Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ship-breaking Booming as Economy Worsens

Ship-breaking along the Indian coast has been increasing exponentially as the global economy has continued to decline.

"Idle ships are a huge financial burden, so ship owners don't have any option but to get rid of their ships, even if it means scrapping them years ahead of schedule," said Vishnu Kumar Gupta, joint secretary at the Alang Ship Breakers Association.

Alang has received more than 125 ships in the past three months, compared with 136 in all of 2007 and 2008, Mr. Gupta said. Ship-breakers expect the total this year to reach 250.

"In the past five to six years of the boom, very few ships were scrapped, and we were working on zero margins, as there was intense competition for the few ships that were coming in," Mr. Gupta said.

The practice of breaking down decommissioned ships can lead to a variety of occupational injuries and asbestos-related diseases. Several activist groups have been paying close to this recent increase and have been complaining that existing workplace safety regulations are becoming more relaxed as worldwide demand for scrap metal increases.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bhopal at 25 - New Fallout Study in the Works

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is funding a study to measure the fallout of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984. The official 25th Anniversary of the tragedy is this December. Many Indian Government officials feel that further investigation of the tragedy's fallout is needed

According to some estimates, 25,000 people have died of gas-related diseases. Several thousands were maimed for life.

Calling it "an unfinished story that requires an urgent relook", secretary of the newly formed Department of Health Research (DHR) and director general of ICMR Dr V M Katoch told TOI that proposals had been invited from the country's scientific fraternity to restudy what is considered one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

The ICMR is putting out a call for research proposals. The research is going to measure the presence of low birth weight in children born in December 1984 and if there was an increase in congenital malformations and genetic disorders in the community since the disaster.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New Finnish Study Finds that Long Work Hours can Cause Rapid Mental Decline

A new study from the the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has found that longer work hours is leading to widespread decline in cognitive functions among employees working overtime hours. The study, "Long working hours and cognitive function: the Whitehall II study" was published in the February issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study was performed on over 2,000 British civil servants and found disturbing losses of mental abilities among those working upwards of 40 hours per week.

2214 middle-aged British civil servants participated in the present study which was a part of the Whitehall II study. They took five different cognitive tests in 1997—99 and again in 2002—04. When compared with employees with normal working hours (35-40 per week), employees working very long hours (> 55 hours per week) and those with an average length of working week (41—55 hours) performed worse in a vocabulary test already at the baseline study. At follow-up, both over-time groups performed again worse in a vocabulary test and also had a declined test score in a cognitive reasoning test.

This, of course, was in the UK. Can you imagine the loss of cognitive skills among workers in countries without adequate overtime legislation and enforcement?