Workers angry at steel 'dangers'

The Canadian-owned CoSteel company based in Sheerness, Kent is under investigation for allegedly operating a potentially dangerous and unlawful health and safety regime.

Officials from the Health and Safety Executive are enquiring into union claims that management puts pressure on employees to return to work quickly after industrial accidents.

Documents passed to the HSE also show that management penalises employees for taking time off because of injuries by withdrawing bonuses. Under the system - the existence of which is admitted by management - if a worker takes a day off in a month because of an accident, other members of his team will lose half their extra payment. Two accidents and they lose all their bonus.

The papers also disclose that points are taken off in salary assessments if employees take time off through accidents.

CoSteel routinely requests staff to take days lost through sickness owing to injury as annual leave, the documents disclose. In 30 letters from staff and former employees, reported in People Management magazine, it is alleged that management puts pressure on those recovering from accidents to return to light duties at the plant.

Hugh Billot, CoSteel personnel director, yesterday welcomed the inquiry. He insisted the company's practices were entirely safe and lawful, and said the company was co-operating fully with HSE representatives. Mr Billot believes the company's system encourages good practice and insisted management would not allow people back to work if they were unfit.

The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, which among other unions at the plant has been derecognised by the company, claims the regime could lead to employees working when they are unfit and it could deter people from reporting accidents. If that were proven, then CoSteel would be breaking the law, the union argues.

Mr Billot said the concerns had not been raised by employees with the company and that management always adopted an "open door" policy for complaints. He said the system whereby employees suffering from injuries may be asked to take annual leave had been operating for at least a decade and was in place when unions were recognised.

The salary assessment system was part of an agreement signed by unions in 1988 and injury records, along with such factors as attitude and performance, were taken into account. Staff were "tremendously keen" on the bonus system, Mr Billot said. "They love it."

Mr Billot said the union had contacted employees and former staff to elicit the 30 letters which had been passed to the HSE.

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