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Liquid toxicity
Women with jobs that involve metalworking fluids may have a higher risk of
developing breast cancer, a preliminary study suggests. Among the nearly 4700
women the researchers followed, the risk of breast cancer increased in tandem
with exposure to soluble, oil-based metalworking fluids. (American Journal of
Industrial Medicine, volume 47, issue 2, pp. 153“160, 2005).


Lung diseases
Research suggests there have been a doubling of workplace toxins and therefore
a doubling of lung disease risks, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and
chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) (The European Respiratory
Journal, volume 22, September 2003, pp. 462“469). There are a range of respi-
ratory ailments and health risks including well-known ailments like:
Mining dust: where the UK government alone has paid out £3 billion in
compensation for ˜Miner™s Lung™;
Bakers lung: as a result of historic inhalation of flour; and
Asthma: organisations that put their workers at risk of contracting occupa-
tional asthma are liable to pay fines and costs. One such company was fined
more than £30 000 after it was found to have allowed its employees to work
Chapter 16 “ Health and safety in the workplace 387



unprotected with rosin solder flux, a substance which has been known for
decades to cause asthma. The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) brought
the prosecution and said the company had failed to take measures to control
this risk over a considerable period of time (Risks, issue number 231, 5
November 2005).
And some newly emerging risks like:
Toxic fumes: two major British companies have been named as defendants in
a US welding fumes test case that could result in compensation claims run-
ning into billions. Manganese welding fumes have been alleged to cause
severe damage to the central nervous system, including Parkinson™s disease
and Parkinson™s-like symptoms. There have been 10 000 welding fume cases
filed so far and another 50 000 may follow. An example of the impact upon
market value is that:
Shares in BOC fell sharply by 7.6% (to 821.5p) on 29 October 2003 after a
US jury ruled against three gas products companies (the UK™s BOC, and
Lincoln Electric and Hobart Brothers of the US) that linked fumes from
welding rods to Parkinson™s disease. One estimate of liabilities is that the
current cases could amount to half a billion dollars in losses (Financial
Times, 30 October 2003). Their shares fell again when it was announced
that there was an increase to 9700 plaintiffs in the 150 cases it is facing.
Popcorn lung: a chemical in butter f lavouring, diacetyl, which has sickened
hundreds of workers and, it is thought, has even led to deaths. Two large US
unions have asked the Department of Labour to set a maximum exposure to
and require employers to provide workers with air-purifying respirators;
Silicosis: ˜a disabling, non-reversible and sometimes fatal lung disease™, which
can cause other problems like lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, airway dis-
eases, autoimmune disorders and chronic renal disease. As a result of its nature
it has been added to the lists of top toxic risks at several insurers; and
Wood dust: an arts and crafts teacher in the UK has been awarded nearly
£150 000 compensation due to exposure to wood dust, including medium
density fibreboard (MDF), a composite of wood dust and formaldehyde-based
resins.


Neural toxicity
Long-term exposure to high concentrations of 1-bromopropane (1-BP), a com-
mon workplace solvent and powerful neurotoxin, is highly damaging to nerves,
said researchers at the American Neurological Association annual meeting in
Toronto. 1-BP is an industrial solvent widely used as a replacement for ozone-
depleting chemicals (Risks, issue number 178, 16 October 2004).


Noise
Excess noise is one of the most common occupational hazards. Exposure to exces-
sive noise can cause hearing problems, stress, poor concentration, productivity
Part C “ Overview of the Social Aspects of Business Risks
388



losses in the workplace, communication difficulties, fatigue from lack of sleep
and a loss of psychological well-being.
It can also cause accelerated heartbeat, high blood pressure and gastro-
intestinal problems. The European Commission have pushed legislation even
further by adopting Directive 2003/10/EC (ID 4429). From 15 February 2006,
companies should take the following actions when noise levels exceed 80 decibels
and 112 pascals:
Make hearing protectors available;
Provide information and training; and
Make audiometric testing available where there is a risk to health.
Where noise exposure of employees, not taking account of hearing protection,
exceeds 85 decibels and 140 pascals, companies should take the following
action:
Establish and implement a programme of technical and/or organisational
measures intended to reduce exposure to noise;
Mark, delimit and restrict access to areas;
Make the use of hearing protectors mandatory; and
Provide a right to hearing checks by a doctor.
Noise exposure levels of employees, taking account of any hearing protection
worn, must be at or below 87 decibels and 200 pascals.
Further requirements of Directive 2003/10/EC include:
A risk assessment of noise levels where workers are likely to be exposed to
risks;
Elimination of risks at source or reduction to a minimum;
A transitional period of two years for application of the noise exposure levels
to the music and entertainment sector; and
A transitional period of five years for application of the noise exposure levels
to sea transport.
Most industrial activities are confronted with the issue at some stage. Its most
serious effect is irreversible hearing loss. It is estimated that each year there are
1 628 000 new cases of occupational noise-induced hearing loss. During 2002
some regulatory developments have taken place which will force the issue of
occupational noise exposure back on the agenda for most industrial operators
worldwide.


Office-based ailments
Computer ailments: giving workers the freedom to take regular breaks and to
have control over the speed of their work is the remedy to computer-related
strain injuries. A study has found, in the journal Occupational and
Environmental Medicine, that ˜Thus, when organising computer work, it seems
important to consider both the duration of computer work and the employees™
own influence on their speed of work.™ The study adds that employers should
Chapter 16 “ Health and safety in the workplace 389



allow for physical variation of work tasks to avoid a worker being restricted to
just computer work (Juul-Kristensen and Jensen 2005);
Irritable desk syndrome: this is a reality, say researchers at NEC-Mitsubishi.
These new and poorly understood risks are caused by stress due to cluttered
desks, poor posture and insufficient time away from computers. This can be
mitigated in part by regular breaks and making desks more personal; and
Passive smoking: in a Californian study researcher Kenneth C. Johnson, of
the Public Health Agency of Canada, analysed data from the 20 published
studies which had examined the relationship of passive smoking to breast
cancer. For all studies combined, long-term second-hand smoke exposure
was associated with a 27% increase in breast cancer risk among women who
were lifetime non-smokers (Johnson, Kenneth C., 31 May 2005 in Risks, issue
number 215, 16 July 2005).


Repetitive activity injuries
A masseuse who worked in an airline™s upper class lounge at Heathrow was
awarded £109 000 in damages after developing repetitive strain injury (RSI).
The court was told that the RSI had been caused by the ˜abnormal posture™ of
massaging seated clients and doing it too frequently;
A newspaper editor who says she was refused access to the company physio-
therapist after developing crippling elbow pain was paid £37 500 in damages
for RSI; and
Barclays Bank plc: an employee was awarded £243 792 after two years of
working at a defective workstation left her with RSI (Hazards, July 2000).


Sick building syndrome
There are fears that common features of the office environment, such as print-
ers, photocopiers, mobile phones and strip lighting, could have a damaging
effect on workers. Britain™s biggest insurers are in talks with the government
over plans to establish a state-backed fund to pick up the bill for claims from
this type of emerging industrial diseases risk.


Skin damage
Centrica plc: an AA patrolman received £130 000 compensation after devel-
oping severe dermatitis which forced him into early retirement (Hazards,
January 2001).


Stress from work
Up to five million Britons complain of work-related stress each year. A new sur-
vey of safety professionals by Croner has found that 79% have taken no action
Part C “ Overview of the Social Aspects of Business Risks
390



to implement the HSE™s stress management standards and over half (55%)
of the survey respondents are actually unaware of the HSE™s management
standards.
Excessive stress at work is causing an epidemic of depression and anxiety,
costing the British economy about £100 billion a year in lost output, according
to a report by mental health charity Mind in a report called Stress and Mental
Health in the Workplace (Risks, issue number 207, 21 May 2005). One in four
people in the UK develops mental health problems each year, costing the econ-
omy £11.6 billion in lost working days.
Work stresses can also contribution to strokes. This is now recognised in
law after an undercover policeman won the right to substantial damages
because of his stress-related ill-health.
Pressure to work long hours can damage a worker™s mental health (Risks,
issue number 150, April 2004). One in ten of the workers putting in 48 hours a
week or more has suffered some form of physical problem as a result of work-
ing long hours and 17% have suffered from mental health problems, such as
stress or depression.
The British Medical Journal reports that stress-related mental health prob-
lems have topped physical ailments as the chief cause of long-term sickness in
Britain. Depression and anxiety now account for more claims for incapacity
benefit than problems such as back pain (Henderson, M. et al. British Medical
Journal, 9 April 2005).


Vibration white finger
Corus, the European steel manufacturer, has had to pay compensation for
members with a debilitating occupational disease. Three former employees
of Corus™ Llanwern Steelworks had contracted vibration white finger (VWF),
a condition where circulatory and nervous system damage to the hands can
lead to permanent disability (Risk, issue number 150, April 2004).


Vision damage
Some occupations have higher risks of damage to eyesight, for example airline
pilots (who are more likely to develop cataracts because of their exposure to
cosmic radiation) and workers in foundries (who are exposed to increased
infrared light from molten metal).


Vocal damage
A combination of germs, dry office conditions, centrally heated offices and
jobs that place a strain on employees™ vocal chords, e.g. call centres, could
prove disastrous for the millions of UK workers who rely on their voices to do
their jobs.
Chapter 16 “ Health and safety in the workplace 391



Analysis of internal safety issues of the workforce
Results indicate that:
Internal workforce safety risk accounts for a loss of 0.5% of market value of
the 500 top EU and US companies; and
This risk exposure has been reduced from 1.1% of market value by good risk
management techniques (the risk reduction/management factor).
Examples of safety risks include:

Accidents;
COSHH (UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations avail-
able at www.hse.gov.uk);
Drugs and alcohol;
Electrical safety;
Falls from height;
First aid at work;
Gas health and safety;
Risks for new and expectant mothers;
Road safety;
Slips, trips and falls; and
Transport dangers.
Quite often organisations do not see the magnitude of safety impacts upon their
business and only when these risks are measured are they fully understood. A
recent study by the EU estimates the scale of the economic costs of workplace
accident rates, which ˜remain very high™. The Improving Quality in Work: A
Review of Recent Progress Report says that while accidents at work decreased
between 1994 and 2000, there were still 5 million accidents in 2000, leading to
158 million lost working days. The report says around 350 000 workers were
obliged to change their job due to an accident. Almost 300 000 workers were
affected by varying degrees of permanent disabilities and 15 000 had to give up
work (Risks, issue number 147, 12 March 2004).
The exporting of incidents is still taking place as the developing world
starts from the safety levels we had a century or two ago: an example is that
China is now the world™s fourth largest economy and now supplies 90% of the
world™s toys and over 20% of Europe™s clothes. The price paid by these low cost
production methods are that China™s workplace death rate is 12 times higher
than Britain™s.
Recently resurgent risks include the following:

Criminal threats: the issues surrounding call centres are likely to intensify as
jobs move overseas from the UK and US. One of the safety issues is the high
numbers of undisclosed kidnappings taking place in locations including
India;
Driving for a living can be a hazardous occupation. Every year over 1000
workers are killed in work-related road accidents in the UK, and an additional
Part C “ Overview of the Social Aspects of Business Risks
392



7500 suffer serious injury (see www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-7946-f0.cfm).
The Department for Transport (DfT) annual road casualty statistics, which for

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