Artwork: Ned Jolliffe

Work and health wob



You big fat liars Oh, they say it’s because they care. They’ll weigh us, keep tabs on our bad habits and ask questions when we are sick. And when we fall short of perfection, they label us shirkers, sickos and slobs. Hazards editor Rory O’Neill questions whether all this attention from employers is really for our own good. Hazards 104, October-December 2008

Spin cycle When research shows a chemical could be killing you, industry-backed scientists will quickly dispute the findings. David Michaels, author of Doubt is their product, exposes industry’s dangerous tactics. Hazards 103, July-September 2008

Food flavour wrecks lungs When dozens of US popcorn workers had their lungs destroyed by a flavouring chemical, it caused a national scandal. But it was seen as a US problem. It wasn’t, as Yorkshire factory worker Martin Muir can now testify. Hazards 101, January-March 2008

Dame blast The government’s ‘work is good for you’ push to make the sick work is overlooking one inconvenient truth. Hazards warns a combination of long hours, job insecurity, punitive sick leave policies, a failure to recognise the extent of the work-related health crisis and a lack of safety enforcement means for many work is bad and getting worse. Hazards 100, November 2007

OHS SOS A decent occupational health service (OHS) should is a real asset. It can troubleshoot health problems and it can help rehabilitate the sick or injured and accommodate those with disabilities. But OHS are rare and good ones rarer still. Simon Pickvance and Rory O’Neill spell out how to get the service you deserve. Hazards 99, August 2007

Futile Exercise? Workplaces make people sick. They kill tens of thousands each year. A new government workplace health strategy could make a difference. But Hazards discovered the government plan gives far greater emphasis to changing your lifestyle than changing your workplace. Hazards 93, February 2006

A job to die for? Whether it is cancer or heart disease, strain injuries or neurological disorders, work is claiming a massive, deadly and largely ignored workplace toll. And if you don’t count the bodies, the bodies don’t count. Hazards 92, November 2005

Burying the evidence Work cancers are killing unprecedented numbers in the UK. So why does the government’s Health and Safety Executive stick with a 25-year-old gross under-estimate of the problem, ensuring prevention doesn’t get the resources it deserves? Hazards 92, November 2005



Hazards sickness pages Hazards finds that instead of hounding the sick back to work, it would be more productive all round if employers introduced supportive sickness absence policies.

Hazards rehabilitation pages Firms must stop shirking on rehabilitation and prevention.

NASUWT Work health webpages




Korea: Most teachers suffer from occupational illnesses
Two-thirds of Korean teachers have had or are currently suffering an occupational disease, a union survey has found. The Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations (KFTA) found 67.2 per cent of teachers said they have or have experienced occupational diseases, with the most common symptom was vocal nodules, experienced by over one-in-three teachers (34.4 per cent), and linked to occupational  voice loss.
Education International news reportRisks 412 • 27 June 2009

France: Work pesticide use causes Parkinson's
A new study confirms the link between on-the-job pesticide exposure and Parkinson's disease, and suggests that certain insecticides may be particularly risky. In the study, published online in the Annals of Neurology, French researchers found that among nearly 800 adults with and without Parkinson's, agricultural workers exposed to pesticides - including insecticides, weed killers and fungicides - were at greater risk of the disease, with the risk climbing in tandem with the amount of time a worker was exposed.
Alexis Elbaz and others. Professional exposure to pesticides and Parkinson's disease, Annal of Neurology, published online [abstract] • Fox NewsETUI-HESA news reportRisks 412 • 27 June 2009

Britain: Wind firm blows thousands on dermatitis
A wind turbine firm has been fined £10,000 after workers developed occupational dermatitis. Thirteen workers at the Newport plant of blademaker Vestas Blades UK Ltd developed the condition caused by exposure to epoxy resins.
Isle of Wight County PressSHP OnlineRisks 412 • 27 June 2009

Britain: Paying the price of a vibration injury
A GMB member has received a £10,000 compensation payout after his hands were left permanently damaged by using vibrating tools at work. Keith Rowley, 55, a fitter from Stourbridge, was has the debilitating condition Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), also known as vibration white finger.
Thompsons Solicitors news releaseStourbridge NewsRisks 411 • 20 June 2009

Australia: Deadly grounds for a sit down protest
Prolonged sitting is killing Australian workers – both blue and white collar – and even 30 minutes' exercise a day may be insufficient protection from this growing occupational health and safety hazard. New Australian research shows hours of sedentary activity, like typing emails or sitting at a quality control station, are associated with higher cardio-metabolic health risks that are independent of time spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity.
Queensland Safety Conference news releaseRisks 410 • 13 June 2009

Britain: Ballerinas face work hazards
Professional ballerinas, like highly driven young female athletes, face quadruple work-related health threats - disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction, the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, and early signs of cardiovascular disease.
Fox NewsRisks 410 • 13 June 2009

Europe: Union victory on safer needles
A long running trade union campaign to introduce safer needles and prevent sharps injuries to health workers reached a successful conclusion this week, with the agreement of strict European Union-wide guidelines. The framework agreement signed this week between the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and HOSPEEM - the European hospital and healthcare employers' association - aims to prevent the incidence of injuries with contaminated sharps, protect the workers at risk and establish appropriate response and follow up policies in cases where injuries occur.
UNISON news releaseEPSU news releaseNursing TimesRisks 410 • 13 June 2009

South Africa: Health workers face TB risk
Health care workers in South Africa may be at much higher risk of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) than the general public, according to new research. A study of 3,639 patients referred between 2003 and 2007 to KwaZulu-Natal province’s King George V Hospital specialist treatment centre confirmed that poor TB infection control measures in many of South Africa's health facilities are putting health care workers at risk.
IRIN newsRisks 409 • 6 June 2009

Global: Pleural plaques linked to lung cancer
One in eight patients with lung cancer also had pleural plaques, a study has found. The Japanese study comes at a time the insurance industry is challenging moves to compensate pleural plaques in Scotland and across Britain.
The Yomiuri ShimbunRisks 409 • 6 June 2009

Britain: TUC’s cautious note on fit notes
The TUC has sounded a note of caution about government proposals announced last week concerning the reform of the sick note. Workplace health campaigners have raised concerns about the ability of GPs to make judgments about what work a patient may be able to undertake when the medics have no knowledge of a workplace or a job and little training in occupational health.
DWP news releaseTUC news releaseEEF news releasePersonnel TodayRisks 409 • 6 June 2009

Britain: Work’s a lot worse than you think
Workers massively under-estimate the risk of suffering a serious workplace injury, new research has found. Survey results released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to coincide with the launch of its new strategy reveal almost half of Britain’s workers know someone who has been injured at work but, on average, employees think that just 3,000 people were killed or seriously injured at work last year – 45 times lower than the number reported each year to HSE.
HSE news release and Be Part of the Solution strategy and pledgeRisks 409 • 6 June 2009

Britain: GMB warning on airport fumes
Passengers and staff are being exposed to high levels of potentially toxic aircraft fumes at a London airport, the union GMB has said. GMB says London City Airport’s extremely unusual parking system causes jet engine exhaust to be propelled straight towards the arrivals lounge in the airport building.
GMB news releaseRisks 409 • 6 June 2009

Canada: Iron ore workers map out ill-health
Former workers of a Canadian iron ore plant have got together to investigate how their jobs have damaged their health. A union-organised occupational disease clinic this month targeted former employees of the Inco Ltd sintering plant, their widows or other survivors.
The Sault StarRisks 408 • 30 May 2009

Britain: Paint spraying job killed man
A car paint sprayer died of pneumonia after long-term exposure to paint fumes, an inquest has ruled. Car paint sprayers are exposed to chemicals including diisocyanates, a potent cause of COAD, the condition that killed David Mathis, aged 66.
Hastings ObserverA job to die for, Hazards magazine, 2005Risks 408 • 30 May 2009

Britain: Sellafield workers exposed to radiation
Nuclear company Sellafield Limited is to be prosecuted for alleged breaches of health and safety law after two site workers were exposed to airborne radioactive contamination. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said two employees of a site contractor had been exposed to the radiation during the decontamination of an area of concrete floor in July 2007.
HSE news releaseConstruction NewsRisks 408 • 30 May 2009

Britain: Knitting workers win noise appeal
Noisy knitwear factories could face a big compensation bill after the Court of Appeal ruled they should have been taking measures to protect workers’ hearing for over 30 years. Up to 700 workers employed in the knitting industry are seeking damages for what they say is work-induced deafness.
Nottingham Evening PostRisks 408 • 30 May 2009

Britain: Rehab industry issues voluntary code
A voluntariy guidelines have been produced with the aim of cleaning up the private rehabilitation industry. TUC said proper regulation of the industry would be more effective than voluntary guidelines. 
UK Rehabilitation Council standardsBBC News OnlineRisks 408 • 30 May 2009

Australia: Dire prognosis for health check scheme
A state-wide system of health checks in Victoria, Australia, has been found to be in a very bad way. The state-government funded WorkHealth programme had been opposed by unions because the initial design omitted any consideration of health problems caused or exacerbated by work itself - and now employers’ groups have abandoned the scheme, which could end up a fraction of its intended size.
The AgeRisks 407 • 23 May 2009

Australia: Muscle soreness is linked to workload
Back and neck soreness in office workers is more likely to be caused by high workloads and tight deadlines than by posture or other physical factors, a new study has found. Unmanageable workloads and unrealistic deadlines were amongst the stronger predictors of reported neck and back pain, said Karin Griffiths, a member of the research team.
CPSU news releaseRisks 405 • 9 May 2009

Britain: ‘Green’ lightbulbs poison workers
Workers in China could pay a high price for the production of “green” lightbulbs in cost-cutting factories. Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
Sunday TimesRisks 405 • 9 May 2009

Turkey: Jeans sandblasting banned after deaths
The Turkish government has banned the manual sandblasting of jeans and other clothing to prevent the development of incurable silicosis. The practice had been linked to 40 deaths, and can lead to rapid onset of the disease, with some teenagers known to be affected.  
ZamanRisks 402 • 18 April 2009

Britain: Miners’ knee now an official work disease
Miner’s knee has received recognition as an official occupational disease in the UK. This ‘prescription’ under industrial disease benefits rules means that miners who pass a disability threshold, will be eligible for government payouts.
DWP news release • Osteoarthritis of the knee in coal miners, IIAC, August 2008 [pdf] • NUM news releaseDaily MirrorRisks 402 • 18 April 2009

USA: Popcorn peril spreads to sweets
A recently identified outbreak of severe cases of popcorn lung among former sweet factory workers may prove what government and civilian occupational health experts have long feared - the sometimes-fatal disease can afflict those exposed to diacetyl butter flavouring regardless of where they work.
Andrew Schneider InvestigatesMore from Hazards on diacetyl risksRisks 401 • 11 April 2009

Britain: Workplace illness ‘to get worse’
An ageing workforce and higher rates of illness and disease among employees will pose a serious threat to British business by 2030, a report has warned. Private healthcare company Bupa estimates the number of workers with chronic conditions will rise by at least 7 per cent to more than four million.
Bupa news releaseThe Work Foundation publication note and full report: Healthy Work: Challenges and Opportunities to 2030 [pdf] • BBC News OnlineRisks 401 • 11 April 2009

Britain: Injured firefighters win pensions fight
 Firefighters’ union FBU has welcomed a landmark legal win in its fight over pensions and jobs for injured and sick firefighters. A judicial review at the Court of Appeal this week upheld a legal challenge by three London firefighters who had their ill-health and injury pensions removed under changes to the service's pension scheme.
FBU news releaseMorning StarBBC News OnlineRisks 401 • 11 April 2009

Europe: Increasing risks from hazardous substances
Contact with hazardous substances at work is endangering the health of workers across Europe and nanotechnology is one of the risks causing most concern, an expert report has concluded. ‘Expert forecast on emerging chemical risks’, published by the Bilbao-based European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), identifies the main groups of substances which could pose new and increasing risks to workers, contributing to diseases which range from allergies, asthma and infertility to cancers.
European Agency news releaseRisks 400 • 4 April 2009

Europe: Action call on high concern chemicals
Unions are calling for hundreds of the most hazardous workplace chemicals to be subject to tight control under the European Union’s chemicals law, REACH. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) this week presented to the European Parliament its list of 306 priority chemicals for authorisation under REACH.
ETUC news release and Trade Union Priority List for REACH authorisation and related documentation • ChemSec news reportTUC chemicals webpageHSE REACH webpagesRisks 400 • 4 April 2009

USA: Movement at last on popcorn lung
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), reversing years of foot dragging while the agency was controlled by the Bush administration, is moving quickly to protect workers from a serious lung disease caused by diacetyl, the artificial butter flavouring added to popcorn and other food products.
OSHA news releaseLynn Woolsey statementAFL-CIO NowThe Pump HandleAndrew Schneider InvestigatesRisks 398 • 21 March 2009

USA: Workers failed by old lead standard
Americans who work with lead and their families are still at risk of developing serious chronic health conditions, according to a new report. ‘Indecent exposure’, published this week by health researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, notes: “As scientific evidence has shown more serious health effects associated with lower lead levels than previously anticipated, the number of persons who must be considered at risk increases dramatically.”
Indecent exposure: Lead puts workers and families at risk, Perspectives, volume 4, number 1, March 2009 [pdf] • The Pump HandleRisks 398 • 21 March 2009

Britain: Bullying boss blamed for breakdown
An NHS hospital trust has been found liable for the nervous breakdown suffered by a hospital admin worker. UNISON member Nanette Bowen, 55, who has been unable to return to work after being bullied and harassed over a three-year-period, can now expect a six-figure settlement from Carmarthenshire NHS Trust.
UNISON news releaseMorning StarSouth Wales Evening PostRisks 396 • 7 March 2009

Britain: Print work caused kidney disease
A printer who was exposed to a dangerous chemical in the workplace developed a debilitating kidney disease as a result. Unite member David Owenson, from Scarborough, was diagnosed with membranous neuropathy, a form of glomerulonephritis, following years of exposure to the common workplace solvent toluene.
Thompsons Solicitors news release • Did your job cause your illness... check out the Hazards detectiveRisks 396 • 7 March 2009

Britain: Fit-for-work moves not enough
Government-funding pilot schemes will aim to help people on sick leave back into work, ministers say. The TUC however has warned the limited ‘Fit for work’ measures are “nowhere near what is needed,” adding: “The solution is instead, access to comprehensive occupational health support, far more resources invested in prevention, and greater support for union safety and other representatives.”
Department of Health news releaseFit for Work webpageRisks 395 • 28 February 2009

New Zealand: Bridge workers poisoned by lead
Dozens of workers on the Auckland Harbour Bridge were poisoned after inhaling lead-based paint dust during maintenance work last year. Tests on the men, who took off their full-face dust masks because they were uncomfortable to work in, showed up to half had marked increases in their blood lead levels.
Sunday Star TimesRisks 394 • 21 February 2009

Britain: Clampdown call on deafening noise
Public sector union UNISON is calling on employers to take noise risks seriously after a highway worker was deafened on the job. The 52-year-old UNISON member, whose name has not been released, was awarded a “substantial” amount in damages for hearing loss sustained as a result of working with noisy tools, including jackhammers and compressors.
Thompsons Solicitors news releaseRisks 394 • 21 February 2009

Britain: STUC says make work fit for workers
The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is calling for action to make sure workers’ health is not another victim of the recession. It says its policy paper, ‘Occupational Health in Scotland,’ makes the case for “a massive expansion in publicly provided occupational health services to end the unacceptable level of workers falling into economic inactivity following periods of ill-health and to increase the number of workers being rehabilitated back into the workplace.”
STUC news release • Occupational health in Scotland report [pdf] • Risks 394 • 21 February 2009

Britain: What does the work doc know?
So, you’ve been ill, you’re injured, you’re starting a new job, your job’s made you sick – all reasons your employer might want a doctor to give you the once over. But is the doctor really qualified to make an assessment?
Medical referrals in employment - Is the doctor appropriately qualified? A short guide for employees and their representatives • GMC specialist registerRisks 394 • 21 February 2009

USA: Toxic firm wants to be left alone
A top journalist has attacked a major US flavouring firm for attempting to prevent federal health investigators from protecting workers. Seattle Post Intelligencer reporter Andrew Schneider, writing in his ‘Secret ingredients’ blog, was commenting on a year-long court battle between an Indianapolis flavour manufacturer and the government's top occupational health investigators regarding diacetyl, a flavouring know to cause potentially fatal lung disease.
Secret ingredients • Hazards website: 393 • 14 February 2009

Britain: Safety reps’ guide to noise at work
The TUC has published a safety reps’ guide to noise at work. It provides information on the law and on what can be done to ensure employers do not put the hearing of their workers at risk.
Noise at work – a guide for health and safety representatives [pdf] • Risks 393 • 14 February 2009

Britain: Depression follows illness to work
 Individuals returning to work following absence due to a physical condition such as back pain, cancer or heart disease are at risk of mild to moderate depression, researchers have found. But they say those who do become depressed worry about telling their employers.
Returning to work, the role of depression – webpage, full report and executive summaryBBC News OnlineRisks 393 • 14 February 2009

Britain: Old diseases stalk new workplaces
It doesn’t matter whether you work in a new service sector job or an old manufacturing industry, diseases that should be firmly a thing of the past continue to cause harm. A Unite member who worked as a customer service adviser for Barclaycard in Northampton received a £25,000 payout after she developed a work-related upper limb disorder and another, a plater with the hydraulic components manufacturer Parker Hannifin plc, received a “substantial” payout after he developed occupational dermatitis caused by chromates which forced him to give up his job.
Rowley Ashworth Solicitors news releases on the RSI and dermatitis compensation settlements • Risks 393 • 14 February 2009

Britain: STUC calls for ‘massive’ work health move
There must be a ‘massive’ expansion in publicly-provided occupational health services, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has said. The call comes in the first in a series of STUC policy papers aimed at addressing the challenges of the current recession.
STUC news release and full report, Occupational health in Scotland [pdf] • Risks 393 • 14 February 2009

USA: Work disease system favours business
A US man who believes workplace solvent exposure left him struggling with Parkinson’s Disease is fighting a second battle, this time for compensation. Ed Abney worked at a former Dresser Industries plant in Kentucky for over 20 years, often elbow deep in the solvent trichloroethylene, used to clean metal piping.
WKYT 27 News FirstNew York TimesWorkers’ Comp Insider • Don M Gash and others. Trichloroethylene: Parkinsonism and complex 1 mitochondrial neurotoxicity, Annals of Neurology, volume 63, issue 2, pages 184-192, February 2008 [abstract] • Risks 391 • 31 January 2009

Britain: Unions slam ‘wrong’ welfare bill
Trade unions have said the government’s Welfare Reform Bill is the wrong law at the wrong time and have said they will resist attempts to privatise Jobcentre Plus services. The bill includes provisions which would compel the long-term unemployed to work for their benefits and require lone parents to undertake job-related training.
DWP news releaseTUC news releasePCS news release and updated news releaseippr news releaseNice work if you can get it, ippr, January 2009 • Risks 390 • 24 January 2009

Union dismay at fat firefighter firing
Colleagues of a Scottish firefighter fired for being overweight are considering industrial action in a bid to get him reinstated. Kevin Ogilvie, a 22-year veteran with the fire service, was dismissed for a second time after failing to meet strict weight loss targets set by his employer.
Daily RecordPress and JournalThe HeraldBBC News OnlineThe TelegraphDaily MailHazards featureRisks 390 • 24 January 2009

Britain: Injured firefighters fight sacking rule
Firefighters have taken to the Court of Appeal their challenge to government pension rules that threaten to leave badly injured and disabled firefighters sacked and without a pension. The legal moves started after three disabled London firefighters had their pensions removed by the London Fire Brigade.
FBU news release and FBUtube video reportRisks 390 • 24 January 2009

USA: Deadly return of black lung disease    
After years of decline, the rate of deadly ‘black lung disease’ in US coal miners had doubled and is appearing in younger and younger miners, official research has found.
AFL-CIO NowThe Pump HandleRisks 389 • 17 January 2009

Europe: Euro MPs back pesticide controls
The European Parliament has voted to tighten rules on pesticide use and ban at least 22 chemicals deemed harmful to human health. The rules, which can only become law after they are approved by the 27 member states' governments, are opposed by the UK government.
European Parliament news releaseGroup of Socialist MEPs (PES) news releaseBBC News OnlineRisks 389 • 17 January 2009

USA: Lead at work affects the brain in old age
People exposed to lead at work are more likely to exhibit damaged brain function as they get older, a new study has found.  For older people, a buildup of lead from earlier exposure may be enough to result in greater cognitive problems after age 55, the authors say.
APA news release • NailaKhalil and others. Association of cumulative lead and neurocognitive function in an occupational cohort, Neuropsychology, volume 23, issue 1, pages 10-19, 2009 [abstract] • Times of IndiaEHS TodayRisks 389 • 17 January 2009

Britain: Do you want an apple from the boss?
Durham County Council is giving its staff two free pieces of fruit a day to see if it makes the workforce fitter. One union health specialist said “why not go the whole hog and make it five a day? Or just give the workers the money so they can make adult dietary decisions themselves?”
Newcastle University news releaseISAFRUIT projectRisks 389 • 17 January 2009

Britain: Lafarge recalls cancer risk cement
Construction materials multinational Lafarge has recalled 280,000 bags of cement after discovering a batch contained high levels of cancer-causing chromium VI. In total, about 2,500 tonnes of the Blue Circle cement have been recalled.
Wiltshire TimesContract JournalRisks 388 • 10 January 2009

Britain: Employers ignorant of deadly silica risks
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has vowed to step up its ‘Clear the Air!’ campaign warning workers against the dangers of silica exposure after it concluded that smaller companies still know very little about the potentially fatal health risks. However, late last year a succession of industry contributors to an HSE online forum on silica risks complained a failure of HSE inspection and oversight was leading to widespread abuse of safe practices and substantial exposures to the cancer causing dust.
HSE news releaseContract JournalBuildingRisks 388 • 10 January 2009


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Work and health

Whether it is cancer or heart disease, strain injuries or neurological disorders, work is claiming a massive, deadly and largely ignored workplace toll. And if you donít count the bodies, the bodies donít count. Instead, an army of lifestyle evangelists are invading the workplace, lecturing workers on their diet and exercise.







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