Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, September 24, 2010

Health & Safety Gone Global (Part Deux)

The remainder of the European Work Hazards Network conference was very interesting. I've left my notes at work so can't provide names for everyone, but anyway. Most of Saturday was occupied with workshops: I attended a stream on Sickness Absence Reporting and Return To Work Procedures. We had a presentation on how the system works in the Netherlands, where - unsurprisingly - there is a very slick government-mandated IT system which companies have ti use, meaning that all the relevant data gets captured every time, all the right people (doctors, Occupational Health guys, physiotherapists, whoever) are brought in when they're needed. The main advantage, apart from saving managers' having to diarise things themselves, seems to be that the system works many times faster than the UK's more primitive manual one. In our groups we discussed the experiences of delegates from Norway and Denmark (who have slicker procedures than ours - again, with much more laid down by law - but nothing quite like the Dutch). As one of the guys who was in my group advises the STUC on Health & Safety we were able to draw up a list of suggestions to go to the Scottish Government for possible improvements to our own reporting and data gathering.

There were also "information meetings" where foreign speakers gave short talks. I attended one by a Mexican academic who was talking about safety in Mexico and the role of trade unions there. You know, every so often you come across a scam so brilliant you wish you'd thought of it yourself . In Mexico there are unions with a total membership of zero. How do they survive? They hire themselves out to unscrupulous employers who want to set up a business without pesky unions. The employer signs an exclusive representation deal with the fake union, which makes sure it's so difficult to join that nobody ever does. Brilliant. He also mentioned the ABC nursery fire in Mexico City (5 June 2009) in which 49 children died. This nursery had received fire safety inspections, but because of corruption and incompetence these failed to spot that the fire exits were totally inadequate (someone had to smash down a wall to get the kids out - and was charged with damaging property!), that the fire alarm buttons were just buttons, not connected to any alarm system, or that the smoke detectors were all empty plastic casings.

There was also a good presentation by a couple of Danish researchers who had been studying trade union involvement in promoting businesses in the Occupied West Bank. While they had very positive tales to tell about progress and co-operation with the unions, as the businesses rhey were studying were mostly in one of the Closed Military Zones that make up much of the West Bank, the omens were not good for their futurem as the IDF have a history of arbitrarily destroying businesses in such regions if they actually begin to improve the conditions of the inhabitants. This would seem to be an area our highly-paid representative in the region, the ubiquitous Toe-Nibbler, might address when he is supposedly earning his salary by promoting opportunities in the Palestinian economy. However, anything requiring His Thatcherite Holiness to come into contact with rude mechanicals such as trade union members is presumably too much for his sensitive nose. (UPDATE: and now we know what Blair has been doing instead of such basics.)

A final note: all through Saturday we kept hearing strains of Tristan and Isolde coming out of one of the small halls. On investigation this turned out to be the Northern Wagner Orchestra, a bunch of enthusiasts who put on a concert performance of a Wagner opera each year. Not only is that what Edinburgh Players Opera Group do (we're doing Siegfried this very weekend, in fact), but it seems the NWO was set up by someone who had been involved with EPOG and liked the idea. And they use many of the same singers (Tristan was Jonathan Finney who will be our Siegfried, for example). Finally, one of our players (Carolyn Dyson) had actually travelled down and was playing with NWO. She was very surprised when I turned up in one of their tea-breaks for a chat! I don't know how the performance went (I was on my way home by then) but the rehearsals sounded very competent.

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