Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Barking up the wrong tree; and a builders' warning

Workers Memorial Day march
stopped by site on Tooley Street to urge "Remember the Dead, Protect the Living".

EMPLOYMENT minister and Labour MP Margaret Hodge made news recently announcing that her constituents feel so let down by Labour that many said they would be voting for the far-Right British National Party. Speaking about black people and Asians moving into the borough, and white working people worried about housing, Hodge said the trouble was "We have not been listening".

TV reporters who don't often venture into such places have been down the working men's club interviewing people who say they used to vote Labour but intend voting for the BNP. You'd almost think it was set up. Whether the fascist party really makes the predicted gains thanks to the buckshee propaganda broadcasts it has been given we'll see tomorrow.

But I've been finding out some other facts about Barking and Dagenham. For instance, did you know that if you live there you are more likely to be ill with a long-term disease than anywhere else in London?.

One reason is that so many people are poor. The poorer you are the more likely you are to be ill, and to die at a younger age. The fashion these days is for politicians and the media to blame our lifestyle, such as smoking, drinking cheap booze, and eating the wrong grub (they have a point, if we gave up burgers and ate more lobster etc I'm sure we'd do fine, though my doc has warned me to cut down the caviare -too much cholesterol). But the Acheson report says:

‘The weight of scientific evidence supports a socioeconomic explanation of health inequalities. This traces the roots of ill health to such determinants as income, education and employment as well as to the material environment and lifestyle.’

The health gap between rich and poor is apparent for many of the major causes of death, including coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and suicides among men, and respiratory disease and lung cancer among women.

The 2001 census, which asked questions about chronic (i.e. long-term) illness for the first time, showed nearly one fifth of households in Barking and Dagenham, 19.9%, had someone suffering a long-term illness. This is significantly above the English average of 18.2%, and is the highest percentage of all the London Boroughs. Barking and Dagenham is also the second highest London borough for people saying their general health is ‘not good’.

For cancers of all kinds, the death rate is significantly above average for men, and is higher than other London boroughs. In 2000 Barking and Dagenham had the fifth highest number of men dying from cancer in the country (out of 354 local authorities): over 800 people were diagnosed and over 400 died from cancer.. According to statistics from London Health Observatory, general trends would predict 983 male cancer deaths in the borough between 1998 and 2002; whereas in fact there were 1,187 (the figures for women would be 967 predicted deaths and 1,034 actual deaths).

As well as higher rates of lung cancer and mesothelioma, Barking and Dagenham has higher rates of breast cancer than the rest of London or England and Wales. The incidence of bladder cancer is also one of the highest in the country. Much of this is not down to fags or booze, but to the area's industrial history, and number of people who have been exposed to asbestos and other industrial toxins.

Here I can corroborate one thing Margaret Hodge said; about politicians not listening. A fellow called Francis Koch-Krause who used to collect information about toxic waste in the vicinity of Barking Reach and related health hazards was barred from Barking town hall after he cornered his MP, Margaret Hodge, one evening and insisted on talking to her about the subject. Sadly, Francis is dead now, and I understand the council disposed of his papers. But Francis had the foresight to tape his interview with Mrs.Hodge, and send copies to several people.
Barking and Dagenham Asbestos Victims Support Group was a bit more succesful in holding a public meeting with Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas last year. The group says Barking and Dagenham is the tenth worst place in the whole of the UK for men experiencing the effects of asbestos which has been called the worst industrial killer. The nine boroughs worse than Barking and Dagenham are all in shipbuilding regions.

Former workers at Barking Power Station are suffering from asbestos related diseases). Other victims include local men who were employed in the building trade in the City. But the exceptionally high asbestos mortality rate in this part of London is aparticular legacy of Cape Asbestos, which used to have a site in Harts Lane.

Barking and Dagenham is the worst borough in the country for the numbers of women dying from mesothelioma. The death rate for women from this cancer is usually six times less than men, with women suffering around 15% of the total number of deaths from mesothelioma every year. Women’s asbestos exposure is often due to environmental exposure, including washing dusty overalls of men working with asbestos. But in the Harts Lane Cape factory women worked alongside men.

Other areas with high asbestos deaths for women also had significant numbers working directly with asbestos; Sunderland, in shipbuilding and manufacturing, and Blackburn and Darwen where women worked in gas mask factories. (Women who worked on gas masks in Nottingham during the war were also affected).

Maybe if Margaret Hodge had looked a little further into the "changing character" of Barking and Dagenham she might have found that one reason
black and Asian people were able to buy houses there is because with industrial decline and an unhealthy environment that's been left, not that many other people would want to move there. She might gain a better understanding of why working people in the area feel neglected and resentful. But that might be too much for Tony Blair's Employment Secretary.

Building worker's warning was right

FRIDAY, April 28, was Workers Memorial Day. Safety campaigners in London held a protest outside Canada House over the asbestos trade, then marched through Southwark, pausing at the Health and Safety Executive and some building sites to make their point with a silence for those who have died, and calls to protect the living.

At a rally outside City Hall, Construction Safety Campaign leader Tony O'Brien said that Labour was retreating from the Corporate Manslaughter Law it promised in 1997, and cutting safety protection. He also warned that the House of Lords was about to attack asbestos compensation by ruling that if a person who contacted mesothelioma (which can be caused by one fibre) had worked for more than one firm during their working life , he or his family could not claim full compensation from one employer, but must pursue each - even though it might be proved that the particular employer had caused some exposure to asbestos, and the others might have gone bankrupt. With all the sub-contracting and bogus "self-employment " in the building trade, someone who was self-employed for a period would be held responsible for their own safety.

It looks like one of those times when we would prefer our predictions proved wrong. On Tuesday, in a lengthy announcement of their findings on appeals from the employers over cases going back to 2002, the Lords pronounced that even if a firm was shown to have contributed to the risk of someone being affected, that did not necessary make it responsible, and it could only be said have a possible share in responsibility.

In the case of Barker v Corus (UK) Plc. "Mr Barker died of asbestos-related mesothelioma on 14 June 1996. During his working career he had three material exposures to asbestos. The first was for 6 weeks in 1958 while working for a company called Graessers Ltd. The second was between April and October 1962, while working for John Summers Ltd (now Corus (UK) Ltd ("Corus")). The third was for at least 3 short periods between 1968 and 1975, while working as a self-employed plasterer. The first two exposures were in consequence of breaches of duty by the employers and the last is agreed to have involved a failure by Mr Barker to take reasonable care for his own safety".

In two other cases, families would have to pursue each of several employers.

In a statement yesterday the TUC said it was disappointed at the House of Lords ruling which will reduce the compensation received by two widows whose husbands died from mesothelioma as a result of coming into contact with asbestos at work.

Commenting on the appeal brought by the employers of the two men, John Murray and Vernon Barker, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
'It's shocking that the families of mesothelioma victims are to be denied compensation on a mere technicality. Despite being able to show that an employer exposed their husbands to asbestos and that the men died as a result of coming into contact with the fatal fibres, Sylvia Barker and Mary Murray and many more families in similar circumstances will now have to take action against all the employers their relatives have ever worked for.

'Today's ruling means that some mesothelioma victims and their families may only recoup a fraction of the compensation they should have received because by now some employers will have gone out of business. As it can be 40 years before this tragic disease develops, this ruling has huge implications for thousands of victims and their families. The Government must act immediately to change the law and ensure that this cruel and unjust decision is reversed.'

Compensation claims are outFrom the Swindon Advertiser, first published Friday 27th Jan 2006.

SWINDON residents have expressed dismay at news that sufferers of an asbestos-related disease will no longer be able to claim compensation.
The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the insurance industry yesterday over workers who developed pleural plaques on their lungs.
Scores of ex-railwaymen in the town suffer from the lung disease caused by years of working with asbestos. Over the last two decades many of them have successfully claimed thousands of pounds each for the damage to their health, but that is set to end.
Gerald Saddler, a 73 year-old pensioner from Wanborough, feels that his contemporaries have been denied what is theirs. He said: "I'm not surprised that the decision has gone this way, but that doesn't mean I'm not annoyed.
"There were hundreds of people who worked in the Great Western for relatively low wages, who put their time in, and now they're getting no support when they need it." Mr Saddler himself has several pleural plaques after working with asbestos during a career in demolition. His own claim has now been put on hold.

He said: "They discovered plaques on my lungs about two years ago. "I can't apply for compensation because of this decision, so the insurance companies must be saving themselves a vast amount."

Brigitte Chandler, a partner with Swindon law firm Charles Lucas and Marshall, is one of the UK's leading legal specialists in asbestos-related disease.
She represents around 70 clients who suffer from pleural plaques, and was bitterly disappointed with the decision. She said: "It's absolutely devastating news, both personally and for all the people in Swindon who are affected. I have been acting for people with this condition for 30 years, and have seen people develop cancer from it, and die from it."

She added: "Basically the courts are saying that the most somebody with pleural plaques will suffer is discomfort and a loss of breath. Swindon-based Zurich Insurance, Norwich Union and the Department for Trade and Industry launched an appeal against compensation payments in 2004.
Speaking about yesterday's judgement, Steve Thomas, the Technical Claims Manager for Zurich UK General Insurance, said: "The judgement draws a clear line under the issue of whether pleural plaques should be compensatable.
"The insurance industry exists to compensate people who've suffered an injury and not to pay out policy holders' money for a condition that causes no symptoms and that cannot develop into any other condition such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.
"The court's decision upholds this philosophy."

Asbestos diseases

PLEURAL PLAQUES is a minor inflammation affecting the pleura, which is the membrane around the lungs. It occurs when asbestos hardens on the wall of the lung. In the main they do not cause pain or breathlessness, but they can lead to cancer.

DIFFUSE PLEURAL THICKENING is similar to pleural plaques but more serious. It is when the pleura thickens causing breathlessness and/or chest tightness.

ASBESTOSIS is when the lung is damaged by the body's reaction to asbestos fibres. Inflammation results in scar tissue building up, which reduces the elasticity of the lungs, making it harder to breathe. Asbestosis can progress even if the exposure has ceased and the damage cannot be reversed.

MESOTHELIOMA is a tumour of the pleura, the membrane around the lungs, but it can also affect the lining of the abdomen and the area around the heart. It is a very aggressive cancer and there is presently no known cure. It can take up to 50 years after the exposure to asbestos to develop. People may have chest pain, breathlessness and loss of appetite and weight from the illness, which can be fatal.

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