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

Union News

Violence towards players ‘completely unacceptable’

The PFA has said that ‘violence towards players is completely unacceptable’ after Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was attacked by a supporter after the north London derby against Tottenham. Footage showed a Spurs fan trying to kick Ramsdale in the back after the Gunners’ 2-0 Premier League win on 15 January. A PFA statement said: “Violence towards players is completely unacceptable,” adding: “Players have a right to be safe in their place of work. When a player is attacked, we expect the laws and regulations that are in place to protect players to be properly enforced.” PFA said: “As the players’ union, we treat this as a priority issue. We will continue working with the authorities to demand that players and staff are better protected in their place of work.”
PFA news release. BBC News Online.

Women ‘deserve to feel safe’

GMB’s parliamentary staff branch has expressed concern over police vetting procedures after police officer David Carrick admitted rape and sexual assault charges involving 12 women over two decades. The serial rapist, who used his role as a Met Police Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command officer to put fear into his victims, was this week sacked by the force. Jenny Symmons, the GMB parliamentary staff branch rep, commented: “There will now be serious questions about the police's vetting processes that could allow someone so dangerous to serve as a police officer for so long. All members of staff - and in this case particularly women - deserve to feel safe in their place of work.”
GMB news release. BBC News Online.

Fire contaminants linked to mental health problems

Toxic contaminants in fires are directly linked to increased rates mental health issues among firefighters, research has found. Studies commissioned by the firefighters’ union FBU and carried out independently by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) found firefighters were 30 per cent more likely to report a mental health condition if they identified noticing the smell of fire smoke on the body even after washing, or eating with sooty hands. The study also confirmed firefighters who had served at least 15 years were 1.7 times as likely to develop cancer than those who have served less time.  The union said ministers and fire employers must act with “absolute urgency” to address the problem.
FBU news release.

Grenfell firefighters in cancer cluster shock

Up to a dozen firefighters who saved lives at the Grenfell Tower have been diagnosed with cancers. The Mirror said its investigation found firefighters, some aged only in their 40s, are suffering with rare cancers linked to the high levels of exposure to contaminants during the huge rescue effort in 2017. It said this could be the tip of the iceberg, with some cancers taking up to 25 years to appear. Riccardo la Torre, the FBU national official heading up its national DECON firefighter decontamination campaign, said: “We now know that firefighters are exposed to health and life-threatening contaminants as a result of their occupation, and certainly would have been at an incident the size and scale of the Grenfell Tower Fire. However, firefighters are left in the dark due to the lack of regular health surveillance and proper monitoring of exposures.”
The Mirror.

RMT raises Tube safe staffing concerns

Tube union RMT has hit out at unsafe staffing levels on London Underground following a series of reports suggesting waivers to safety regulations are being inappropriately used. In a letter to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch highlighted incidents where stations have had less than the required staff and, in some cases, no staff at all. RMT leader stated: “I’m writing to express my deep concern at reports I am receiving concerning station safety at London Underground,” adding “an increasing number of stations are being opened with a staffing level below that considered to be consistent with passenger safety.” He concluded: “It is now clear that London Underground cannot keep stations open on a reliable basis and in compliance with safety regulations now, let alone after 600 (over 10 per cent of all station staff) posts are removed.” He called for a moratorium on job losses and an investigation into the use of safety waivers.
RMT news release.

Other News

UN’s ILO concerned at Tory’s anti-strike plan

The head of the UN's agency for workers' rights has said the organisation does not support Britain’s plans for tough new strike laws. Gilbert Houngbo’s statement came after ministers repeatedly suggested the International Labour Organisation (ILO) supported government plans to enforce "minimum service levels" during public sector strikes. Houngbo, the ILO’s director general, said he was “very worried about workers having to accept situations” because of a threat of losing their jobs. Freedom of association, collective bargaining and occupational health and safety are all ILO ‘fundamental’ rights at work, placing binding duties on all 178 member nations.
BBC News Online.
TUC national ‘protect the right to strike’ day on 1 February. Sign the petition defending the right to strike.

Government called out on anti-strike law ‘mistruths’

The TUC has welcomed interventions from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Biden administration against the government’s new anti-strikes bill. The ILO denied government claims that it backed Britain’s tough new strike laws. And US labour secretary Marty Walsh said he disagrees with the idea of “minimum service agreements” in the public sector, warning they may be detrimental to workers. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said:  Ministers have rightly been called out for spinning mistruths. It's time the government came clean about the draconian nature of this bill. This new legislation is a fundamental attack on the right to strike - and is almost certainly in breach of international law.” The TUC is calling on MPs of all parties to reject the ‘spiteful’ legislation, warning the government is ‘shortcutting’ normal scrutiny procedures.
BBC News Online and related story.

Conservatives slammed over rights ‘wrecking ball’

The Conservatives are set to take a wrecking ball to hard-won workers’ rights, the TUC has warned, as the union body called on the government to drop the retained EU law bill before “lasting damage is done”. The call came on 18 January, as the bill returned to parliament for its report stage. The proposed law would see thousands of regulations removed – including core workplace safety rules - on 31 December 2023 unless given an explicit reprieve by ministers. In total, 58 work safety laws, including chemicals, safety management and manual handling regulations, are set to go. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “The Conservatives are about to take a wrecking ball to hard-won workers’ rights.” He added: “Working people face a double whammy as ministers launch an assault on their right to strike and on their key workplace protections. The Conservatives do not have mandate to slash and burn people’s rights at work – they must drop this bill before lasting damage is done.”
Usdaw news release. The Guardian. Regulatory Policy Committee opinion.

Coroner rules Covid deaths from ‘industrial disease’

Two nurses who died with Covid both died of an industrial disease, an inquest has concluded. Gareth Morgan Roberts, who worked at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, fell ill days after the first lockdown began in March 2020 and died on 11 April.  Dominga David died on 26 May 2020 after being sent home ill from Penarth's Llandough Hospital on 31 March. Coroner Graeme Hughes said: “On the balance of probabilities, exposure more likely happened at work and infection happened as a result of that exposure.” He concluded that Mr Roberts died from Covid-19 and that his type 2 diabetes had contributed to his death. The coroner ruled Mr Roberts and Ms David, who lived in hospital accommodation, both died as a result of industrial disease.
Doughty Street Chambers news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Welcome for Labour’s return to work plan

A Labour Party plan to get people with health conditions and disabilities back into work has been welcomed by the safety professionals’ body IOSH. Ruth Wilkinson, the IOSH head of policy, said in statement: “It comes at a time when long-standing health issues among workers are becoming significant for regulators and employers.” Jonathan Ashworth referred to a “monumental waste of human potential”, adding Labour “will modernise job centres, shift resources and guarantee local innovation in the design and delivery of employment support services, and transform the social security confronting the hindrances to work currently in the system.”
Labour Party news release. IOSH statement.

Teachers harmed by racism at work

Ethnic minority teachers are being harmed by the racism they encounter at work, new research has found. Commenting on its study, wellbeing charity Education Support said: “The results confirm many of the drivers of stress in the teaching profession, irrespective of race, including volume of workload, workplace culture and Ofsted pressures. The findings also clearly illustrate the differential experiences of Black and Brown and other ethnic minority teachers and leaders in schools across the country, including barriers to progression, tokenism and microaggressions.” Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said the report confirmed the union’s findings. “The government could take immediate action to tackle racialised pay gaps and discrimination in the workplace by strengthening regulation, but they have refused to do so,” he said.
Education Support news release

Fire safety reforms needed after hotel deaths

A safety campaign group has called for urgent action to address fire safety in hotels. Scottish Hazards was speaking out on publication of the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into a devastating 18 December 2017 fire at the Cameron House hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond. The fire claimed the lives of Simon Midgley and his partner Richard Dyson. Ian Tasker, chief executive of Scottish Hazards, said “we would urge the owners and operators of hotels and other similar sleeping accommodation to read the determination and then take action today to review their operations when it comes to open fires, fire evacuations and roll calls, and the regular undertaking of mock fire drills, particularly in relation to night-time staff.” He also called on the Scottish government to consider requiring fire suppression systems during conversions of historic buildings and to investigate risks in hotels.
Scottish Hazards news release. BBC News Online.

BA offshoot fined after coma fall

An aircraft maintenance subsidiary of airline giant BA has been fined £230,000 and ordered to pay £21,623 costs after a worker fell from height while inspecting the wings of a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet at its facility in Cardiff. Iain Mawson, a 52-year-old British Airways Maintenance Cardiff Ltd employee, was placed into an induced coma for three weeks such were the extent of his injuries, which included numerous skull fractures and a brain haemorrhage. Cardiff Magistrates Court heard how he fell through a gap in the guard rail of the docking platform where safety barriers had been removed. British Airways Maintenance Cardiff Ltd pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence.
HSE news release. BBC News Online.

Civils firm fined £4.4m over powerline strikes

Civil engineering giant Kier has been fined £4.415m and ordered to pay costs of £87,759.60 after its workers twice struck overhead powerlines while working on the M6 motorway, causing cables to land in the path of passing vehicles. Both incidents happened on overnight road works part of the smart motorway scheme between junctions 16 and 18 near Sandbach in Cheshire. HSE inspector Mike Lisle said: “This is a significant fine reflecting the seriousness of the failures here. The company’s failure to plan the work properly and provide an adequate risk assessment put its workers and those using the motorway in significant danger.”
HSE news release.

International News

Bangladesh: Shipbreaking continues to take workers’ lives

Workers’ lives continue to be in danger due to unsafe working conditions at Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards, the global union IndustriALL has said. Incidents on 12 January in two separate yards killed one worker and severely injuring another. IndustriALL affiliates in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Metal Workers Federation (BMF) and the Bangladesh Metal, Chemical, Garment and Tailor Workers Federation (BMCGTWF), are assisting workers’ families to pursue compensation. Referring to a global  convention on ship recycling safety, IndustriALL shipbreaking industry director Walton Pantland, said: “These preventable and tragic accidents show why it is essential that Bangladesh ratifies the Hong Kong Convention this year. When the Convention comes into force, we can build a safe and sustainable ship recycling industry in South Asia. Workers need to be represented by strong unions so that they have the power to refuse unsafe work and establish workplace safety committees.”
IndustriALL news release.

Global: Extreme heart linked to kidney disease in workers

Evidence of a deadly link between exposure to extreme heat and chronic kidney disease is emerging. Experts have observed the problem among workers toiling in rice fields in Sri Lanka and steamy factories in Malaysia, from Central America to the Persian Gulf. As the world grows hotter and climate change ushers in more frequent and extreme heat waves, public health experts fear kidney disease cases will soar among laborers who have no choice but to work outdoors. “These epidemics of chronic kidney disease that have surfaced … [are] just the beginning,” said Richard Johnson, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado who is studying pockets of kidney disease globally. “As it gets hotter, we expect to see these diseases emerge elsewhere.”
Washington Post.

Global: Report highlights crisis management challenge

Organisations should provide their crisis management teams with the correct level of training, investment and support so they can respond effectively to the major global risks facing the world in 2023, a health and security group has warned. According to International SOS’s Risk Outlook 2023, employers are experiencing high levels of crisis management fatigue having spent the past few years dealing with a series of major events that have significantly disrupted the global economy, most notably the Covid-19 pandemic. “Organisations are well-versed in how to respond to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” noted Dr Irene Lai, medical director at International SOS. “Forward planning to ensure organisational resilience is critical as climate change is contributing to multiple crises occurring simultaneously, and another pandemic is inevitable.’
International SOS Risk Outlook 2023 report. IOSH magazine.

USA: More women sickened by work viruses

Women accounted for 70.8 per cent of the 390,020 reported workplace illness cases in the US caused by viruses in private establishments, new US government figures show. This “other diseases due to viruses, not elsewhere classified” category includes Covid-19 cases. Nursing assistants had the highest number of virus cases (65,480) in 2020. Of these cases, 87.2 per cent were women. Among medical assistants, women accounted for 90.7 per cent of these virus cases. The figures are sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities programme.
Women accounted for 70.8 percent of workplace illnesses caused by viruses in 2020, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Economics Daily, US Department of Labor, 9 January 2023.
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