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Issue date

Number 1068 * 18 November 2022

Risks is the TUC’s weekly Union Health & Safety newsletter for union members, reps and activists. 

Union News

Amazon slammed over worker monitoring

Online retail giant Amazon has been criticised for 'misleading' MPs over worker monitoring. Giving evidence to a Business Select Committee on 15 November, Brian Palmer, an Amazon policy chief, repeatedly said surveillance of workers was not the ‘primary focus’ of their monitoring systems. But committee chair Darren Jones asked Palmer, the Amazon head of public policy for Europe, why an older constituent was let go by the company after “the system said he wasn’t being productive enough.” The MP asked: “Do you track then productivity of your workers in the warehouses? Yes or no?” Mr Palmer responded: “Yes”. GMB head of research Laurence Turner commented: “GMB members in Amazon have said for years that constant monitoring and punishing targets are leading to injuries and making many lives a misery. Now the company has finally admitted the problem, it’s time to address it.”
Business Select Committee news release, Inquiry: Post-pandemic economic growth: UK labour markets and 15 November 2022 hearings. GMB news release.

Government policies behind Grenfell disaster - FBU

The lawyer for firefighters’ union FBU’s has told the Grenfell Inquiry that “the disaster was a direct consequence of a generation of government policies which combined to create a death trap for the residents of Grenfell Tower.” The comments came in the closing submissions for Phase 2 of the inquiry, which covers the run-up to the night of the fire. Martin Seaward, speaking on behalf of the union, said that whilst “the private sector companies involved in the refurbishment [of Grenfell] bear a heavy responsibility… it would be wholly wrong and provide no justice to victims to leave the blame there.” He said that “the real culprits of the disaster are those in power at the top, ie. ministers following their deregulatory agenda to the detriment of fire safety, and the directors of industry on which they depended for sponsorship and party funding.” The Inquiry will now prepare its final report, which is likely to be published next year. 
FBU news release. The Guardian. Construction Enquirer.

Summit calls for respect for shopworkers

A summit of retail employers and their representative bodies, looking at the continuing problem of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers and hosted by Usdaw this week marked the start of Usdaw’s annual Respect for Shopworkers Week. Interim results from over 4,600 retail staff responses to the union’s latest survey show that in the last twelve months 71 per cent have experienced verbal abuse, 48 per cent have been threatened by a customer, and 5 per cent have been assaulted. Usdaw launched its ‘Protecting Retail Workers: Sharing Best Practices’ at the summit, highlighting some of the best practices across the industry.
Usdaw news release, Protecting retail workers: Sharing best practice report and Freedom from Fear campaign. Respect for Shopworkers Week, 14-20 November 2022. Morning Star

School strike over failure to protect teachers

Teachers at Bannerman High School in Glasgow are taking industrial action in response to failures by the employer to address concerns over violent and abusive pupil behaviour. The union has issued instructions to members to refuse to teach pupils who are known by the school to be threatening and abusive. However, Glasgow City Council has written to the union’s members to tell them they will be sent home without pay if they refuse to stay in a classroom with a pupil who is threatening their safety. In response, the NASUWT has issued notice to the council of a programme of strike action at the school to protect its members. Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Glasgow City Council’s attempts to bully our members are indicative of a climate of fear that the council has allowed to develop at Bannerman School.”
NASUWT news release.

Protecting ill workers is an urgent priority

A coalition of unions, health and disability charities and civil society organisations is calling on the government to reform the UK sick pay system. The group – which includes the TUC, individual unions, the Child Poverty Action Group, and mental health charity Mind – has asked to meet the Mel Stride, the secretary of state at the Department of Work and Pensions, to find an equitable solution. They warn a mean sick pay system incentivises workers to go into work sick, leading to public health risks and financial hardship. The groups want to see the earnings threshold for statutory sick pay (SSP) abolished, SSP to pay be payable from the first say of sickness, sick pay to be higher and a flexible model that allows for a phased return to work and income protection for workers.
PCS news release.

Worker crushed to death at Hinkley Point C

Construction work was suspended this week at the Hinkley Point C site after a site supervisor died following an accident on the giant nuclear job on the morning of Sunday 13 November. The victim was working for main contractor Bylor – a joint venture of Bouygues and Laing O’Rourke. An internal project memo said he suffered a “fatal crush injury whilst working on a platform near to the Nuclear island.” The representatives of the unions GMB and Unite on the site have responded to the death of a worker at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site in Somerset, noting “members at Hinkley Point C are devastated by the tragic loss of one of our own. All of our thoughts and condolences are with his loved ones and friends at this tragic time.”
Construction Enquirer. BBC News Online.

Allegations shows Sunak must appoint ethics adviser

Top civil servants’ union the FDA has said a gulf remains between Rishi Sunak’s intention to govern with integrity and the reality for government officials. Following the bullying revelations that led to the resignation of Gavin Williamson and allegations about the behaviour of deputy prime minister Dominic Raab, FDA general secretary Dave Penman told BBC News that the entire process for civil servants to make a complaint against a minister “is a sham”. He told Sky News the prime minister has “to recognise he urgently needs to have an ethics adviser. If those complaints were brought today against a minister, any minister, by a civil servant, there is no way for them even to be investigated.” Penman said Williamson’s resignation cannot be the end of the matter, telling Radio 4’s The World Tonight: “His resignation cannot be a ‘get out of jail free card’.”
FDA news release. BBC News Online and update on Dominic Raab complaints. Morning Star.

FBU Scotland makes strides on DECON

There has been significant progress in Scotland on the FBU’s groundbreaking DECON campaign, the firefighters’ union has said. The campaign aims to protect firefighters from toxic contaminants and related deadly illnesses. What initially began with an intention to engage Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) managers and Scottish FbU members on DECON quickly grew into a much larger piece of work, including a meeting of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Contaminants Group, a livestream for members, meetings with Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), and a meeting of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Senior Leadership team. These resulted in various commitments including MSPs promising to progress work through the parliament and the service committing to allow future research as part of an FBU-backed programme.
FBU news release.

Merseyside fire service faces industrial action

Merseyside firefighters, control staff and green book (non-uniform) staff have voted “overwhelmingly” to take action short of strike at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. The dispute centres on issues including the imposition of reduced night time staffing in the control room, new duty shift systems introduced without consultation, the non-agreed expansion of the firefighter role in contracts for all new entrants, and training and assessments outside of paid work time. The percentage of those voting who voted “Yes” to action short of strike was 88.06 per cent. It will involve a refusal to undertake pre-arranged overtime, beginning no earlier than 1 December 2022 and potentially lasting for six months. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said:” Merseyside managers and the fire authority are displaying an astounding level of arrogance. They are ignoring nationally agreed procedures which are designed to resolve local issues.”
FBU news release.Other News

Sunak must reverse reporting exemptions - IOSH

Safety professionals’ body IOSH has called on the prime minister to reverse a decision made by his predecessor Liz Truss to exempt about 40,000 businesses from reporting requirements and regulations. In a letter to Rishi Sunak, IOSH chief executive Vanessa Harwood-Whitcher said there is “an opportunity to make an early, bold step in the right direction” by scrapping the move. The IOSH leader was commenting on Liz Truss’ plans to widen exemptions which apply to the smallest of businesses to those with fewer than 500 employees, to “free” 40,000 businesses from “future bureaucracy”. IOSH makes it clear in the letter that this would be a “backward step”, adding “it risks increasing costs (direct and indirect) from occupational injuries, ill-health and damages that will inhibit growth in the long term.”
IOSH news release.

Work health and work safety minister jobs split 

The role of the minister of state response for work and health and for health and safety enforcement has been split in Rishi Sunak’s government. Conservative MP Tom Pursglove has been named as the minister for disabled people, health and work. Purglove’s responsibilities include work and health strategy, including sponsorship of the joint Department for Work and Pensions/Department for Health and Social Care Work and Health Unit, and disability benefit reform, disability employment, and disability employment programmes. Responsibility for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been hived off to Tory MP Mims Davies, the new Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression, whose responsibility also include disadvantaged groups, youth, equalities and other issues.  Both ministers of state serve under new secretary of state for work and pensions, Mel Stride.
DWP appointment notices on Tom Pursglove and Mims Davies.

‘Best practice’ HSE guide on health issues and work

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Great Britain’s workplace regulator, has issued new ‘best practice’ guidelines on what employers can do to allow staff with disabilities or long-term health issues to ‘thrive’ at work. The guidance stresses the importance of making sure workplaces are accessible, that staff communication is clear and inclusive, and appropriate occupational health support is available. Mims Davies MP, the social mobility minister who also has responsibility for HSE, said: “This key guidance from HSE and other work across government is part of our plan to support employment, cut ill-health related job loss and make sure employers have the teams they need to grow, and their employees are able to progress in work and truly thrive.” HSE said it worked with disability charities, unions, and business representatives to develop the new guidance.
HSE news release and new guidance, Support disabled workers and workers with long-term health conditions in work, HSE, November 2022.

Rise in back pain and long-term sickness linked to home working – ONS

Back and neck injuries caused by working from home during the Covid pandemic has been identified as a possible factor contributing to a sharp rise in people leaving the labour market over the past three years. The Office for National Statistics said there had been a marked increase in disabilities often associated by medical experts with excessive screen use, after the increase in the number of people home working while offices were shut during the pandemic. Overall, the ONS said the number of people identified as economically inactive had increased from 2m to 2.5m in the three years from 2019, with more than 70 per cent of the rise – 363,000 – following the arrival of Covid in early 2020. The number leaving the labour force due to neck and back problems rose by 62,000 – the second-largest reason cited.
ONS report, 10 November 2022. The Guardian.

UK vulnerable to major animal disease outbreaks

The UK’s main animal disease facility has been left to deteriorate to an “alarming extent” leaving the country vulnerable to major outbreaks on the scale of the devastating 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis, MPs have warned. An inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee found that the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in Weybridge was “continually vulnerable to a major breakdown” because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had “comprehensively failed” in its management of the site. “After the 2001 disaster of foot-and-mouth disease, the past decades have brought one animal-sourced disease after another,” said Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC. “These diseases are devastating for our food production systems, the economy and, when they jump the species barrier to humans as Covid-19 did, to our whole society,” said added.
PAC news release and report, Redevelopment of Defra’s animal health infrastructure, Twenty-Fourth Report of Session 2022–23, PAC, 16 November 2022. The Guardian 

Pagabo to introduce mental health contract clauses

Contractors bidding for work with Pagabo will now be quizzed on their mental health policies. Gerard Toplass, group CEO of Pagabo, with provides services to companies throughout the tendering process, said: “I think it’s a good idea to introduce a mental health narrative into all contracts so that all businesses within the supply chain are asked to demonstrate how they are looking after their people during projects.” He added: “At Pagabo we have the opportunity to champion change and set the standard by crafting high-quality questions to ensure the tender process is more competitive and mindful of staff wellbeing. We must be asking ‘how do you?’ and not just ‘do you?’. We can weight questions to help demonstrate to suppliers how important their answers are – the same way we already do with social value for example.”
Pagabo news release. Construction Enquirer

Football governing bodies sued over dementia

A group of 30 former footballers and their families are suing football's governing bodies, claiming they failed to protect them from brain injuries. The Football Associations of England and Wales and the International Football Association Board (Ifab) are accused of “failing to take reasonable action” to reduce blows to the head. The claim alleges the football authorities have been negligent in a number of areas, including failing to reduce heading in training and during matches, failure to allow an independent doctor to assess players who suffer suspected concussion and allowing players to return to training or matches when it is unsafe to do so. A similar action was launched by former rugby league players in October and former rugby union players in July. The footballlers’ union, the Professional Footballers' Association, renewed its calls for the introduction of temporary concussion substitutes earlier this month, saying the current protocols were “jeopardising player safety.”
BBC News Online.

Dyson faces legal case over abusive working conditions

A group of 24 people have issued legal claims in the High Court in London against several Dyson companies alleging that they experienced forced labour and abusive working conditions when working in two factories producing Dyson products in Malaysia. They also allege that workers suffered dangerous conditions with minimal protection against industrial accidents, unsanitary and cramped living accommodation, onerous production targets and were denied toilet breaks, meaning they were forced to work upwards of 12 hours at a time without relieving themselves. The legal claims all arise from allegations of unlawful, exploitative, and dangerous conditions which the migrant workers say they were subjected to whilst producing Dyson products and components for Dyson products at the factory facilities in Johor, Malaysia, and whilst they were living in the accommodation provided by the factory management. 
Leigh Day news release.

Firm fined £2m after worker died from burns

A chipboard company has been convicted and fined more than £2m over health and safety failings which led to a worker dying from serious burns in Stirlingshire. George Laird sustained fatal injuries at Norboard Europe Ltd's factory in Cowie in 2016 and died later in hospital. The court heard that on 13 July 2016 the 64-year-old, along with three colleagues, was involved in maintenance work on a wood drier. During this work, a high-pressure hose was used to remove hot ash from within a hot gas duct above a combustion chamber. Mr Laird, who was in the area below the combustion chamber, was enveloped by hot water, steam and ash and sustained burns over 90 per cent of his body. He died the next day. The Health and Safety Executive investigation found multiple criminal failings by the company. Imposing the £2,150,000 fine after a jury found the company guilty of both criminal charges it faced, Sheriff William Wood said it bore a “high level of culpability” for its failings.
COPFS news release. BBC News Online.  

Driver killed in trailer fall

A transport company has been fined £400,000 after one of its drivers suffered fatal injuries after being knocked off his trailer. On 16 November 2020, Robert Gifkins, who worked for Arnold Laver & Company Ltd, was delivering timber to a company in Whaddon near Salisbury. He had climbed onto the bed of his trailer to sling the load and attach it to the vehicle-mounted crane. While moving the load using the crane’s remote control he was struck by the crane and fell from the vehicle to the ground. He was taken to hospital and subsequently died on 17 December 2020. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the risk of falls had not been adequately assessed, prevented or controlled. Mr Gifkins had not been provided with sufficient training and instruction on the safe operation of the remote crane controls. The firm pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and was fined £400,000 plus costs of £19,841.99.
HSE news releaseEvents

TUC LESE briefing for safety reps, 25 November


Join reps from across the TUC London, Eastern and South East (LESE) Region at its briefing for health and safety reps. The meeting will discuss a range of issues affecting members, from Long Covid and asbestos, to mental health and the need to recruit a more diverse pool of safety reps.
TUC London, Eastern and South East briefing for Health and Safety Reps, 10.30am to 3.30pm Friday 25 November 2022. Register in advance.International News

Canada: Trans workers face more violence at work

Canada’s unions are calling attention to the alarming results from the recent national survey on harassment and violence in Canadian workplaces, which revealed that non-binary and trans workers were disproportionately affected. “The evidence is painstakingly clear. Two spirit, trans, non-binary and gender non confirming people are bearing the brunt of violence and harassment both within and outside of the workplace,” said Larry Rousseau, executive vice president at the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the national union centre that conducted the research. “Almost threequarters of gender diverse respondents have faced sexual harassment and violence at work.” The CLC has developed a Workers in Transition guide for trade union leaders and union representatives at all levels, from head office to the workplace.
CLC news release and Workers in Transition guide.

USA: Workers at Tesla gigafactory site to sue

Construction workers who toiled on one of Tesla’s sprawling so-called Gigafactories have filed a complaint and a case referral with the federal Department of Labor detailing exploitative work conditions they say they experienced while building the plant. Whistleblowers came forward to allege serious labour and employment violations during construction of the electric car manufacturer’s massive new facility in Austin, Texas, that left them vulnerable to injuries and wage theft. Amid accusations of constant hazards and onsite accidents, one worker said his bosses at an unnamed subcontractor falsified credentials instead of actually providing him and others with required job training on health, safety, and workers’ rights – including the right to refuse dangerous work. Musk’s car company has previously been linked to safety violations that have seen it fined by the federal safety regulator OSHA.
The Guardian.

USA: ‘Oppressive child labour’ violations at processing plants

The US Department of Labor has asked a federal court to issue a nationwide temporary restraining order and injunction against Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd (PSSI) – one of the nation’s leading providers of food safety sanitation – to stop the company from illegally employing dozens of minor-aged workers while the department continues its investigation of the company’s labour practices. The complaint was prompted by an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division that discovered that PSSI had employed at least 31 children – from 13 to 17 years of age – in hazardous occupations. Investigators learned that several minors employed by PSSI – including one 13-year-old – suffered caustic chemical burns and other injuries. In its filing, the department alleges the food sanitation contractor interfered with an investigation by intimidating minor workers to stop them from cooperating with investigators.
US Department of Labor news release.

USA: Work-related asthma linked to cannabis production

Exposure to cannabis dust, fume or smoke can lead to the development of work-related asthma, warns a new hazard alert from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries. Workers at risk include cannabis growers, production staff, extract manufacturers, retail stockers, laboratory and research personnel, and police and drug enforcement officers. According to the alert, exposure to dust from a marijuana plant’s leaves, buds and stem – along with pollen and smoke – are linked to allergic reactions. Additionally, exposure can lead to a rash or potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. Other asthma-causing substances in the cannabis industry include mould, pesticides, soil components, ozone and cleaning chemicals.
Washington State Department of L&I factsheet. Safety + Health magazine
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