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Exposed – ‘accidents' at work

As the Health and Safety jargon goes, 99% of accidents are preventable. Here are just a few examples of cases where negligence by employers - who would rather make extra profits than prevent accidents - has been exposed.

What a waste
A recent HSE-commissioned report, Mapping health and safety standards in the UK waste industry, found that death rates in the waste industry are over 10 times the national average, which makes the waste industry now more dangerous than construction. It also found accident rates are four times the average, and says incidents predominantly occur to refuse and recycling collection workers who manually handle and sort waste. The handling of bags, wheelie bins and skips feature strongly in the HSE accident reports. Responding to the findings, the HSE does not mention any plan to enforce higher standards, but instead says it will be “good partners” with the industry, encouraging self-regulation. As reported in the last Catalyst (Cat10), this “good partnership” approach adopted by the HSE in recent years has proved totally ineffectual in stemming the rise in death and injuries at work. The bosses will always put profit before the heath & safety of their workers. The only way of ensuring proper safety at work is through workers organising and forcing the bosses to take action to ensure safety.

Geest Greed
Food multinational Geest must pay out fines and legal costs of just £10,000 after an untrained teenage migrant worker lost three fingertips while working at one of its Spalding factories. Portuguese worker Diana Fernandes, 18, was cleaning a moving conveyor belt on a night shift at Lincs Cuisine when her clothing got caught and her hand was dragged into machinery. When Miss Fernandes, an agency worker, started at Geest, there was no formal training on health and safety, she was “just shown how to put on her clothing and cap”.

Crown killers get off lightly
Company bosses criticised in court for a series of fatal safety blunders have escaped with fines totalling £17,000. A safety review has now been ordered by Crown Holdings plc following a fireball explosion at the Carnaud Metalbox factory in Westhoughton, which killed Craig Whelan and Paul Wakefield. Factory bosses Ian Billington, Colin Stevens and engineer John Kither were found guilty of breaching health and safety laws. They were originally charged with manslaughter, but these charges were later dropped. The court heard that company bosses had been warned of the fire risk. One witness said he was “flabbergasted” by the poor quality of the risk assessment prepared by the company for the demolition job.

Railway contract killers
A 21-year-old railway worker was hit and killed by a train in London because a construction company and a recruitment agency failed to train him properly, a court heard recently. Balfour Beatty and McGinley Recruitment Services both denied they had employed Michael Mungovan, but pleaded guilty at City of London Magistrates' Court to failing in their duty to ensure he was not endangered while at work, and failing to make sure he was informed properly about his hazardous work. Michael Mungovan, a Brunel University student from County Cork in Ireland, was earning holiday money as a casual railway worker and had been in the job just three days when he was killed. Mr Mungovan's family said he had received just nine hours' training and did not hold a valid track safety card. Directors and managers from both firms were in court, although neither company would accept they were Mr Mungovan.s employer, instead facing charges relating to safety duties to non-employees. This case follows the May 2002 inquest, which ruled that Mr Mungovan was “unlawfully killed”. It also highlights that, in Britain.s flexible deregulated labour market, firms can truly get away with murder.

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