The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed it holds documents relating to another blacklist in the construction industry. The confirmation came in a letter from ICO deputy commissioner David Smith to Ian Davidson MP, chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation into blacklisting. The letter states that the ICO holds information including “faxes to and from Hayden Young Limited which contain the names of what appear to be individual construction workers and their NI numbers, a list of nine contact names and addresses of what appear to be individual managers within different construction companies and a small sample of names and national insurance numbers of individual construction workers on what are termed the Pfizers, Royal Opera House and Jubilee Line lists.” This new blacklist is separate to The Consulting Association list exposed by ICO in 2009. In evidence this year to the select committee, a whistleblower said this additional list was coordinated by Sheila Knight, then personnel director of construction firm Emcor and a former deputy director of the conciliation service Acas. A statement from the Blacklist Support Group said: “Given that the ICO failed to tell MPs that they held this additional blacklist and also failed to mention that they held documents proving that senior police officers attended the secret blacklist meetings of The Consulting Association, the Blacklist Support Group questions whether the ICO is the correct organisation to be carrying out any further investigations into blacklisting and are calling for a fully independent public inquiry.” UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “UCATT has been warning since 2009 that the Consulting Association was not operating the only blacklist in construction. It now appears that the ICO knew this to be the case all along and yet only now have they revealed the details of a separate blacklist.”
Blacklist blog. UCATT news release. People Management.
Union urges action on police links to blacklist
The union GMB has said it intends to go to the courts next week to lift the lid on alleged police involvement in the construction blacklist scandal. GMB want the Home Office to be forced to supply information about officers who gave workers’ details to a firm compiling the secret list. Some of the biggest names in construction used the 3,213-name list compiled by The Consulting Association, which was shut down in 2009, to deny work to union activists or those who raised safety concerns. GMB official Justin Bowden said: “Until we have all the information about the police involvement we won’t know the full extent of blacklist.” Some victims have received letters from the Independent Police Complaints Commission saying it was “likely” that police supplied information to the blacklist database. GMB’s Justin Bowden said: “Seeking this legal order is the next step and until we have all the information about the police involvement we won’t know the full extent of blacklisting. We want to get to the bottom of police and state collusion with big business to deny ordinary working people the chance to earn a living.” UCATT said it believes a senior blacklister had a military background and could have acted as conduit between the military, security forces and the police, in placing workers on the blacklist and in supplying further material on workers who were already on the blacklist.
GMB news release. The Mirror.
Call for ‘zero tolerance’ of sexual harassment
Employers must adopt a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, the TUC has said. The union body was speaking out after research published by employment law firm Slater & Gordon found that six in ten working women have had a male colleague behave ‘inappropriately’ towards them. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Most people assume we have long moved on from the blatant sexism that blighted workplaces in the past. But sexual harassment is still very much a fact of working life for millions of women in all kinds of workplaces – from the shopfloor to the boardroom.” She added: “Employers must adopt a zero tolerance to approach to sexual harassment to prevent it becoming an ingrained part of the workplace culture. The government should also reverse its disgraceful decision to scrap third party harassment rules that protected women receiving unwanted advances from customers.” The Slater & Gordon commissioned study polled 1,036 women and found they were still subjected to sexist attitudes at work with the old clichés of men slipping a hand up their skirt or patting them on the bum still a regular occurrence for some. Despite saying that the behaviour of their colleagues was often degrading and embarrassing only 27 per cent reported the behaviour to someone senior. Claire Dawson, an employment lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said: “Unfortunately this research confirms what we often see which is that the woman who is being harassed ends up being unfairly disadvantaged because of it.” She added: “We see clients who have been blamed for bringing the treatment on themselves because of what they wear or how they are perceived by others, and clients who have been bullied, denied promotion or even physically assaulted when they refuse a colleague’s advances or make it clear that the harassment is not welcome.” Of the 60 per cent that said they have experienced inappropriate behaviour from colleagues, 21 per cent classed the behaviour as persistent.
TUC news release. Slater & Gordon news release.
Tube incident should kill driverless trains plan
An incident where a Tube train driver averted a possible tragedy when the doors opened on a packed commuter train highlights why a shift to driverless trains should be rejected outright, the rail union RMT has said. The Tube union has demanded a full investigation after the doors opened between stations on a packed Piccadilly Line train heading towards Heathrow on Sunday afternoon. The driver was alerted to the fault by a signal in the cab and was able to bring the train to a halt. RMT said the incident raises questions about the reliability of the aging fleet on the line which is now 40 years old and not due for replacement for another decade. According to the union, the incident and the way it was handled by the driver in the cab “nails once and for all the nonsense of suggesting that the Tube could run on a driverless basis. All stock, old and new, can be subject to malfunction and a driver in the cab is absolutely essential to delivering passenger safety.” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Sunday’s incident on the Piccadilly Line must serve as a wake-up call to Tube bosses and Boris Johnson. Once again, it was the sharp and decisive action of the driver in the cab which prevented a possible disaster on a packed Tube train travelling at speed. Anyone who continues to press for the policy of driverless operation should look at this incident and hang their heads in shame.” He added: “While staff are out there at the sharp end dealing professionally with these kinds of emergencies, TfL [Transport for London] bosses are locked away with their accountants looking at more cuts which we know full well will compromise safety and risk lives. RMT is determined to stop them and incidents like the one on Sunday will be instrumental in shaping public opinion.”
RMT news release.
More shoplifting means shopworkers need protection
As latest figures show shoplifting is on the rise, the government must not be complacent about the problems of violence, threats and abuse against retail workers, their union Usdaw has said. Usdaw general secretary John Hannett was speaking out after the government blocked a Labour amendment to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which would have introduced a specific offence of assaulting a worker serving the public (Risks 627). John Hannett said: “Often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, whether that is preventing under-age purchases or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive. They can be put in real danger. So it is always a real concern to our members when incidents of shoplifting are on the increase, because too often that can result in the shopworkers being assaulted by the thief.” He added: “I was very disappointed to see Tory and Liberal MPs combining to block Labour’s amendment to provide for stiffer sentences for those who assault workers serving the public. There is a real need to address the scourge of violence against workers and I am concerned that the attackers are getting away with relatively lenient sentences… I will continue to campaign with Usdaw for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out and to give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”
Usdaw news release.
‘Dangerous’ prison service is at ‘breaking point’
A growing prison population combined with prison closures and staff and budget reductions is leaving the service dangerous and “at breaking point”, prison officers’ union POA has warned. Steve Gillan general secretary of the POA, said: “All the warning signs are there. Assaults on staff are on the increase and prisoner on prisoner assaults are at record levels. The cuts and closure programme is disastrous and government need to act before there is a fatality.” He added: “Two thousand officers have been made redundant nationwide yet there is a reliance on detached duty around the country because the service are so stretched. Prisoners are on the verge of being locked out because of a lack of space. Operational capacity has been increased at some establishments. The service in our view is at breaking point.” He said the prison population had increased by 635 prisoners in the last three weeks.
POA news release.
UK Coal fined over miner’s death
UK Coal has been sentenced after admitting a number of serious criminal safety failings that led to the death of a miner. Father-of-two Gerry Gibson, from Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire, was killed when 15 tonnes of rock forming a section of roof collapsed as a powered roof support was being used (Risks 525). The incident, which took place on 27 September 2011 at Kellingley colliery, happened just six days after a similar roof fall in the mine with the same support in operation (Risks 601). The company, now in administration, was fined £200,000 after admitting health and safety failings in relation to Mr Gibson’s death. It was agreed that although prosecution costs were properly incurred they would not be awarded so as not to jeopardise any potential payments to the Miners’ Pensioners’ coal allowance scheme, a main creditor against UK Coal’s limited financial assets. UK Coal was also fined £50,000 in relation to an underground pit explosion that took place in November 2010 that lead to 200 miners being evacuated. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that UK Coal managers were fully aware of the earlier roof fall but no investigation into it was carried out. A second miner, Philip Sheldon, was released after being trapped toward the edge of the collapse and allowed home after hospital treatment. HSE mines inspector John Whyatt said: “Gerry Gibson and the men working alongside him were oblivious to the extent of the dangers posed when working near to that particular roof support. They had no reason to believe there were at risk from the roadway roof collapsing as it was being operated.” He added: “This was a tragic and preventable incident that demonstrates the importance of employers having effective and robust safety management systems. Strong safety leadership is of paramount importance in incident prevention.”
HSE news release and explosion news release. ITV News report. Yorkshire Evening Post. The Press.
Nearly half sites had criminal safety failings
A month long spot check campaign of construction sites by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed major safety failings are commonplace. Throughout September, HSE inspectors made the unannounced checks on 2,607 sites in the refurbishment and repair sector. The inspectors found that on 1,105 sites (42 per cent) basic safety standards were not being met and on 644 sites (25 per cent) safety was so poor enforcement action was required to protect the safety of workers. Steve Murphy, general secretary of construction union UCATT, said: “These figures expose the truth about construction, which is that many employers are prepared to gamble with workers lives rather than ensure their sites are safe.” The most common problems discovered by the HSE inspectors were a failure to ensure workers were safely working at height, workers being exposed to harmful dust and inadequate welfare facilities. Mr Murphy noted: “These are basic safety requirements. It demonstrates why it is essential that the HSE is given the resources to increase their level of inspections. The vast majority of construction sites will not have been inspected as part of this campaign. Unless employers have a genuine fear that shoddy safety practices will be exposed, they will continue to cut corners when it comes to safety.” HSE construction chief Heather Bryant said: “It is disappointing to find a significant number of sites falling below acceptable health and safety standards, where our inspectors encountered poor practice this often went hand in hand with a lack of understanding. “
UCATT news release. HSE news release, Safer sites webpages and ‘Turning Concern into Action’ film featuring the testimony of construction site victims.
‘Dickensian’ conditions on Preston site
A construction firm has been prosecuted after it allowed subcontractors to carry out refurbishment work on a Grade 2 listed building in Preston for nearly seven weeks without toilets or running water. Altrincham-based RNT Developments and Construction Ltd brought in roofers, damp treatment experts, electricians, joiners and plasters to work on the nineteenth century Harris Institute – a former dance academy – on the outskirts of the city but it failed to provide basic facilities for workers. The criminal shortcomings were spotted during an inspection initiative earlier this year when inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) made unannounced visits to construction sites across the region. Preston Magistrates’ Court heard that refurbishment work had started on the building on 3 January 2013, but HSE was not alerted to the absence of amenities until an inspector visited the site on 19 February. Workers had to use wet wipes and paper towels to clean themselves, and leave the site to find toilets elsewhere in the city. Magistrates were told the three-storey building had been empty for two years before the work started and the water supply had been turned off, which meant the existing toilets could not be used. The temperature inside the building was also bitterly cold. RNT Developments and Construction Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 on 16 October 2013.
HSE inspector Stuart Kitchingman said: “It’s totally unacceptable in the twenty-first century to find Dickensian-like conditions. In fact, it’s a legal requirement that workers aren’t treated in this way. The working conditions were archaic – more like they would have been when the building was first erected in Victorian times – and will no longer be tolerated in the 21st century.”
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.
Company boss fined after mechanic’s death
The owner of a Leicestershire transport company has been fined for criminal safety failings after a mechanic was killed during a jacking operation. Mark Wintersgill, 25, was attempting to jack up the axle of a double decker HGV trailer at PPR Transport Services in Lutterworth on 25 June 2012 when the jack separated from the axle and struck him. He died at the scene of catastrophic head injuries. Business owner Paul Anthony Roberts was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the operation was poorly planned and managed. Leicester Crown Court heard that Mr Wintersgill was attempting to jack the trailer on a set of concrete ramps, which meant the trailer’s landing legs were below the level of the rear axles. This may have encouraged the unit to rock forward when the jacking began. The mechanic was using an air jack powered by a compressor and is thought to have put two wooden blocks on top of the jack to achieve a greater lifting height. Unfortunately, these may have further destabilised the equipment and separated, causing the jack to jump under the pressure of the load. Owner Paul Anthony Roberts, 51, was ultimately responsible for ensuring that work at the site was properly assessed and controlled, with suitable safety measures, training and equipment in place and available. He was fined £12,000 with costs of £43,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. HSE inspector David Lefever said Roberts “should have monitored how employees were carrying out this task and stopped the routine use of wooden blocks, which was a highly dangerous practice. He should also have ensured his employees followed a safe system of work. He failed to do any of that and as a result a young man paid with his life.”
HSE news release.
Poorly controlled tools cost young dad his job
A young father of four who developed a painful and debilitating nerve condition through prolonged, unrestricted use of vibrating power tools is now unable to work as a result. Andrew Wood, 35, from Heathfield, East Sussex is likely to suffer chronic pain in both hands for the rest of his life as a result of his work for CJ Gowing and Son Ltd between July 2010 and March 2012. The family-run construction company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found there was no control of vibration risks and no health surveillance. The firm also allowed unsafe work at height and failed to support the sides of a deep excavation, which could have collapsed – as revealed in photographs taken by Mr Wood. Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard that his work for CJ Gowing and Son involved extensive use of vibrating power tools, including hydraulic breakers, to break out concrete floors and foundations. A sensation of pins and needles in his hands intensified over time and by March 2012 the pain was so severe he was unable to sleep. He was subsequently diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, which required surgery. Despite several operations he can no longer lift heavy objects or do everyday tasks like turn the pages of a book or open a bottle. The father of four is unable to work as a result. CJ Gowing and Son Ltd pleaded guilty to a series of criminal safety offences and was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay a further £4,670 in costs. HSE inspector Amanda Huff said: “The onus is on employers like CJ Gowing to fully consider the risks arising from prolonged use of equipment like hand held breakers, and to ensure their workforce is adequately protected. That didn’t happen here and Mr Wood now faces a lifetime of discomfort.”
HSE news release.
Two injured in demolition blunder
A South Wales demolition firm has been landed with a six figure bill after two of its workers were injured when a mezzanine floor collapsed on them. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Wrexham Demolition and Dismantling Ltd following the incident which took place on 9 September 2008. Cardiff Crown Court heard that two employees were dismantling the internal structure of a building at the former NEG factory in Cardiff. As part of this work a mezzanine floor needed to be demolished. As workers began to dismantle the last section of the mezzanine it collapsed, trapping them beneath it. One sustained cracks to his spine and lost the toes and ball of his left foot resulting in him needing a prosthesis. His colleague suffered multiple fractures to his arms, a dislocated elbow and cracked ribs, as well as severe bruising to his back and kidneys. The court was told the method of work chosen to demolish the last part of the mezzanine floor was unacceptable and dangerous. HSE’s investigation revealed that the company had put the safety of its employees at risk by failing to ensure the specific requirements of the job were adequately assessed, planned and supervised. Wrexham Demolition & Dismantling Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £100,074. HSE inspector Wayne Williams said: “Both men sustained serious injuries as a result of being struck by the falling masonry and if it were not for their quick thinking, and large element of good fortune, this incident could quite easily have had fatal consequences.”
HSE news release and construction webpages. Construction Enquirer.
Suspended sentence for recycling firm boss
A Corby recycling firm has been fined and its director given a suspended jail sentence for endangering workers. BB Recycling allowed staff to operate forklift trucks without proper training and then ignoring an official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforcement notice requiring urgent action to address the safety failing. Northampton Magistrates’ Court heard that despite the 29 November 2011 improvement notice, BB Recycling failed to provide the necessary training even after a deadline to comply was extended until 28 February 2012. The company and director Russell Wayne Armer were also found to have no employers’ liability insurance, which is compulsory for all employers. BB Recycling was fined £300 and £340 costs after pleading guilty to criminal breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. Director Russell Wayne Armer pleaded guilty to the same three breaches and was given a four month prison sentence, suspended for two years. The court also applied to disqualify Mr Armer from acting as a company director, managing or in any way controlling a company for at least five years.
HSE news release and workplace transport webpages.
Painful lessons not learnt at fruit company
An Essex-based firm has been fined for repeated safety failings following three separate incidents in which workers were injured after becoming trapped in machinery. Two agency workers and an employee, who was a maintenance engineer, were all working for fruit importer and distributor Winfresh (UK) Ltd at its processing plant in Essex. On 25 August 2012, a female agency worker was cleaning the underside of a conveyor on a production line. The woman’s gloved hand was drawn into the drive shaft and became trapped between rollers. She sustained crush injuries and severe bruising to her hand and wrist and was off work for almost three weeks. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed there had been two earlier incidents at the plant involving workers’ hands becoming entangled in machinery and the company was prosecuted for repeated safety failings. Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard how banana processing production lines, which include a series of conveyors, were mainly operated by agency workers, the majority of whom did not have English as their first language. HSE’s investigation found there were no guards on the machinery at the time of an incident on 1 July 2010 when another agency worker had reached down to remove an empty box from under the conveyor. He lost part of his finger. HSE inspectors also discovered that on 8 November 2011, a maintenance engineer suffered a finger fracture and tissue damage while mending a conveyor. Winfresh (UK) Ltd was fined £32,000 plus £771.50 costs after pleading guilty to three criminal safety offences.
HSE news release and machinery safety webpages.
Packaging firm in court for guard failings
A packaging firm has been fined after a worker severed the tip of a finger on a machine where a safety guard had been deliberately disabled. The nesting machine, which makes food packaging cartons, had been running with a tampered interlock for at least five months prior to the incident at Alexir Packaging Limited, in Edenbridge, Kent, on 9 September 2011. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for allowing the machine to operate unchecked in an unsafe state. Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court heard that the worker, who does not want to be named, was making cartons when he noticed they were being folded in the wrong place. In attempting to rectify the problem he trapped his right index finger between rollers and a belt in the machine, with the moving parts slicing through the tip. He was unable to work for five days and initially suffered with restricted use of the finger. HSE established that an interlock guard on the machine had been defeated by moving a sensor to allow it to stay open. Alexir Packaging Limited was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,985 in costs after pleading guilty to a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. HSE inspector Guy Widdowson said: “Incidents of this kind, where safety guards have been deliberately disabled, occur all too often, and it is extremely disappointing that it takes a worker to sustain a painful injury before the dangers are acknowledged.”
HSE news release and manufacturing webpages.
Food giant’s neglect led to woman’s injury
An international food manufacturer with UK sales of over £1.4 billion has been fined £20,000 after a production worker lost the tip of a finger in an unguarded dough-proving machine. Sushila Patel, 58, had the top of a middle finger sliced off when she was tasked with picking up dough balls being discarded from a faulty machine at the Bakkavor Foods Ltd pizza factory in Harrow. She needed treatment at the Royal Free Hospital, and her middle finger is now shorter and causes pain and numbness. The company, which operates across the UK, Europe, Asia and North America, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after safety failings were identified at the factory following the incident on 22 August 2012. Westminster Magistrates heard that Mrs Patel had started work on the late shift in a bakery at the premises. As line leader, she undertook technical and quality control checks and covered for staff absences. During her shift, she was asked to pick up dough balls that kept dropping out of the prover machine because of an on-going fault. A guard on the machine, which was normally locked, was wide open and at one stage she had to reach inside to pick up the fallen dough balls. As she did this, her right middle finger became caught between a moving chain and a sprocket, badly slicing the tip. HSE found that a lockable guard on the machine had been left open, giving no protection to employees using the machine from coming into contact with dangerous moving parts. Bakkavor Foods Ltd was fined £20,000, the maximum fine magistrates were able to impose, and ordered to pay £12,484 in costs after admitting a criminal breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The company’s UK sales for 2012 were worth £1,416 million.
HSE news release. Bakkavor factsheet.
Bangladesh: Some hope six months after factory collapse
Six months after the deadly factory collapse, a group of survivors of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh say they have been encouraged by the success of the union-brokered Accord on Fire and Building Safety, but have called on global brands to provide overdue compensation. In a visit to the site of the tragedy, in which 1,129 workers lost their lives, representatives from IndustriALL and UNI, the two global unions that drove the accord, spoke to survivors and explained the series of new commitments, to which over 100 global brands have now signed. Compensation negotiations are continuing on the international level, chaired by the ILO, convened by IndustriALL and supported by UNI. Whilst Primark has lead the way by paying six months’ worth of wages to families, the payments run out this month and other brands are still to follow suit. On 24 October, public demonstrations calling for a fair compensation settlement marked the six month anniversary of the tragedy. Many of the survivors have suffered major injuries including lost limbs and are unable to work. Many of those killed were the sole money earners in their family. IndustriALL and UNI marked the anniversary with workers in Bangladesh. They said top-level talks involving unions, brands, government and employers will coincide with a week of action on safety and working conditions. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) have launched a short report looking at the battle for compensation for both victims’ families and the survivors of Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Fashions fire.
IndustriALL news release. Clean Clothes Campaign news release and report.
Korea: Samsung cancer caused by work
A former Samsung worker was a victim of occupational cancer caused by exposures at the electronics giant, a court has ruled. The Seoul administrative court ordered the official compensation agency KCOMWEL to pay industrial disease compensation to the family of Kim Kyung-mi, a former Samsung Electronics Co Ltd employee who died in 2009. Kim began work as a wafer etcher at the Giheung plant of Samsung in 1999, after graduating high school. Until 2004 when she got married, Kim worked at the same plant where Hwang Yu-mi, the first court-acknowledged victim of Samsung’s blood disorder cluster, developed leukaemia (Risks 512). In 2008, Kim was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia after she suffered bruise-like rashes on her body. The following year, she died, aged 29, after undergoing unsuccessful bone marrow transplants. KCOMWEL twice rejected petitions by Kim’s family for workers’ compensation. In February 2013, her family brought a lawsuit against the workers’ compensation entity, leading to this month’s ruling. Additional court actions are pending. A number of other cancer cases in Samsung workers have now been recognised by the courts as work-related (Risks 587).
Stop Samsung campaign.
USA: Firefighters face raised cancer risks
Firefighters are at increased risk of several cancers, including respiratory, digestive and urinary tumours, a US study has found. Researchers from the US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) looked at a combined population of nearly 30,000 firefighters employed in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco between 1950 and 2009 and found they had higher rates of several types of cancers, and of all cancers combined, than the US population as a whole. Because the new study examined a larger population for a longer period of time “the results strengthen the scientific evidence for a relation between firefighting and cancer,” NIOSH said. They added the findings, published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, indicate cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems were the primary drivers of the higher cancer rates seen in the study population. The firefighters also had a rate of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma that was two times greater than the rate in the US population as a whole. NIOSH said firefighters can be exposed to contaminants from fires that are known or suspected causes of cancer. These contaminants include combustion by-products such as benzene and formaldehyde, and materials in debris such as asbestos from older structures. A number of jurisdictions in the US, Canada and elsewhere have introduced “rebuttal presumption” cancer compensation laws, which presume up to 12 cancers in firefighters are work-related for compensation purposes (Risks 581).
NIOSH news release. Robert D Daniels and others. Mortality and cancer incidence in a pooled cohort of US firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia (1950–2009), Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Published Online First 14 October 2013 [abstract].
USA: A double victim of a weak dust standard
Lax official dust exposure standards not only left a US worker sick, they cost him his compensation too. Furnace operator Randy Torris was denied Workers’ Compensation from his employer after he developed pneumoconiosis, a work-related scarring of the lungs. The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that he was properly denied the payouts because the company was compliant with dust standards enforced by the official workplace safety watchdog OSHA. Randy originally filed a claim for occupational pneumoconiosis while working as a furnace operator for Alcan Rolled Products-Ravenswood, LLC. A succession of appeals, eventually reaching the state Supreme Court, upheld a workers’ compensation board decision to deny him Workers’ Compensation. In its defence, Torris’ employer argued it performed regular industrial hygiene testing while Torris was with the company and also met OSHA regulations to limit employee exposure to excessive or harmful quantities of dust. The state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision released this month, upheld the board’s ruling citing a state rule that notes if “an employer submits credible evidence demonstrating that is has been in compliance with OSHA and/or MSHA permissible exposure levels, as determined by sampling and testing performed in compliance with OSHA and or MSHA regulations, the claims administrator may consider that the dust exposure alleged by the injured employee does not suffice to satisfy the exposure requirements” of the state code for periods “covered by the sampling or testing.” Official dust exposure standards are not usually ‘safe’ standards, but are a compromise reached in horse trading between employers, safety regulators and unions (Risks 617).