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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

Amazon treats robots better than workers

Amazon workers have accused the firm of imposing “severe” conditions and low pay. Staging their the first-ever strike against the online giant on 25 January, the GMB members said they are constantly monitored and upbraided for “idle time” lasting just a few minutes, with staff treated worse than the company’s robots. Two workers at the Coventry warehouse, Darren Westwood and Garfield Hilton, described how even a trip to the toilet can lead to questions by managers. They said working conditions are taking a toll on their colleagues, some of whom are working 60-hour weeks to keep up with cost of living increases. Westwood sent a message to Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder, executive chair and space adventurer, who Forbes magazine says has a $120bn fortune “We don't want his boat or his rockets. We just want to be able to live.”
GMB news release. BBC News Online. Morning Star.

Government ‘setting fire’ to workers’ rights

The government is `setting fire’ to workers’ rights in its ‘forever war’ against workers, Unite has warned. The union was hitting out at the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which this week cleared the Commons. It says the bill will destroy long-standing protections for workers on holiday pay, pregnancy and equality rights, “as well as in health and safety where it plans to remove laws that prevent exposure to hazardous materials in the workplace.” Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary said: “Unite will be the frontline, keeping workers safe at work, defending their jobs pay and conditions.”
Unite news release.

‘Rampant’ exploitation of migrant workers condemned

Trade unions have condemned government attempts to ‘pit’ workers against each other, and are calling for urgent action to advance the rights of migrant workers, including undocumented people, and end migrant worker exploitation. The call from the TUC and 20 national unions came as the government ramps up the hostile environment, including an announcement by the prime minister he will increase immigration raids on workplaces by 50 per cent this year. Signatories of the statement, which was coordinated by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, say these policies are putting migrant workers at increased risk of abuse and exploitation.
JCWI news release. BFAWU news release. Usdaw news release.

Dismay as government rejects menopause leave

Retail trade union Usdaw has said it is deeply disappointed the government has rejected calls for a large scale pilot of menopause leave and a recommendation from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee to make menopause a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equalities Act. In response, the union vowed to continue its “campaign to raise awareness of the menopause, for better workplace rights, along with supporting improved health and well-being for women in mid-life and beyond.” The union plans to launch a new campaign on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2023.
Usdaw news release.

Other News

Plan to scrap EU laws clears the Commons

Plans to scrap all remaining EU-made laws in Britain by the end of the year have cleared the Commons. MPs voted 297 to 238, a majority of 59, to give the EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill a third reading and it will now go to the Lords for further scrutiny. Amendments suggested by Labour to extend the deadline to 2026, and to exempt swathes of environmental and employment legislation, were also defeated. Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds commented: “We still have not heard a compelling answer as to why the government can’t address the body of EU attained law on a sector by sector basis, putting forward their replacement proposals in the same way we legislate for everything else.”
The Independent.

Workplaces must take note of new fire regulations

Fire regulations which came into force in England on 23 January are “a significant step forward” in protecting people occupying high-rise buildings, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). While the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 apply only to residential buildings, IOSH is urging those in charge of high-rise and multi-occupied buildings and workplaces to take note. People responsible for high-rise blocks of flats must provide fire and rescue services with information to assist them to plan and provide an effective operational response where needed. In all multi-occupied residential buildings, they will also be required to provide residents with fire safety instructions and information on the importance of fire doors.
Home Office news release. IOSH news release.

MPs urge asbestos giant to cough up £10m

MPs and peers have written to a former asbestos giant, calling on it to make a £10m donation towards mesothelioma research “for knowingly putting people in danger”. In a letter to Altrad, parent company of building products firm Cape, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on occupational safety and health says that documents released after a long-running court battle show that Cape historically “provided misleading reassurance about the dangers of asbestos”. The AGGP, chaired by Labour MP Ian Lavery, stated: “Knowing the links between the products made by your company, the role of Cape in knowingly putting more people in danger, and the devastating consequences, we appeal to your company to make this donation.”
The Guardian.

Many hospitals in London still contain asbestos

The TUC and a group of MPs have warned hundreds of NHS buildings across London still contain asbestos – including hospitals. The research was carried out by Labour Research Department (LRD) for the TUC and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health. The survey found at least 451 premises with asbestos in London during the first half of 2022. The TUC says the extent of asbestos presence in the research sample raises concern for the wellbeing of workers and members of the public using these premises. It is calling for new legislation requiring removal of all asbestos from public buildings, rather than the current policy of “managing” it.
TUC news release and research on asbestos in NHS buildings. The asbestos crisis: Why Britain needs an eradication law, All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health.

Asbestos danger is Scotland’s NHS buildings

Patients in Scotland cannot afford to wait any longer for asbestos to be removed from hospitals, STUC has warned, as hundreds of health service buildings were found to still contain the potentially cancer-causing material. The union body was commenting after new research discovered asbestos was present in at least 695 NHS buildings in the country. Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary, said the “stark report” underlined the “grave concerns” her union had about the extent of asbestos in public buildings. She called for an “urgent plan for stepping up asbestos removal” with Scotland’s patients “unable to wait any longer”.
Press and Journal. The Scotsman.

Site workers furious over asbestos exposure

Furious construction workers are threatening to sue a major housebuilder in Scotland over claims they were exposed to deadly asbestos. Springfield Properties – run by multi-millionaire Sandy Adam – was forced to pay a £10,000 fine after breaking safety laws at a building site in Milton of Campsie, Stirlingshire. Documents show a subcontractor was threatened with legal action by Springfield Properties if he made public allegations that asbestos was transported and buried at other sites where housing estates now stand. Health and safety campaign groups Scottish Hazards and Action on Asbestos both expressed concerns over the Springfield case.
Daily Record.

Director escapes jail after work death conviction

A director has been given a suspended prison sentence and two firms have been fined after a worker was killed when 17 glass panes fell on top of him while unloading a shipping container from a lorry. Tawanda Chamwandayita, 37, suffered fatal crush injuries in the incident in Birmingham on 26 October 2017. The glass fell against his leg, knocking him off the rear of the lorry. Leyton Homes (Perry Barr) Limited was fined £100,000 with £55,084.67 costs after being convicted of safety crimes. Evergreen Construction (UK) Limited was also found guilty and fined £115,000 plus £52,561.96 costs. Jalal Rana was convicted of safety offences and sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years, plus £57,171.95 costs.
HSE news release.

Fine after joiner crushed by excavator

A construction company has been fined £146,000 plus £4,621.90 costs after a joiner was crushed and killed by a 20 tonne excavator. Philip McDonald, 48, had been hired by Birch Brothers (Kidderminster) Ltd – which went into liquidation in September 2022, five years after the tragedy - to assist with the construction of a concrete overflow weir at Monks Pond, near Ashbourne. He was a road above the work area waiting for the excavator, when it rotated clockwise and crushed him. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the work had not been adequately planned, the risks had not been adequately assessed and there was no banksman or segregation of pedestrians and plant.
HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.


Act loud and legal – TUC industrial action guide

Despite some of the most repressive laws on industrial action in the western world, it’s legal to strike in Britain – but only if strict requirements are met. ‘Act loud and legal’, a TUC guide, says union reps “can make sure members understand their rights and support action safely and legally. You’ll protect them, strengthen the union, and help bring everyone back to the negotiating table.”
Act loud and legal: How to take action safely and effectively, TUC guide.

International News

China: Several dead in chemical plant explosion 

China's State Security Commission has ordered an investigation into an explosion at Panjin Haoye Chemical Co Ltd's factory, according to a statement from the Liaoning provincial government on 19 January. Twelve people were killed and one was missing after the explosion on Sunday 15 January at the refinery and petrochemical complex in China's northern Liaoning province, the statement said. The incident is reported to have occurred during maintenance work at an alkylation plant.
Chemistry World.

Germany: Most reported Covid cases are work-related

Nearly two-thirds of notifiable workplace cases of Covid-19 have been found to be an occupational disease in Germany and eligible for related injury benefits. A total of 317,403 notifiable workplace cases of the infection were reported to the state insurance and prevention body BGW. Of these, 200,505 (63.2 per cent) were recognised as an occupational disease.
COVID-19 as an Occupational Disease —Temporal Trends in the Number and Severity of Claims in Germany

USA: Amazon safety citations at three warehouses

Retail giant Amazon has been cited for failing to keep workers safe and has been issued hazard alert letters after inspections at three warehouse facilities. Federal safety regulator OSHA found workers had been exposed to ergonomic hazards. Investigations are ongoing at three other Amazon facilities, OSHA said. “Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety, and they resulted in serious worker injuries,” said OSHA head Doug Parker. 
OSHA news release.

USA: Two charged over deadly shooting on film set

Actor Alec Baldwin is to be charged with involuntary manslaughter over the shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed on a film set when he fired a prop gun. Baldwin had been rehearsing a scene for the Western film Rust when the shooting happened at a ranch near Sante Fe, New Mexico in October 2021. Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the film's armourer, will also be charged with involuntary manslaughter. A statement from Santa Fe's District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced charges would be filed by the end of the month. “After a thorough review of the evidence... I have determined that there is sufficient evidence. On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice,” he said.
BBC News Online.  
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