Steel firm accused over safety

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The Independent Online
A steel company has been accused of pressurising more than 30 workers involved in factory accidents to return to work early, or take a holiday - thus preventing its safety record from being tarnished.

Co-Steel, of Sheerness, Kent, which employs around 700 workers, manufactures bars and rods mainly for the construction industry and is the largest mill of its type in Europe.

Under existing regulations a firm must notify the authorities if workers are forced to take three days or more off work following an accident. In a House of Commons motion, Graham Allen, Labour's health and safety spokesman, said he had seen more than 30 letters from employees of the Canadian-owned company, alleging undue pressure on them to return to light duties, or to take a holiday, after accidents.

He claims that some employees had been told that colleagues would lose incentive "gainshare" payments - calculated partly on the number of days' sick leave taken - if they stayed away. Others had been telephoned and asked to return to lighter duties rather than their normal tasks.

His intervention follows a decision by the British Safety Council to withdraw its national safety award from the firm last year. The International Labour Organisation has also produced a report critical of the company.

As well as tabling an early day motion, Mr Allen has written to John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, demanding an investigation. He said last night: "I would be appalled if it were proven that these sorts of immoral practices continue in a 'civilised' society."

Mr Allen's Commons motion calls on the Government to initiate an "urgent inquiry" into the validity of the company's safety statistics.

The Labour Party and a trade union have also demanded a government inquiry into the safety record of Co-Steel, which is the subject of Health and Safety Executive investigations into several incidents last year.

Co-Steel last week declined to respond to questions regarding accidents in its plant.

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