Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.
Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of RISKS, the TUC’s weekly update on union health and safety news.
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Ministers must class Covid as an occupational disease to strengthen protections for workers, the TUC has said. A new report from the union body notes many other countries already officially recognise Covid as an occupational illness, with important consequences for workplace safety and the support working people workers can access if they suffer long-term damage to their health. It says the existing evidence shows that Covid meets the qualifying rules for an ‘occupational illness’ and to qualify for industrial disease benefits. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “If you become sick due to your work, with life changing consequences, you should get proper support. But ministers have still not added Covid to the list of occupational diseases. Two years into this pandemic, that is shocking negligence. And it leaves workers unfairly exposed. Covid must be added as soon as possible.”
Covid-19: an occupational disease, TUC, August 2022. The Guardian. Morning Star.
Firefighters’ union FBU has reacted angrily to a series of statements made by several chief fire officers which it says are ‘clearly’ an attempt to downplay the impact of under-resourcing on their response to wildfire incidents. FBU assistant general secretary Andy Dark said: “We’ve got fire engines sat in stations because there aren’t enough people to staff them. On one day, whilst wildfires raged, there were 40 such fire engines gathering dust at fire stations across London. They are responsible for the reduction of 11,500 firefighters across the UK, over 20 per cent, since 2010.” He added: “Wildfires have been on the government’s National Risk Register since 2013. Fire bosses knew that this was a high risk facing the UK and chose to look the other way.”
FBU news release.
Medics union Doctors in Unite has joined forces with the UK Hazards Campaign to produce detailed guidance for unions on how to control infection risks at all in-person events in inside spaces. “It is important to recognise that Covid-19 has not gone away and can still be a major health risk to many people. This advice will also support those in society who are at most risk of infection and who are being denied access to events because infection risks are not controlled. We know from research that the more times you are infected the more risk there is of developing Long Covid-19,” a statement from the groups noted. “We know from all the evidence that indoor events without good ventilation, and which have overcrowding without any risk controls, can be vectors of transmission.”
Reducing risk of Covid-19 and infectious diseases at Trade Union Meetings and Conferences, Doctors in Unite/Hazards Campaign report and news release, August 2022.
Members of the civil service union PCS at Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) walked out on 15 August, calling for a living wage, paid breaks and pay when sick. The workers are employed by the Liverpool-based firm to run the contact centre and back-office functions of the government’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), the highest rated public service organisation. Local Labour MP Kim Johnson, backing the action, noting: “HGS has reported a 117.8 per cent increase in profits recently – that's £1.6bn. The 87.5 per cent turnout in the PCS ballot shows how angry the workforce is, and rightly so.” PCS is demanded improvements to working conditions, including a commitment to paying at least the living wage of £9.90 an hour, pay when sick, an annual leave entitlement of 27 days, paid breaks and job security.
PCS news release. Sign the PCS petition.
The bus company Stagecoach must learn the lessons of a serious workplace injury and ‘engage constructively’ with the union to make its workplaces safe for all, the union RMT has said. The union call came after Stagecoach Devon was fined £380,000 plus £18,000 costs after pleading guilty to the criminal safety failings that saw driver David Heathfield crushed between a reversing bus and a stationary vehicle at the company’s Torquay depot on 3 October 2019. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Stagecoach Devon Limited failed to put a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in place. Barry West, regional organiser of the RMT, said: Stagecoach Bus must “take notice of the outcome but most of all start to listen, engage effectively and constructively to us and work with the RMT union to make the environment that our members work in a much safer place for all.”
HSE news release. Morning Star. Devon Live.
Network Rail is “dragging its feet dangerously” on key safety recommendations of the investigation into a rail crash which saw two workers and a passenger die, the RMT has said. Commenting on the 12 August second anniversary of the Carmont rail tragedy, the rail union said none of the 20 recommendations to improve safety made by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) in March have been implemented. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We are extremely concerned that Network Rail is dragging its feet dangerously on key safety recommendations following the Carmont Rail Tragedy.” He added: “Network Rail needs to act on safety recommendations and swiftly reverse its safety critical jobs cull.”
RMT news release.
Rail union TSSA has called for outdated and potentially unsafe High Speed Trains (HST) to be taken out of service and an end to job cuts in Network Rail. The union was speaking out on 12 August, the second anniversary of the Carmont tragedy, in which two rail workers and a passenger died. The union called for the ‘museum piece’ HST fleet to be taken out of service “immediately and forever,” noting the Rail Accident Investigation Branch made it clear that HST failings contributed to the tragedy. It added there had to be “a stop to all talk of cutting Network Rail staffing,” pointing out “the railway has insufficient resource to entirely overcome the potential for infrastructure failure.”
TSSA news release.
Train drivers’ union ASLEF has said Britain must no longer neglect the infrastructure of the railway system, or we could see a repeat of the Carmont tragedy in which three people lost their lives after a landslip onto the railway line caused a train to derail. Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF’s organiser in Scotland, said: “It is with enormous sadness that we remember the event at Carmont on Wednesday 12 August 2020, which claimed the lives of three people – the driver, Brett McCullough, 45; the conductor, Donald Dinnie, 58; and a passenger, Christopher Stuchbury, 62 – and in which six other people were injured. It was an accident which cast a long shadow across the railway industry, not just here in Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom.” ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan added the tragedy highlighted the need to “ensure that the infrastructure of Britain’s railways is not neglected, so that accidents of this sort do not happen again.”
ASLEF news release.
Employers need to act now to make sure their workplaces are ready for warmer weather in the future, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. The safety regulator said it is asking employers to ensure extreme heat becomes part of their long-term planning. It said heat is classed as a hazard and comes with legal obligations like any other hazard, adding the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, which require employers to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace. John Rowe, HSE’s acting head of operational strategy, said: “All workplaces need to acknowledge that the working environment is changing. There are low-cost adaptations to the structure of work, but things like improved ventilation and air conditioning should also be considered which will involve investment in the workplace. Extreme heat that we have witnessed of late isn’t going to stop and we want employers to plan and respond to this now.”
HSE news release and temperature at work webpages.
TUC too hot, too cold digital guidebook.
Floors Today, a flooring retail company, has been fined £300,000 plus £6,713.33 costs after a self-employed contractor died after falling 4m through an asbestos cement roof panel. In March 2019 Lukman Hakim had been appointed by Taylor Grange (Retail) Limited, trading as Floors Today, to carry out repair works to the fragile roof at the company’s showroom in Leicester. Mr Hakim accessed the roof to check the progress of two workers when it gave way causing him to fall approximately 4m to the concrete floor of the showroom below. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the client company failed to follow its own contractor selection procedures. Taylor Grange (Retail) Limited, now in liquidation, was found guilty of three criminal safety offences.
HSE news release.
An Essex biker whose leg was crushed by three-tonne machinery at work now has a "new lease of life" after securing millions of pounds in compensation. Damien Bundock, 29, was crushed by the machinery when he was working on a demolition project in June 2017 for construction firm S Walsh & Sons at a site in Essex. He was airlifted to hospital where his lower right leg was amputated. As a result of the life-changing injury, the then 24-year-old was unable to return to work for some time. He began rehabilitation with Pace Rehabilitation who also directed him to the law firm, Thompsons Solicitors. Its personal injury specialists argued successfully that as Mr Bundock had been a keen runner, swimmer, and motocross rider prior to the injury, he would need multiple adapted limbs to allow him to get back to doing what he loved most. The payout will cover the cost of these prosthetics and his rehabilitation and lost income.
Artificial intelligence-based worker management (AIWM) systems can help design healthy and safe jobs and workplaces, the EU research agency EU-OSHA has said, but may also bring about risks to workers such as intensification of work, loss of job control and dehumanisation. The agency’s new report also explores possible prevention measures, emphasising the need for human-centred and ‘prevention through design’ approaches to ensure workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. Two related policy briefs give recommendations to help address the risks and suggest prevention measures.
EU-OSHA news release and report and summary, Artificial intelligence for worker management: implications for occupational safety and health. Policy briefs: Artificial intelligence for worker management: risks and opportunities and Artificial intelligence for worker management: prevention measures and Digitalisation of work project. More on health and safety and AI.
Monkeypox is a potential risk to workers in a range of job, latest information suggests. In addition to direct contact with an infected person, UK government guidance says infection may occur as a result of contact with contaminated bedding, clothes, towels or other materials, which would mean worker in health and care, hospitality, laundry, gym and other work groups could be at risk. The UK guidance also warns of a risk if an infected person coughs or sneezes close to you. The US government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports the possibility of other forms of transmission, for example via ‘airborne secretions’, are still being investigated. The US union AFT and the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) have both produced useful general guides to monkeypox, although neither deal explicitly with potential occupational risks.
Monkeypox: What you need to know, ATF. WHO Monkeypox briefing. UK government guidance. US CDC briefing.
Doing voice-over work for video games is leading to voice problems for the actors employed to do the work, a Canadian union has warned. Nearly three in four (74.32 per cent) actors reported their sessions very often or almost always included loud/projected, aggressive or vocally extreme work, according to ACTRA, a union representing professional performers. It found 38.13 per cent said that very often or almost always experienced vocal fatigue or stress during the voiceover session. “Performers are precarious workers, who have limited ways of protecting themselves on the job independently. Many in the ACTRA membership fear reprisal for letting an employer know if a voice session is becoming vocally stressful,” according to ACTRA. “With information gained from this study, ACTRA can ensure better protections and proactive safeguards are in place before any vocal health and safety is compromised.”
Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Magazine. More on occupational voice loss.
Brazilian and Turkish trade unions are working together to address the asbestos and other hazards linked to plans to break up a warship. The Nea São Paulo has left Brazil for Turkey, where there are plans to recycle the toxics laden vessel. “Together, CUT and DISK declare that we will fight to prevent the damage caused by asbestos and the dismantling processes to workers, public health, and the environment,” a joint statement said. “A ship containing toxic waste… will put the lives of workers and others in their community at risk. Workers’ unions CUT (Brazil) and DISK (Turkey) oppose this move and commit to intensify the fight.” The unions warn the İzmir Aliağa shipyard in Turkey, to which the vessel is underway, does not have the facilities needed for job and has poor working conditions, low wages, and inadequate safety measures at work. They want the former French navy vessel to be recycled in France.
Extreme heat is making work more dangerous but beyond the West Coast, legal measures to protect workers are being opposed by industry groups. While places like California and Washington have adopted workplace rules to address heat exposure, many other states’ attempts to mandate these protections have been blocked or weakened following opposition from industry groups representing agriculture, construction and other business interests, according to public records and those involved in efforts to craft new rules. The Washington Post reports the Biden administration, which is preparing federal heat rules for workers, is likely to face similar resistance and legal challenges from the biggest companies. A study of California workers’ compensation injury reports found that the number of heat-related injuries declined after 2005, when the state enacted a heat safety rule for outdoor workers on days when temperatures top 95 degrees.
Drivers with the US Postal Service (UPS) are wilting under the pressure of making hundreds of stops a day in sweltering conditions, as the company makes record profits. Now the workers, represented by the Teamsters union, are pushing for air conditioning in vehicles and better protections on the job. The union is demanded urgent details from UPS on the company’s plans, training materials, and assessments on protecting workers from excessive heat. As the climate crisis worsens, workers are increasingly at risk of illness or death due to heat exposure on the job, with high heat index days of above 100F expected to double by mid-century.
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