioma Day event on 6 July, had said: 'The government rightly donate millions in overseas aid to developing countries, including India, to eradicate poverty and disease. Despite that, the Canadian government, including the government of Quebec, are to invest 58 million dollars in an asbestos-producing mine; this is not for use in Canada, of course, but to export to developing countries, including India, which will put thousands of poor people at risk from deadly asbestosis and mesothelioma. Will the prime minister and the international development secretary encourage international communities, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), to oppose this quite outrageous decision?' The prime minister responded: 'I will be seeing the head of the WHO later today, so I can raise this issue with them. As the hon. Gentleman knows, asbestos is banned in the UK, in the EU and in a number of other countries. We are totally opposed to its use anywhere and would deplore its supply to developing countries. The Department for International Development does not provide funding to projects that encourage developing countries to import asbestos from any country or for any purpose. We are not aware that DFID funds have been used in that way at all and I would take urgent action were they to have been, but he makes a strong point about the Indian situation.' Sources say the prime minister's discussions with WHO director-general Margaret Chan led to a flurry of activity within the organisation.

Your job could put your offspring at risk

The jobs men and women do can lead to birth defects in their offspring, two new papers suggest. The studies, both US-based, were published online this week in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine and were based on data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, an ongoing population based study. The study of maternal workplace exposure to organic solvents suggested they could cause several types of heart defects at birth. Industrial hygienists assessed the levels of workplace exposure to organic solvents in 5,000 women from across the US, from one month before conception through to the first three months of pregnancy (first trimester). All their babies were delivered between 1997 and 2002, and included stillbirths and pregnancy terminations. The levels of exposure were measured according to two approaches: an expert consensus-based approach and an approach based on the published evidence. The expert consensus approach indicated that around 4 per cent of mothers whose babies did not have birth defects, and 5 per cent of those who did, had been exposed to an organic solvent at about the time they were trying to conceive or early in pregnancy. This increased to 8 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, using the published evidence approach. The authors conclude that their findings, which they say are not 'definitive', suggest that exposure to organic solvents in the period from one month before conception to early pregnancy is a potential risk factor for several types of heart defects at birth. The second study found several types of job carried out by future fathers may be linked to an increased risk of birth defects in their babies. The analysis found jobs that seemed to be associated with an increased risk of having a child with a birth defect in three or more categories included: mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists; artists; photographers and photo processors; food service workers; landscapers and groundsmen; hairdressers and make-up artists; office and admin support workers; office and admin support workers; sawmill operatives; those working with petrol and gas; those working in chemical industries; printers; those operating cranes and diggers; and drivers. Jobs associated with specific types of defect included artists (mouth, eyes and ears, gut, limbs, and heart); photographers and photo processors (cataracts, glaucoma, absence of or insufficient eye tissue); drivers (absence of or insufficient eye tissue, glaucoma); landscapers and groundsmen (gut abnormalities).

Two directors fined after teen's death

A Northumberland firm and its father-and-son directors have been fined after a teenage worker died following a fall from a barn roof. Jamie Lee Duddin, 18, and another Scotts of Whittington Ltd employee were carrying out repairs to the roof lights of the barn at Heddon Low Farm at Heddon on the Wall when the incident occurred on 23 July 2010. The trial at Newcastle Crown Court heard the teenager was rushed to hospital but died two days later. Jamie was standing on a fibre cement board roof panel when it collapsed. He fell through the roof, landing on a concrete floor six metres (20 feet) below. A joint investigation by Northumbria Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the work had not been properly planned. Inadequate equipment had been provided and that the workers were not properly trained or supervised. Scotts of Whittington Ltd was fined £65,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. Company directors Alfred Wood, 65, and his son, Christopher Wood, 41, both pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and were fined £13,000 and £2,000 respectively. In addition the defendants were ordered to pay combined court costs of £19,000. A charge of manslaughter by gross negligence against Alfred Wood had been dropped earlier. HSE inspector Martin Smith said: 'This was a tragedy that could and should have been avoided. Instead a young man has lost his life as a result of collective failures including confusing instructions on how the work should be safely carried out, a lack of supervision and a failure to properly plan the work and provide adequate equipment.' He added: 'Alfred Wood was also prosecuted for a similar, but non-fatal incident, in 1998 when he was a partner in another company - so he in particular has no excuse for any failures to follow guidance on working at height.'

Demolition director fined for 'staggering' failings

A demolition firm and its director have been fined for endangering workers at a site in Lancing, West Sussex. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Rabbit Demolition and Excavation Ltd and its director, Colin Bell, for not providing a safe means for working on a roof during the demolition of the Ball Tree Inn in Sompting, between the 12 and 21 September last year. Worthing Magistrates' Court heard a member of the public sent HSE a photograph showing workers on the site, run by Rabbit Demolition, removing roof tiles from the former pub with no edge protection in place to prevent falls. One worker was also shown to be standing in the bucket of an excavator being driven by Colin Bell. An HSE investigation found working practices were 'unsafe and unnecessary', and that edge protection in the form of scaffolding could have been provided. Alternatively, the work could have been carried out safely using a mobile elevated working platform. After the hearing, HSE inspector Denis Bodger said: 'One slip and someone could easily have been killed or seriously injured. It is staggering that Colin Bell not only allowed such unsafe work practice but actually participated in it.' Rabbit Demolition and Excavation Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The firm was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,500. Director Colin Bell pleaded guilty to the same criminal offence and was fined £500 with costs of £500.

Dangerous builder ignored verbal warning

A Lincolnshire builder who ignored both verbal and written advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been fined for running an unsafe site. Andre Wilkin, trading as Hillen Projects, was the main contractor on a refurbishment scheme when an HSE inspector visited the Lincoln site as part of a national construction safety initiative on 1 March 2011. A scaffold, which was not being used at the time, was found to have numerous defects and the site itself was very untidy, with numerous slips, trips and fall hazards. Lincoln Magistrates' Court heard Mr Wilkin was advised verbally about the three issues on the day of the visit and was sent a letter two days later detailing the actions he needed to take to bring the site up to an adequate standard. A month later, a follow-up inspection was carried out but the defects on the scaffolding, which people were now working on, had not been remedied. A prohibition notice was served to prevent further work on the scaffold. A second prohibition notice was served to stop any further construction work until a safe means of access around the site had been established. Andre Baudouin Wilkin pleaded guilty to criminal breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,800. After the hearing, HSE inspector Martin Waring said: 'Mr Wilkin was offered plenty of advice and had the opportunity to rectify the problems that were identified. Instead he chose to continue putting workers at risk.'

Asbestos job exposed work experience teen

A teenager on work experience was part of a construction team exposed to asbestos during a botched removal job at a top public school. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Sherborne School and Peter Eldridge, the director of the company responsible for the refurbishment project, after an investigation found they had failed to identify and prevent the risk of asbestos exposure at the school. Asbestos insulation boards were removed in an unsafe way, exposing building contractors and the teenage work experience student to asbestos fibres, and leaving them at risk of developing serious and potentially fatal diseases later in life. Dorchester Crown Court heard that neither Mr Eldridge nor the school had appointed a construction design and management (CDM) coordinator for the refurbishment project, despite it being a requirement of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for a project of this size. The CDM coordinator would have ensured a full refurbishment and demolition asbestos survey was completed in advance of construction work. Licensed asbestos contractors could then have been appointed to safely remove it. Sherborne School was found guilty of criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The school was fined a total of £60,000 and ordered to pay £13,000 in costs. Company director Peter Eldridge was found guilty of criminal breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. He was fined a total of £10,000 with costs of £6,000. Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Joanna Teasdale said 'several people, including at least one teenager, were put at unnecessary risk.' She added: 'This incident and the risk to those involved could have been easily avoided if competent people had been engaged during the planning of the refurbishment project to advise the school, such as a CDM coordinator.'

International News

Australia: Fire authority regrets inaction on cancer risk

A long-awaited report into the use of harmful chemicals at a fire training centre in Victoria, Australia has concluded fire chiefs reacted too slowly to concerns about cancer risks. Investigators had looked into the use of chemicals for live firefighting training at the Country Fire Authority's (CFA) Fiskville training facility west of Melbourne, between 1971 and 1999. CFA used petrol and diesel to create fires for training exercises, but supplemented this with 'donations' of waste chemicals including sump oil, waste solvents and paints, collected in a 'muck truck'. The training centre also used expired aircraft fuel and other donated chemicals, pallets and tyres. The firefighters' union UFU says at least 15 people linked to the Fiskville training facility have died, and the authority admits hundreds were placed at a high risk. The report, by Professor Robert Joy, found the CFA failed to respond adequately to the concerns, and CFA chief executive Mick Bourke said he is disappointed by his organisation's response. Mr Bourke said: 'The CFA and the board of CFA particularly believe that we haven't done well enough in that era.' He added: 'We regret many of those practices. We can't change the past. But we can learn from the past, and we can take responsibility now.' CFA said it would implement all the report's recommendations and has announced a number of other initiatives, including a health impact study. Mr Bourke said those affected may be entitled to compensation. UFU's Peter Marshall paid tribute to Brian Potter, a former chief fire officer at the CFA who blew the whistle on the practices. 'He had to drag them screaming and kicking into the arena of public opinion to make them accountable,' the union leader said. The union wants 'presumptive' compensation rules to be introduced, where any of 12 named cancers qualify automatically for compensation. Similar schemes exist for firefighters in several jurisdictions in the US and Canada.

Europe: Policymaking is 'captured' by big business

Expert groups set up by a European Commission's enterprise and industry directorate are dominated by industry experts and corporate lobbyists, a new study has found. The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) examination of the composition of DG Enterprise and Industry expert groups found they involve 482 corporate lobbyists versus only 11 union representatives. Groups created by DG Enterprise cover key areas of policy, including international trade, consumer protection, food and aspects of workplace safety and environmental protection. The Commission's advisory groups provide specialist advice on policy issues and their work can form the backbone of new legislation. DG Enterprise in a big hitter in the European Commission and has typically taken a stance on safety regulation opposed to that preferred by the DG Employment and Social Affairs, the lead directorate on health and safety. The UK government has made challenging European Union lawmaking on safety one of its policy pledges, with a June health and safety review published by the Department of Work and Pensions highlighting 'progress' on this health and safety priority (Risks 561). Current proposals put forward by UK Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim call for the smallest businesses across the EU to be exempted from 'burdensome legislation, unless the Commission can prove the benefits to them.' Karim's 'Better Lawmaking' report, adopted last week by the European Parliament's legal affairs committee, is critical of the Commission and calls for greater involvement by national parliaments in the lawmaking process.

Guatemala: Unions condemn rising tide of violence

Anti-union violence in Guatemala has reached untenable proportions, the global union confederation ITUC has warned. It was commenting last week after the latest murder, which claimed the life of trade union leader Enrique Linares from the Río Chiquito community. He had been challenging abuses suffered by workers at the hands of the electricity distribution company DEORSA. ITUC said the national, regional and international trade union movement can no longer tolerate the violence that has been unfolding since 4 July. 'The Guatemalan authorities cannot keep looking the other way," insisted ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. 'President Pérez Molina must assume his responsibilities, investigate these murders and bring an end to the pervasive climate of violence and impunity that is destabilising the Rule of Law.' ITUC says it is deeply concerned that it has had to send four letters to President Pérez Molina 'regarding two armed attacks and three murders of trade union, campesino and indigenous leaders at the very same time as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is signing an agreement with Guatemala according to which the ILO will work closely with the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Prosecutor General will take action to ensure compliance with trade union and labour rights.' According to Sharan Burrow: 'We are ready to launch awareness and pressure campaigns at international level if there is no major change in the situation.'

South Africa: Fatal crash highlights poor farm transport

South African unions have called for action after a devastating collision between a train and truck claimed the lives of at least 25 farmworkers. The Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) said it was 'shocked and angered' by the deaths, which happened in Mpumalanga province on 13 July when a truck believed to have been transporting 45 workers to an orange farm failed to stop at a railway crossing and collided with a train. A total of 19 workers died at the scene, two died en route to hospital and four more died in hospital of their injuries. Almost all the other workers are believed to have suffered serious injuries, with some reported to be in a critical state. Later press reports said the death toll had risen to 26. COSATU has demanded that the provincial government investigate why 45 workers were transported on an open truck instead of being provided with safe transport. A statement from the farmworkers' union FAWU also said: 'The incident reaffirms the need for government to step in and ban the transport of farm workers in open trucks without any safety mechanisms as well as to implement more stringent mechanisms to ensure railway safety.'

USA: BP agrees to massive refinery safety penalty

BP has agreed to pay over $13m in safety penalties for 'wilful violations' at its Texas City refinery. The official US safety watchdog OSHA announced last week that it had reached an agreement with BP Products North America Inc under which BP will pay $13,027,000 in penalties, and already has abated or will abate all existing violations by the end of 2012. 'Protecting workers and saving lives is the ultimate goal of this agreement,' said US secretary of labor Hilda L Solis. 'For the workers at BP's Texas City refinery, this settlement will help establish a culture of safety. The workers who help keep our nation's oil and gas industries running deserve to go to work each day without fear of losing their lives.' In September 2005, OSHA cited BP for a then-record $21 million as a result of the explosion at its Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers in March of that year. In a 2009 follow-up investigation, OSHA found that although BP had made improvements at the plant, the company had failed to correct a number of items, which led OSHA to issue 270 failure-to-abate notices. In a 2010 settlement, BP agreed to pay a penalty of $50.6 million to resolve those notices. Also in 2009, OSHA cited BP for 439 wilful violations of the agency's process safety management (PSM) standard, including failing to follow industry-accepted engineering practices for pressure relief safety systems. Those citations carried total proposed penalties of $30.7 million. Under the latest agreement, all violations covered in this settlement have been corrected or will be corrected by 31 December 2012. Assistant secretary of labor and head of OSHA Dr David Michaels commented: 'Make no mistake, the scope of this agreement should send a clear signal that OSHA is committed to ensuring BP takes seriously the safety and health of America's most important natural resource - its workers.'

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