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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.







Still no way to bar MPs accused of misconduct

The sacking of Conservative trade minister Conor Burns after a complaint of serious misconduct at the Tory party conference has exposed again the need for greater safeguards to protect parliamentary staff, Prospect has said. Mike Clancy, the union’s general secretary, said the case “highlights once again that no formal mechanism exists to prevent MPs accused of this kind of serious misconduct from attending Westminster and interacting with staff, other MPs, visitors and school groups.” He added: “We hope that arrangements will be put in place to make sure this MP does not access parliament to protect others at Westminster, and that this is adhered to, while these allegations are investigated.”
Prospect news release.

Urgent action on winter Covid needed

A rise in Covid cases shows a winter plan for Covid is urgently needed, health service union UNISON has said. Commenting on official figures released on 7 October, which showed deaths in England were up almost 10 per cent in the week to 1 October and positive tests were up by over 21 per cent, UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “Winter is coming and the virus is staging a comeback. Yet the government doesn’t appear to have a plan. Unless urgent action is taken, cases will surge and schools, hospitals, care homes and other key public services will be without the staff they need to function.” He added: “Bringing back free testing is a must so people don’t unwittingly take the virus into work, school or the pub. A system of proper sick pay where everyone, no matter where they work, gets full pay when poorly is also long overdue.”
UK government coronavirus statistics. UNISON news release.

Scottish firework sales restrictions welcomed

Retail trade union Usdaw has given a qualified welcome to new legislation to improve public safety by banning the supply of fireworks to under-18s in Scotland. The union said the law, which came into force on 10 October, must be backed up with support for the shopworkers who have to enforce the law. The union said age-restricted sales account for nearly one-fifth of incidents of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers.  Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw regional officer for Scotland, said: “Many of our members feel they are damned if they ask for ID and damned if they don't.” She added: “We still need better co-ordination to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safer and give staff the support and confidence they need, particularly when they are on the frontline of enforcing the law.”
Usdaw news release.

RMT slams regulator’s cost-cutting priorities

The government’s rail safety and efficiency regulator is giving a higher priority to slashing costs and jobs than the safety and employment conditions of railway staff, the rail union RMT has said. The union was responding to a 6 October Office of Rail and Road (ORR) ‘annual efficiency’ report on Network Rail which found it had made £1.9 billion in efficiency savings in the last three years, largely as a result of ‘workforce reform initiatives’, with a target of billions more in cuts by 2024. Commenting on the report by the industry-funded regulator, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The political thrust of this report is to target the pay and conditions of maintenance workers and station staff - the very same railway workers facing mass job cuts.” He added: “Strong trade unions like the RMT are important in raising wages and creating good safe working environments. And if means RMT members wages are higher than the market rate, there is something wrong with the market.”
RMT news release. ORR news release.

Usdaw marks day of action on mental health

Retail trade union Usdaw held its first co-ordinated Day of Action on Mental Health on 10 October 2022, featuring thousands of Usdaw activists holding events in workplaces across the UK to promote mental health awareness. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary said: “Usdaw has long recognised that mental health is a workplace and trade union issue. For many years, Usdaw reps have been alert to the fact the workplace can impact on members' mental health and they play a vital role helping members get the right support.” He added: “Being in a union is good for your mental health. Usdaw reps are talking about mental health and support members at work every day of the year.”
Usdaw news release, day of action on mental health and ‘it's good to talk’ campaign.



Conservatives killing off compensation and prevention

The number of workplace injury and disease settlements have dropped by 50 per cent since the Conservatives came to power – despite a dramatic risk in work-related ill-health, new research has found. Following Freedom of Information Act requests in 2012 and 2022, the figures obtained by the workers’ safety journal Hazards show that there were 87,655 claims registered with the Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) in 2011/12, but this had fallen to 44,435 in 2021/22 – a 50 per cent drop. The figures, published in conjunction with Thompsons Solicitors, expose a collapse in access to justice stemming from a series of Conservative government reforms. Principal lawyer Dan Poet commented: “Reduced claim numbers may look like a healthy trend but we know this is not matched by a reduction in workplace accidents and illnesses. The only conclusion is that many victims of workplace injury and illness are going uncompensated as a direct result of changing government policies.”
Thompsons Solicitors news release. Worth less: Conservatives are burying compensation and prevention, Hazards, number 159, 2022. Personnel Today.

Ill-health driving record numbers out of the job market

The number of people not looking for work because they are suffering from a long-term illness has hit a record high, latest official figures show. The jobless rate fell to 3.5 per cent in the three months to August, its lowest for nearly 50 years, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. ONS head of labour market and household statistics David Freeman said the number of people neither working nor looking for work had continued to rise over the past few months. The economic inactivity rate increased to 21.7 per cent in the June to August period, the ONS said, with those inactive because they are long-term sick hitting a record high of nearly 2.5 million.
Labour market overview, UK: October 2022, ONS, 11 October 2022. BBC News Online.

New call for decent work

The Liz Truss government’s new policy priorities show decent work is something it does not value, the UK Hazards Campaign has said. Commenting on 7 October, the World Day for Decent Work, the campaign said: “The latest proposed bonfire of employment and health and safety regulations of everything that originated in the EU and the shackling of trade unions, will place workers enslaved in low paid, dangerous, unhealthy work at the behest of unscrupulous employers. At a time when modern slavery is increasing, the fifth richest nation’s government could be adding to it. None of us voted to die at work, but the policies of this government will mean an increasing number of us will.” The campaign concluded: “At the heart of decent jobs and decent lives, workers need a health and safety system with strong laws, strict enforcement and strong, organised and active trade unions.”
Hazards Campaign news release. World Day for Decent Work.

Mental health support must be the employer priority

Supporting staff wellbeing is not only the right thing for bosses to do but could also benefit Britain’s economy, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said. Commenting on the 10 October International Mental Health Day, HSE said a supportive working environment can improve productivity and performance, and workers are more likely to stay with an employer that prioritises good mental health. It cited a report that found UK bosses will receive an average return of £5 for every £1 spent on mental health. HSE said its Working Minds campaign aims to help businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and make tackling issues routine. The campaign was launched after research showed mental health issues are the number one reason given for sick days in Great Britain. The HSE initiative comes on the heels of major new preventive guidance from UN agencies on mental health at work.
HSE news release and Working Minds campaign. Mental health at work: Policy brief, ILO/WHO, 28 September 2022. Unravelling: Mental health at work is a trade union issue, Hazards, number 159, September 2022

Work stress tops 'Sunday scaries' causes

Nearly one in seven Britons experience anxiety about the week ahead, dubbed the ‘Sunday scaries’, with work stress the most common trigger, a UK government study has shown. The research by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities also found 53 per cent of people feel anxious about working in person, compared to 6 per cent of people who feel anxious about working at home. The scaries peak just after 5pm on Sunday as thoughts turn to the week ahead with Google searches around sadness spiking, as many people look for help. The new research, commissioned by OHID, found that overall 67 per cent of Britons frequently experience anxiety on a Sunday.
DHSC news release and Every Mind Matters campaign. The Observer. Sky News. Daily Mail.

New fund for work and mental health support

The UK government says a new £122 million fund will provide people receiving mental health support with employment advice to help them stay in work or return to the job market quicker, with the right support in place. The service, with will be available in England, brings therapists and employment advisers together to help people with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression find work tailored to them. DWP secretary of state Chloe Smith said: “Helping people access both clinical support for their mental health as well as employment advice gives them the tools they need to get into or return to work. This is vital to helping drive down inactivity and growing our economy so we can deliver more money and support for public services such as these.”
DWP news release.

Caped crusaders demand asbestos justice

Campaigners working with families hit by deadly asbestos diseases are demanding a donation of £10 million from the multinational Cape to fund research on a cure for the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (the Forum) call came in a demonstration outside the Warrington offices of Cape/ALTRAD. Dressed as ‘Caped Defenders of Justice’, the protesters demanded Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd pay up after the company lost a major Supreme Court case. The ruling required the disclosure of archived documents showing Cape had misled the government and other organisations on the risks posed by its asbestos-containing products. Joanne Gordon, chair of the Forum, said the company has so far failed to respond to its correspondence, adding: “Whilst the £10 million we demand does not compare to the vast profits Cape recorded as their employees were knowingly exposed to life-threatening asbestos fibres – it may well provide a lifeline to those who suffer from mesothelioma in the future.”
Asbestos Forum news release, campaign, video and Cape documents. Sign the petition urging Cape to pay up. Warrington Guardian.

Slavery order against unsafe car wash owner

The owner of a Kent hand car wash has had been handed a 10-year slavery order. Margate Magistrates’ Court approved the application for a full Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order (STRO) against Genc Gjocaj at a hearing on 6 October. Gjocaj had previously been handed an interim STRO by the same court in July this year. Officers from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and Kent Police visited The Palm Bay Car Wash owned by Gjocaj earlier this year. Concerns had been identified about the Margate car wash in relation to the absence of protective equipment, contracts and payslips for the workers. The order prevents the 50-year-old from recruiting anyone with no legal status in the UK and anyone who does not have a valid National Insurance number.
GLAA news release.

Firm fined after factory’s chlorine gas leak

A chemicals company has been fined after releasing a cloud of toxic chlorine gas that spread through its factory, yard and the surrounding area resulting in staff needing hospital treatment and significant damage to the factory. On 12 June 2019, Wiltshire company GEA Farm Technologies (UK) Ltd mistakenly put an Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) containing approximately 700 kg of concentrated sulphuric acid into a mixing vessel which already contained 1,600 litres of sodium hypochlorite solution. The chemicals reacted releasing a large cloud of toxic chlorine gas, which CCTV footage showed as it permeated the factory and surrounding area. There was no clear evacuation plan for workers caught on-site, with several taken to hospital with breathing difficulties. GEA Farm Technologies (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence and was fined £40,000 plus £22,000 costs at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court.
HSE news release.



Europe: ‘Patchy commitment’ to workplace safety

The June 2022 decision to recognise occupational health and safety as an International Labour Organisation ‘fundamental’ right was a major victory for trade unions, progressive governments, OSH professionals and victims’ groups. Now Claes-Mikael Stahl and Owen Tudor, respectively deputy general secretaries of the European and global union federations ETUC and ITUC, say unions are turning their attention to the harder task of putting the paper win into practice. They only 11 of the European Union’s 27 member states have ratified both core conventions – Convention 155 covers occupational health and safety, 187 its promotion. A further nine have ratified just one, and seven none at all. Writing in Social Europe, they note: “Our message is: stop compromising on workers’ fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment. Ratify the core conventions, implement them and build them into national law and practice and international trade, investment and aid agreements.”
Social Europe.

Global: UK firms driving human rights abuses abroad

UK companies operating overseas are afforded far greater legal protections than the citizens of the countries they operate in, a new report has fund. The Transform Trade charity said the majority of UK bilateral investment treaties (BITs) contain no mention of climate change, the environment or human rights, meaning companies are not held accountable for violations. Instead, it found the UK is playing a key role in the rise of cases where corporations sue states, in private courts, for lost profits under controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms specified in BITs. Corporations based in the UK have brought 66 cases under the ISDS mechanism in the past 10 years, the third highest of any country based on all known cases, and the number has increased in recent years, the report said. None of the UK’s 99 current BITs contain provisions in relation to human rights, Transform Trade found.
People Centred Trade - Why we need to transform trade now, Transform Trade, September 2022. The Guardian.

Global: Call to action on asbestos bans

Despite absolutely certainty of the cancer-causing properties of asbestos, many countries have yet to recognise the urgency of banning asbestos and do not support World Health Organisation’s (WHO) aim of reducing or ending the incidence of asbestos-related cancers, top cancer specialists have warned. Writing in the journal Lancet Oncology, they say representatives of ten countries - Russia, Kazakhstan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Venezuela, Pakistan, Cuba, India, and Iran - continue to block a 15-year-old bid to make chrysotile asbestos subject to UN Rotterdam Convention ‘prior informed consent’ rules. They say as the global asbestos cancer “epidemic shows no sign of abating, oncologists should reinforce the idea that the continued harm caused by asbestos cannot be reduced without ceasing all asbestos mining and trade, increasing public awareness, enforcing regulations, and improving diagnosis and treatment.”
Nico van Zandwijk. John E J Rasko. Anthony M George. Arthur L Frank. Glen Reid. The silent malignant mesothelioma epidemic: a call to action, Perspectives, Essay, Lancet Oncology, volume 23, issue 10, pages 1245-1248, 1 October 2022.
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