Risks 581 - 10 November 2012

Share this page

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

Job fear is affecting the health of UK workers

The harsh economic climate, austerity-related job cuts and job loss fears in those still in work is having a real impact on the health and well-being of workers, according to the newly published findings of a TUC safety survey. The top safety concerns cited this year by union safety reps in the TUC's tenth biennial survey were stress, bullying and harassment, problems relating to heavy workloads and overwork, and violence and intimidation. The TUC believes many of these 'growing concerns' are down to the increasing insecurity and unease being felt throughout the UK workforce as spending cuts and austerity economics hit hard. Safety reps in the TUC survey also raised concerns about a decline in the number of safety inspections by official safety regulators. Just under half (45 per cent) of the 1,875 safety reps who responded to the TUC survey earlier this year said that their workplace had never had a visit from a safety inspector. One in ten of the safety reps (ten per cent) hadn't seen a safety inspector in their workplace for more than three years, and another 16 per cent said their workplace hadn't been inspected for between one and three years. Safety reps said their employers, less fearful of an official inspection, were now less likely to make safety improvements. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: 'Fears about how austerity is affecting peoples' jobs and their families is having a real impact on the health and well-being of UK workers.' He said increasing pressures on workers and reduced official oversight at work meant 'unions campaigning to improve workplace safety are clearly going to have their work cut out in the coming year.'

Ministers 'stacked' committee on crime payouts

Unions and Labour have accused the government of 'stacking' a parliamentary committee to ensure that controversial changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) were passed. The changes will restrict compensation to those who suffer serious injuries, shaving £50m off the annual £449m bill. In September, justice minister Helen Grant said she would reconsider the plans after protests by MPs, unions and victim support groups. However, when the Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee met last week the plans were presented unchanged. The committee approved them by nine votes to seven. Shadow justice minister Robert Flello claimed the government 'stacked' the committee by ensuring people on the government payroll - including four parliamentary private secretaries - turned up to vote. 'They had to pack the committee with effectively the payroll vote because they couldn't rely on ordinary backbenchers,' he said. The first draft order was introduced in September to the Delegated Legislation Committee but was attacked from all sides, including by former Conservative minister John Redwood who expressed his reluctance to approve a scheme that 'would cut back on payments to people who are vulnerable and have just been through a bad time in their lives for no good reason.' He was one of the MPs replaced on the committee. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'The vaporising of Tory opponents from the committee dealing with this issue is a mark of the brutality of this government who will not tolerate any dissent in their quest to claw back payments in these 'last resort' cases.' The changes to CICS were debated in the House of Commons on 7 November, where a Labour bid to block the cuts was defeated. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett, commenting after a Commons debate the union says 'was the first and likely final time' the issue will be debated by all MPs, said: 'Any government prepared to cut vital financial support from the innocent victims of violent crime, while at the same time handing out tax cuts to millionaires, has surely lost its moral compass.'

Suicide death trauma for train driver

A train driver who suffered psychological injuries when his train killed a suicide victim who had laid his head down on the tracks has received compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS). But his union ASLEF warns cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) being pushed through by the government will mean train drivers will no longer be able to claim for the trauma caused by witnessing a suicide. Donald Stewart, 29, from Pontypridd had only been driving trains on his own for 18 months before the incident on the line between Merthyr and Cardiff. As the train rounded a bend he spotted a person with his neck on the line. Despite applying the train's emergency brakes, his train went on to hit the man. Following the incident he suffered from flashbacks and nightmares in which he was unable to control a train. He worried about being able to stop the train during normal circumstances and was off work for a year as he dealt with the psychological impact. Mr Stewart received substantial counselling whilst off and has made a good recovery. He is now back at work. In an ASLEF backed claim, he was awarded £4,400 from CICS. ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: 'This member's experience is a perfect example of why the proposals to change CICS provisions are so unjust.' He added: 'To remove these provisions is petty, vindictive and mean.'

Train driver medically retired after suicide 'horror'

A London train driver suffered such severe psychological injuries when her train killed a suicide victim she was medically retired as result. RMT member Karen Jordan had been driving trains for 10 years before the accident in February 2008. This was the second time in her career that her train had impacted with a suicide victim. In the latest incident, as the train rounded a bend she spotted what she thought was a tarpaulin on the track. When her train hit the object she saw a pair of shoes, socks and lower legs. Even if she had been able to apply the emergency brakes she would have been powerless to stop it hitting the man. She has since suffered from flashbacks and nightmares and was eventually medically retired. After a union-backed claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) Mrs Jordan was awarded a payout. She said: 'Following the incident which was horrible to experience I suffered from flashbacks and nightmares. I know first hand how traumatic these types of incidents are and believe they should continue to be recognised by the CICS. It is the only way that train drivers are compensated for the horror they witness at the point of impact and in the aftermath of the suicide. I am appalled that drivers who might go through what I saw and experienced are to be banned by the government from getting any compensation for the horror. '

Usdaw calls on MPs to 'Back the Bill'

Retail union Usdaw is calling on MPs to back a law that would give shopworkers legal protection against violence and abuse. The Protection of Workers Bill was introduced into parliament last week by Labour MP Graeme Morrice and is scheduled to get a second reading on 1 February next year. It aims to reduce incidents of violence, threats and abuse against all workers whose job brings them into face-to-face contact with members of the public. The proposed law would create a new offence relating to assaults on public facing workers, one that will carry a maximum sentence of 12 months and a £10,000 fine. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: 'Despite our Freedom from Fear campaign helping to raise awareness of the problem and reducing the number of incidents, it's a sad fact that every minute of every day a shopworker somewhere is assaulted, threatened or abused. That's why our members now think it's time to give shopworkers extra legal protection. We hope MPs will support them by backing the Protection of Workers Bill.' He added the union would be present on the high street to 'highlight to shoppers the problems shopworkers can face, particularly in the run up to Christmas, when customers are stressed, stores are really busy and sometimes tempers get frayed. That's why we are asking shoppers to show respect for shopworkers and to 'Keep your cool at Christmas'.'

Union says McAlpine had an Olympic blacklist

Construction union UCATT has accused construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine of using blacklisting checks to vet workers building the 2012 Olympic stadium. Union leaders gave evidence last week to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee probe into the industry's blacklist run by the now defunct The Consulting Association. General secretary Steve Murphy revealed how during The Consulting Association's final year of operation Sir Robert McAlpine paid £26,842.20 for background checks on workers. Murphy drew the committee's attention to the spike in Sir Robert McAlpine's blacklisting activity in the 3rd quarter of 2008. From July-September 2008 McAlpine spent £12,839.20 making 5,836 blacklist checks - a total of 63 per day. The union leader showed how this peak corresponded with McAlpine's building of the Olympic Stadium which began construction in late May 2008. McAlpine is currently subject to a legal damages claim by blacklisted workers. It told trade news website Construction Enquirer that, in the light of the ongoing proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment.

Teachers can call the asbestos register

Teaching union NASWUWT has set up an asbestos exposure register 'to assist those worried about exposure to asbestos in Welsh schools.' It follows the closure of Cwmcarn High School following the discovery of asbestos contamination (Risks 578), and the subsequent announcement by education minister Leighton Andrews that asbestos levels in all Welsh schools should be checked. NASUWT says the new asbestos register, which is accompanied by an asbestos guide, will help people in the event they ever develop an asbestos-related disease. It will also be used to keep those who register up-to-date on changes to the law on potential compensation claims. Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: 'Nothing is more important than the health and welfare of the children and young people in our schools and the staff who work in them.' Rex Phillips, NASUWT Cymru organiser, said: 'We understand that there will be many anxious staff and parents across Wales and our priority now is to provide our members with practical advice and support.'

Unions secure official schools asbestos guide

Union pressure has led to the government publishing new online asbestos guidance for school chiefs. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) said the new guide from the Department for Education (DfE) is 'a step in the right direction in the campaign to make all UK schools and colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos.' JUAC says asbestos in Britain's schools has been responsible for the deaths of 140 teachers from the cancer mesothelioma in the last 10 years (Risks 580). It is not known how many children may have died, but in the US it was estimated that for every teacher who dies, nine former pupils will die. In Britain that would mean that more than 100 people are dying every year as a result of asbestos exposure when they were at school. JUAC chair Julie Winn said the guide was welcome, but additional measures were required to protect school pupils and staff. 'With the delivery of education experiencing major changes, and even more expected, it has never been more important that headteachers, bursars and school managers know how to manage the asbestos in their schools and JUAC calls for mandatory asbestos management training. It is equally important that those working and learning in schools containing asbestos understand the risks and how to reduce those to the lowest possible level.'

Gas cuts will lead to 'explosions and loss of life'

A dramatic cut in the number of gas distribution workers 'will lead to major gas explosions and loss of life', the union GMB has warned. The union believes up to 3,000 workers could lose their jobs as a result of funding cuts proposed by the regulator Ofgem. Gary Smith, GMB national secretary for energy, said: 'If the Ofgem final proposals due in December 2012 to cut funding for gas distribution by 20 per cent for the eight years from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2021 are not changed there will be major gas explosions leading to loss of life across Great Britain.' He said the Ofgem review 'takes no account whatsoever of the dangers in handling the volatile and highly explosive substance. Gas main replacement will be cut and gas workers aren't going to be able to cope with gas escapes if it gets cold.' He said in the cold snap two years ago 'there simply was not enough skilled labour with current labour force to cope.' He added that subsequent discussions between Ofgem and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) seem to have been 'forgotten' by the gas regulator. According to GMB, the distribution companies - Northern Gas Networks, SGN, Wales and West Utilities and National Grid - are the emergency service providers who will bear a 20 per cent cut the union believes 'is a done deal. Jobs are already going. It will lead to up to 3,000 job losses.' Gary Smith said: 'This is the worst kind of short-termism in an industry that the country will depend upon for generations to keep homes warm and the lights on. Cutting distribution budgets by 20 per cent also hasn't stopped huge hikes in gas prices for customers. We are paying more and getting a less safe industry.'

Gas depot worker suffers horrific injuries

A supervisor at a gas depot suffered life threatening injuries in a huge gas blast, leading to his medical retirement. The 56-year-old Unite member from Bristol suffered severe burns to his head, leg, wrists, ears and back in the horrific incident. The injured man, whose name has not been released, was in intensive care for 48 hours and was in hospital for almost a month as a result of the explosion at the BOC gas depot in St Philips. His injuries required several operations, including skin grafts and removal of part of his ear. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is still investigating why a gas cylinder exploded with such force that it blew out the depot's windows. Roads in the area were closed for five days because of ongoing safety concerns. The affected man was unable to return to work and was medically retired from BOC, where he had been employed for 22 years. He still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks, has significant scarring and reduced mobility as a result of his injuries. In a union backed compensation case, BOC admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for an undisclosed sum. Laurence Faircloth, regional secretary at Unite, said: 'The HSE are still investigating the cause of this accident but BOC has taken the correct action in paying compensation to our member who was a loyal member of staff but suffered horrendous injuries as a result of this unprecedented gas blast.' He added: 'We await the HSE's final report and will work to make sure that any resulting recommendations made are followed through by BOC so that this can never happen again.'

Tightfisted firm caused painful hands

An engineering worker developed a debilitating skin condition after his employer refused to provide new gloves because they were too expensive. The 49-year-old Unite member from Birmingham, whose name has not been released, developed dermatitis after he was exposed to mineral oil in his role as a press setter for LTI Ltd in Coventry. He spent most of his time working on a press which was known for leaking oil into the press bed. His role involved applying pins in the press bed and as a result his hand was covered in oil for most of his shifts. He asked for specialist Kevlar gloves, which were supplied, but they needed to be replaced regularly. The firm refused to provide replacement gloves because they were so expensive. The worker started to develop red and itchy hands which began to crack and become extremely painful. He was provided with steroid cream by his GP and told that his condition was caused by his work. He has now moved to another job as a forklift truck driver where he is no longer in contact with the oil. His hands have largely cleared up but if he comes in contact with irritants his condition can flare up again. LTI Limited did not admit liability but settled a Unite-backed compensation claim out of court for £10,000.

Other news

Occ docs oppose ending work disease reporting

Britain's occupational doctors have said they 'strongly counsel' the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to drop a proposal to end a duty on employers to report occupational diseases. In a submission to an HSE consultation, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) notes 'we have serious concerns that the proposals to reduce reporting may have unintended consequences. We acknowledge that the reporting system and the regulations surrounding it are not perfect and that compliance is far from comprehensive. However we do not think that the solution to these problems is to reduce or remove the requirements.' Quoting HSE's proposed change, the Faculty's submission adds: 'We would therefore strongly counsel the HSE against 'the removal of the reporting requirement for cases of occupational disease, other than those resulting from a work-related exposure to a biological agent'.' The submission gives a series of reasons the move would be damaging, noting it would 'signal to employers that the occupational health of employees is no longer seen as important.' It adds that while 'the data collection is incomplete, it does at least constitute a pool of data which can be drawn on and interpreted in the context of other information', adding: 'Limited information is better than none.' The submission warns: 'In an environment where there is considerable concern about the diminution of the academic and research base of occupational health and medicine, it is necessary to preserve any sources of data which currently exist.' FOM concludes: 'The Faculty sees no advantage to reducing this requirement. On the contrary, it is likely to result in a diminution of interest in the status of employees' health; the loss of data in a field where data is already in short supply; and an increase in worker's health problems (eg HAVS), which could have been identified and addressed, if reported at an early stage.' The FOM response followed a statement last week from HSE union Prospect that it was 'alarmed' at the move to end most occupational disease reporting by employers (Risks 580).

Man arrested over death of shopkeeper

A man has been arrested in connection with the death of a shopkeeper who was fatally stabbed in his Renfrewshire store. Lee Anderson, 30, made no plea during a brief appearance at Paisley Sheriff Court this week and was remanded in custody. Javaid Ali, 48, was attacked in Sunshine Grocers, Paisley, on 15 June 2012. He died in hospital on 29 June. More than 60 officers were brought in to investigate Mr Ali's death, with hundreds of door-to-door inquiries carried out in the local area. Following Mr Ali's death, a £50,000 reward for information was offered by Crimestoppers and the Association of Convenience Stores and Scottish Grocers Federation. The inquiry was also the subject of an appeal on the BBC's Crimewatch programme in July. On 9 August, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told Hazards magazine it had not received a RIDDOR report of the death, so as it stood the work-related fatality would not appear in the annual workplace fatality figures. It added: 'Under RIDDOR regulations, there is statutory requirement to report acts of non-consensual assault whether, physical or verbal, if they result in a death, major injury, or being absent from work or unable to do their normal duties for more than seven days. These would then be included in the fatal stats. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that compliance with the reporting requirement within RIDDOR may be patchy as such deaths are primarily covered by other legislation.'

Council safety spending and prosecutions slashed

New figures have revealed spending on local authority environmental health and trading standards services in England has fallen by 32 per cent since 2009, with 'regulation and safety' spending particularly hard hit, and has been accompanied by a similar drop in safety prosecutions. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, commissioned by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), found that real-term cuts in local government spending were far worse in England than in Wales. The report found 'regulation and safety services' - including environmental health, trading standards and community safety - suffering the second largest reduction in spending per person between 2009/10 and 2012/13. CIEH head of policy David Kidney said: 'Most services, including regulation and safety, have seen bigger cuts in budgets in England than in Wales. There are also regional variations that are quite breathtaking with the result that cuts faced by local authorities in England are as much as twice those in Wales.' He added: 'Councils can only take such a battering for so long. It is time for people to explain to their politicians that they value the quality and the civilising nature of their local authorities' services and the beneficial effects they have on their communities.' Figures released last week by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show the number of safety offences prosecuted by councils fell by 31 per cent last year. Provisional figures show local authorities prosecuted just 195 workplace offences in England and Wales between April 2011 and March 2012. Hilda Palmer from the Hazards Campaign told Environmental Health News that the drop in prosecutions would put workers and the public at greater risk, adding 'a third less prosecutions by local authorities for health and safety offences is a massive cause for concern, as prosecutions are part of maintaining a credible threat of enforcement to keep employers compliant with the law.'

Second conviction after roof fall death

The boss of a maintenance firm has been fined after one of his employees fell to his death through the fragile roof of a Fife warehouse. Boyd Lamont from Buckhaven, Fife, was fined £20,000 at Dunfermline Sheriff Court following the death of Thomas Sturrock on 29 September 2008. The prosecution came nearly two years after the owner of the site received a six figure fine for criminal safety offences related to the 32-year-olds death. Thomas Sturrock and a number of other men were employed by Boyd Lamont - a self-employed contractor then trading as Special Access Inspection. The men were working at height to clean the fragile roof of the warehouse of Tullis Russell Papermakers Ltd in Markinch, Fife. Lamont failed to properly assess the risks associated with the work, and failed to provide his men with appropriate safety equipment like crawling boards. Thomas Sturrock was walking on the roof when he fell through it and dropped 14.5 metres to the concrete floor below. He died of his injuries at the scene. Following a lengthy trial at Dunfermline Sheriff Court, Boyd Lamont pleaded guilty to safety breaches. Commenting after the conclusion of the case, Elaine Taylor, head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) health and safety division, said: 'Work at height involves significant risks and as an employer, Boyd Lamont had a duty to assess and mitigate them. He completely and utterly failed to do so, and that cost a young man his life.' Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Mac Young said: 'This was the worst example I have ever come across due to the total lack of safety measures on the roof.' In February 2011, Tullis Russell Papermakers Ltd, the owner of the site, was fined £260,000 in relation to the death of Mr Sturrock (Risks 495).

Demolition firm removed asbestos illegally

A Cheltenham demolition company has been prosecuted after exposing its own workers to dangerous asbestos fibres and illegally removing asbestos waste from a property in Gloucester. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted DA Environmental Services Ltd at Cheltenham Magistrates' Court for three breaches of regulations relating to asbestos removal. The court heard HSE found that before demolishing the building the firm undertook an asbestos survey showing it contained a quantity of asbestos insulating board (AIB). The report identified that this would have to be safely removed in a controlled manner before demolition went ahead. However, during a six-week period in August and September 2011, the building was demolished and asbestos boarding removed by DA Environmental Services' employees, exposing them to potentially significant quantities of asbestos fibres released during the work. The company did not hold the necessary licence to carry out the asbestos removal and failed to take adequate steps to prevent both exposure to and the spread of asbestos fibres generated by the work. The HSE investigation also found the asbestos debris was not disposed of correctly, potentially extending the risk of exposure and spread of danger into the waste chain. DA Environmental Services pleaded guilty to three criminal breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006. The company was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,452.

Pupil hurt in design and technology lesson

A Solihull school has been fined after an 11-year-old pupil suffered serious hand injuries in a design and technology lesson. The year seven student from Alderbrook School was using a bench sanding machine when his hand became trapped between the rotating face of the sanding disc and the machine's table edge. As a result of the incident on 6 October last year the pupil needed specialist surgery to repair tendon damage to the fingers of his left hand. He was off school for several weeks during which time he continued to study at home while recuperating from hand surgery. As part of this recovery he has required physiotherapy. However, he still suffers pain in cold weather and does not have full range of movement in his fingers. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although the machine had guarding in place, it was designed for use by adults. This meant the gap between the disc face and the table edge was big enough to trap a student's hand. Solihull Magistrates' Court heard the school had carried out a generic risk assessment for the machine that highlighted entrapment as a potential hazard. However, it failed to seek advice from the manufacturer and had made no attempt to adapt the machine for safe use by its students, whose experience and hand size is different to the normal recognised user. Alderbrook School was fined £3,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. After the hearing HSE inspector Karl Raw said: 'Guidance was out of date, risk assessments were generic and concerns raised in a 2010 audit by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council relating to this had not been addressed.'

International News

Australia: Firefighters to gain cancer compensation

An Australian state is to compensate firefighters for job-related cancers. The South Australia government says it will give firefighters automatic access to WorkCover payments for cancers including primary brain, bladder and kidney cancers. Premier Jay Weatherill said South Australia (SA) would be the first Australian state to offer such compensation, adding certain cancers would be presumed to be work-related and firefighters would not have to prove the link. Similar schemes are already in place elsewhere, including in a number of US and Canadian jurisdictions. 'It reverses the onus of proof. It makes it easier for those firefighter to get the compensation they deserve for putting themselves in harm's way,' the premier said. The firefighters' union welcomed the promise of better support. United Firefighters industrial officer Joe Szakacs said: 'This is possibly the greatest-ever development in the protection, advancement and recognition of the health and safety of our firefighters.' He added: 'SA will become the first state, in only the third country in the world, to recognise this occupational cancer risk and take steps to better protect firefighters and their families.' Twelve types of primary cancers fall under the compensation scheme; brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukaemia, breast cancer, testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, prostate cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer and oesophageal cancer.

New Zealand: Mine deaths report calls for radical changes

A New Zealand coal mining company ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to dangerous levels before an underground explosion killed 29 workers two years ago as official regulators failed to provide the necessary oversight, a Royal Commission has concluded. Its report into the Pike River mine blast in November 2010 (Risks 514) said 'the drive for coal production before the mine was ready created the circumstances within which the tragedy occurred,' adding that 'warnings were not heeded.' The Royal Commission also said New Zealand had a 'poor record in health and safety,' deregulation had left the official safety system 'in limbo' and that the Labour Department should have prohibited Pike from operating the mine until its health and safety systems were adequate. Conservative Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson resigned her labour portfolio in the wake of the report. The Commission concluded that the firm's directors 'did not ensure that health and safety was being properly managed, and the executive managers did not properly assess the health and safety risks that the workers were facing.' It called for greater safety responsibilities to be placed on directors. Prime minister John Key said the government accepted there were systemic failures in the regulatory regime across successive governments. 'The Royal Commission has made a total of 16 recommendations, covering administrative reform, stronger regulation, changes to mining legislation and emergency management,' he said. 'The government will be broadly accepting those recommendations and will be working to implement them as quickly as possible,' the prime minister added, and this would include creating 'a new Crown entity focused on health and safety.' The report also recommended wide-ranging additional rights for unions and workers, including the introduction of safety 'check inspectors'. Pike River Coal company is not defending itself against charges of nine labour violations. However former chief executive Peter Whittall has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges.

New Zealand: Unions welcome recommendations on rights

Unions have welcomed the Royal Commission report into the Pike River mine disaster, which concluded workers must be given more safety rights, information and an expanded role. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) said that the report of the investigation into the tragedy, which killed 29 miners in a 19 November 2010 explosion, 'is a damning indictment of both the company and weak regulation of health and safety by government and brings shame to this country that now must be addressed.' CTU president Helen Kelly said the 'shocking accident' was preventable. 'It is time we put workers in a position to have a genuine and forceful say over their own health and safety at work,' she said. Ged O'Connell, assistant national secretary of the mining union EPMU, said: 'This report is a damning indictment of New Zealand's deregulated health and safety regime.' He added: 'The report makes clear that the tragic loss of life at Pike River could have been prevented with stronger regulations, an independent and well-resourced mine safety inspectorate and genuine worker involvement in health and safety. We hope the failings exposed in this report spell the end of the deregulated health and safety regime of the last 20 years. This vindicates the union's repeated calls for improvements in mine safety and for the reintroduction of check inspectors.' He added: 'We are particularly pleased to see the re-introduction of worker-elected check inspectors, a strong focus on strengthening mine safety regulations and the creation of a new Crown agency to monitor health and safety.' The report recommendations included: 'Worker participation in health and safety in underground coal mines should be improved through legislative and administrative changes'; 'empower trained worker health and safety representatives to perform inspections and stop activities where there is an immediate danger of serious harm'; 'allow unions to appoint check inspectors with the same powers as the worker health and safety representatives'; and 'ensure that inspectors routinely consult workers and health and safety representatives as part of audits and inspections.'

USA: Mine watchdog protects more whistleblowers

The US mine safety watchdog has demanded a record number of fired miners be reinstated after they were dismissed for standing up for safety. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports it filed more than 39 requests during fiscal year 2012 for temporary reinstatements on behalf of miners. The number is the highest of any year. Miners can file the temporary reinstatement requests to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission when they believe they have faced discrimination for engaging in a protected activity, such as filing a health or safety complaint or refusing to work in conditions believed to be unsafe. From October 2009 through to September 2012, the department filed 79 temporary reinstatement requests - an average of 26 per year - compared to an average of seven per year from October 1993 to September 2009. Additionally, the department filed a total of 84 discrimination complaints with the commission during the same period, compared to 28 during the three prior years combined. 'MSHA strongly encourages miners to exercise their rights under the Mine Act and maximise their involvement in monitoring safety and health conditions,' said Joseph A Main, head of MSHA and assistant secretary of labour for mine safety and health. 'In turn, we will vigorously investigate all discrimination complaints.' Issues relating to fears of discrimination and retaliation came to light during congressional hearings held in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB) disaster in which 29 miners died (Risks 535). Statements from miners and family members of the miners who died indicated that mine employees had been reluctant to speak out about safety conditions prior to the April 2010 explosion, fearing retaliation by management. Testimony from UBB employees presented during MSHA's investigation also supported those claims.

Events and Courses

TUC courses for safety reps


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