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October 2019

London Taxi drivers face highest level of black carbon exposure

Taxi drivers in London experience the highest exposures to black carbon compared to other professional drivers.

New research has found that taxi drivers in London experience the highest exposures to black carbon compared to other professional drivers such as couriers, truck drivers, waste removal and emergency service workers. Black carbon is the sooty black material emitted predominantly from diesel engines in the urban environment.

In a recent study, researchers from King’s and Queen Mary University of London recruited 140 professional drivers from a range of different occupations working in the heart of London. The drivers were asked to carry black carbon monitors for 96 hours, which were linked with GPS trackers. The monitors measured exposure levels once every minute. Drivers were also asked about the type of vehicle they drive, their working hours and whether they drive with their windows down or air vents open.

Lead researcher and King’s PhD candidate Shanon Lim said: “We know quite a lot about the dangers of exposure to traffic pollution. However, there has been surprisingly little research on levels of professional drivers’ exposure to pollution and its effects on their health. We believe there are around a million people working in jobs like these in the UK alone, so this is a widespread and under-appreciated issue.”

On average, the results showed that professional drivers were exposed to 4.1 micrograms of black carbon per cubic metre of air (µg/m³) while driving, around four times higher than their exposure at home or levels experienced in offices. During the same period, researchers found that pollution levels at Marylebone Road were 3.1 µg/m³ on average and, away from the roadside, the average level in London was 0.9 µg/m³.

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UK Unite calls for urgent cut to killer silica dust limit

Unite had given its strong backing to a campaign to force the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to halve the workplace exposure limit for silica dust, a move it says will save 4,000 lives a year.

The union call came in response to a new ‘Choked’ report from Hazards magazine. This presents evidence for cutting the current legal limit of 0.1 mg/m³ for respirable crystalline silica to no more than 0.05 mg/m³, a move the report says would dramatically reduce the incidence of the lung scarring occupational disease silicosis, lung cancer, autoimmune diseases and other silica-related conditions.

Hazards reviewed the international scientific literature and internal HSE documents to calculate the annual excess silica-related death toll resulting from HSE’s repeat refusal to switch to and enforce the tighter standard, instead sticking with a level it admits comes with “significant risks”. It reveals that HSE’s own internal reports estimate the silicosis risk for workers is six times higher at the current HSE limit of 0.1 mg/m³, calculated at 30 cases per 100 workers exposed compared to just five per 100 at the tighter 0.05 mg/m³ standard. The United States and a number of other jurisdictions already work to the safer standard.

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Amazon health and safety lies ‘exposed’

Amazon’s ‘lies’ about it’s shocking health and safety record have been exposed, according to an investigation by the union GMB.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told the union ‘it does not recognise’ the evidence Amazon claims shows its warehouses are safer than the industry average. In response to GMB’s earlier investigations into Amazon’s working practices – which revealed hundreds of ambulance call outs to Amazon warehouses – the company claims on its website: “According to the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive RIDDOR, Amazon has 43 per cent fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies in the UK.” However, after the GMB wrote to the HSE to query this, the government safety regulator replied to say that it ‘does not recognise’ the company’s claim.

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Government deregulation ‘responsible for Grenfell’

The UK government bears ultimate responsibility for the Grenfell Tower fire which left 72 people dead and hundreds homeless, the firefighters’ union FBU has said.

A new ‘meticulously researched’ report from the union argues decisions made by every government since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration led to the ‘gutting’ of the UK’s fire safety regime and, ultimately, to Grenfell. ‘Grenfell Tower Fire: A crime caused by profit and deregulation’ concludes that the expertise of firefighters “has mostly been substituted with management consultants, industry lobbyists and chief fire officers. These agents have operated within a political climate that has emphasised the need for reducing regulation… driven by central government.”

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Union action call to force bad ship operators out

The leader of the UK maritime union Nautilus has called on unions worldwide to work together to force out shipowners who flout rules governing decent working conditions.

Speaking at the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) inspectors seminar in Sri Lanka, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “A bad flag state, an exploitative shipowner, those who flout the norms of decency and who breach conventions. We take them on together.” Policy makers must know about the challenges seafarers face and the ‘schemes and scams’ of the shipowners and the shortcomings of flag and port states, he said.

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RMT driver only operation dispute on West Midlands Trains

Rail union RMT has confirmed it is now in dispute on West Midlands Trains over plans by the company to ‘bulldoze through’ driver only operation (DOO), a move the union says will ‘rip apart the safety critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface.’

Preparations for a ballot of guards for both strike action and action short of a strike are now underway. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility, the company knows that and they should pull back from their threat to bulldoze through driver only operation and their attack on the safety critical role of the guard at the platform/train interface. RMT will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand firm on that very basic principle.”

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Tube violence ‘out of control’ warns union

The number of sexual assaults reported on London’s Tube system has soared by 42 per cent in the past four years, latest official figures show.

Attacks on the London Underground recorded by the British Transport Police (BTP) rose from 844 in 2015/16 to 1,206 in 2018/19, according to Mayor of London statistics. Calling for urgent action, the rail union RMT said violence on the network was ‘out of control’.

The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said the figures were “a truly shocking indictment of our crime-ridden transport system. Both passengers and staff alike are being subjected to an unprecedented surge in crime and violence and this trade union is sick and tired of the warm words and excuses while those in charge ignore the brutal reality.”

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UK workers deserve a break, says TUC

The TUC is calling on the UK government to cut Britain’s overworked workforce a break, by creating four new public holidays.

The union body says workers in England and Wales get just eight bank holidays a year, fewer than any other EU country and lagging far behind the EU average of 12 days. Workers in Germany and France get three additional public holidays a year, while workers in Sweden get 13 days – equivalent to an extra week off. Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland and Cyprus top the table with 15 days each, enjoying nearly twice as many public holidays as their British counterparts.

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New US NIOSH Webpage on Suicide and Occupation

US National Institute of Occupational safety and health (NIOSH) recently published a webpage on Suicide and Occupation.

Identifies information we know about the suicide problem, factors that are linked to increased risk of suicide among occupations, ways to prevent suicide in the workplace, and a host of other resources.

France: Toxic exposure anxiety ruling to be broadly applied

A French Supreme Court decision that gave workers exposed to asbestos the right to claim compensation for emotional distress caused by the fear of contracting a serious disease can be applied more broadly, a new ruling has indicated.

In its September decision, the same court expanded the scope of the April 2019 compensation ruling to include all ‘harmful or toxic substances’. This means an employee who demonstrates they been exposed in the workplace to a substance creating a high risk of developing a serious disease and has developed anxiety as a result can seek compensation from their employer. The employer would be liable if they had not implemented minimum measures to protect the employee, provided the claim was also made within a five-year statute of limitations.

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Malaysia: Haze is an ‘occupational hazard’ say campaigners

The blanket of choking smog over Malaysia should be regulated as an ‘occupational hazard, a coalition of unions, environment, women’s and migrant workers’ groups has said.

The Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC) says while flights have been re-routed or grounded and schools have been closed, “the nation’s workforce perseveres in daily routines with inadequate protection from the unknown long-term health effects of inhaling the carbon-rich smoke.” The LLRC wants the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) amended to cover the haze, which is believed to be generated each year from peat land fires in Indonesia, to require employers to implement measures to protect workers from detrimental effects.

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USA: Safety interventions less effective for low-waged

A safe patient-handling intervention decreased injuries among nurses, but not among lower-wage care workers, a US study has found.

Researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health confirmed the “inequality paradox” when they compared self-reports of safe patient-handling practices and hospital injury rates at two large Boston area hospitals from 2012 to 2014. In 2013, nurses and patient care workers at one hospital received the same safe patient-handling intervention while workers at the other hospital did not. The intervention included initial and ongoing training on using new equipment, including slings and special devices, to help move patients safely. After the intervention, lifting and exertion injuries among nurses decreased by about a third, but no decrease in injuries occurred among patient care workers. At the same time, both groups reported similar improvements in their own safe handling of patients. The authors say their findings are an example of interventions unintentionally widening the gap between less and more advantaged workers.

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