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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

Workers’ health information must be protected

Workers’ health information must be protected, medical confidentiality rules respected and workplace practices agreed between employers and unions, the TUC has said. Responding to an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) consultation on employment practices and data protection regarding information about workers’ health, the TUC added that it agrees “with the ICO that health information is some of the most sensitive personal information that might be processed about workers. An online resource with topic-specific guidance on employment practices and data protection could be vital to workers, employers, trade unions and trade union representatives.”
TUC response to ICO consultation, Employment practices information about workers’ health.

Firefighters save lives but struggle to pay bills

While the government will praise firefighters when they save lives, when it comes to fair pay and safe working conditions, those in power fall silent, firefighters’ union FBU has said. Commenting after FBU members voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action over pay, general secretary Matt Wrack stated: “Our members risk their health and safety, and sometimes their lives, round the clock to keep people safe and serve their communities. However, with inflation and energy bills rocketing, they are now increasingly struggling to pay the bills or to afford the basics.” He added: The government and the employers have the power to stop strikes from happening by making a credible offer that can resolve this dispute. The ball is in their court.” 
FBU news release. The Guardian.

Rees-Mogg ‘trivialising’ Raab bullying claims

Civil service union FDA has accused former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg of ‘trivialising’ allegations against the deputy prime minister. It was commenting after Rees-Mogg told Sky News “we mustn’t be too snowflakey” about bullying allegations levelled against Dominic Raab. Raab, who is also justice secretary, faces formal complaints involving at least 24 civil servants over alleged bullying in three separate government departments. FDA general secretary Dave Penman commented: “Even by Rees-Mogg’s standards this is outrageous. A former leader of the house, trivialising bullying that we know has ruined lives and careers. Not only should he be ashamed of himself, but his leader and party should distance themselves from this.”
The Guardian. The Independent.

Union concern over threat to grievance women

The GMB is calling for clarification from an NHS trust on why a manager has not been suspended after being made the subject of a formal grievance on behalf of 27 female employees. The union, which has written to management at Frimley Health NHS Trust, understands that despite the grievance making specific reference to ‘not feeling comfortable’ around him, the manager in question has been moved to an admin role rather than suspended, and is still working on site. David McMullen, GMB regional organiser, said: “These women deserve protecting at work under the law and GMB believes that the trust is failing in its duty to do so.”
GMB news release.

Teachers at ‘end of their tether’, says union

Teachers are at “the end of their tether”, the leader of the teaching union NEU has said, ahead of further schools strikes in England. The union’s joint general secretary Mary Bousted said she saw little sign of movement from ministers in the ongoing pay dispute. “Teachers are at the end of their tether. They are undervalued, they feel underpaid, they are completely overworked,” she said. Prime minister Rishi Sunak and his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, have insisted repeatedly they are not willing to reopen the current year’s settlements for public sector workers.
The Observer.

‘Shocking’ silence on school collapse risks

Ministers have sparked a furious row over the safety of thousands of dilapidated school buildings in England by abandoning the imminent publication of data showing those judged to be most at risk of collapse. The headteachers’ union, the NAHT, condemned the decision to hold back on publication. James Bowen, director of policy at the NAHT, said: “It really is quite shocking that the government knows there are schools where there is a significant risk of collapse but are not being transparent about which schools are affected and where they are located.” He added: “It is only right that parents and staff should know about this and, more importantly, that urgent action should be taken by the department to make sure that these buildings are made safe. The alternative simply does not bear thinking about.”

The Observer.

Better records needed on Scottish schools violence

Scottish teaching union EIS is demanding better recording of violence in schools after it emerged councils could not provide conclusive data to show the extent of the incidents. EIS said it has received reports of rising numbers of violent incidents, but believes teachers have been discouraged from reporting them. The union’s general secretary Andrea Bradley told BBC Scotland: “Our members are encouraged by us to report violent incidents. But we know our members are sometimes discouraged from doing that by employers. That, to some extent, dampens the figures. It gives a false impression of the level of violence that are actually present in our schools.”
BBC News Online.

Solving NHS workforce emergency is key

The UK government’s plans to fix emergency care won’t work without tackling low pay and inadequate staffing, UNISON has said. Commenting on the government’s proposals to boost NHS emergency care, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The success of the NHS begins and ends with its employees. No plans to deal with waiting times and handover delays stand a chance without tackling staffing shortages. To do that, ministers must begin genuine pay talks with unions right away and make a commitment to a proper wage boost.”
DHSC news release. UNISON news release.

NHS emergency plan ignores ‘elephant in the room’

The government’s announcement that it intends to invest an additional £1 billion in the NHS to increase the number of hospital beds and ambulances, is again failing to address ‘the elephant in the room’ of low pay, huge vacancies and experienced staff quitting the service, Unite has said.  The union’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Any investment in the NHS is welcome. But either through design or incompetence the government has once again failed to address the ‘elephant in the room’ that the NHS is failing to operate properly due to severe staff shortages caused by over a decade of underpaying its workers.” Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: “The government’s announcement misses a key factor: Investment in hospital beds and ambulances is only worthwhile if there are staff to operate them.”
Unite news release.

Other News

HS staff with long Covid risk losing vital pay

Thousands of NHS staff across the UK are facing pay cuts because of a change in Covid sickness policy. Analysis by BBC Panorama suggests that between 5,000 and 10,000 NHS workers could be off sick with long Covid. Changes to special sick pay rules introduced during the pandemic mean that some NHS staff unable to work due to long Covid may soon no longer receive full pay. Enhanced provision ended last year, but many had a six-month transition, so can expect their wages to go down soon. There is some local discretion and the rules may vary depending on length of service and where you work in the UK. But essentially, standard sick pay rules have come back for NHS staff.
BBC News Online.

Sickness leaving over 50s unable to work

More than 1.6 million adults aged 50 and over are unable to work because of long-term sickness, according to the most detailed analysis yet of official data for this age group. The number has increased 20 per cent, or by 270,000 in three years, according to an analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures by Rest Less, a group that advocate for over fifties. “Not only is this a national health issue with thousands of people suffering silently but it’s increasingly an economic issue too – not least because many of these people would like to work in some capacity, if the right opportunities were available to them,” said Stuart Lewis, the chief executive of Rest Less.
The Guardian. Morning Star.

Wine supplier fined after HGV driver killed

Wine and drinks supplier Kingsland Drinks Ltd has been fined after a visiting HGV driver was killed after being hit by a forklift truck at its depot in Salford. John Fitzpatrick, 59, was waiting for his trailer to be loaded on 19 August 2020 when the incident occurred. He suffered serious head injuries and died in hospital having never regained consciousness. The firm pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,614.30. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Sharon Butler said: “This death would have been prevented if clear controls had been in place for visiting drivers.”
HSE news release.


Last chance to fill in the TUC safety reps’ survey

The deadline for completing the TUC’s latest survey of union health and safety representatives is imminent. The TUC says responses from safety reps, which should be submitted before the end of the week, are “valuable to us, they let us know the issues safety reps are dealing with, and what work the TUC and our member unions should prioritise and campaign on in the years ahead.” Don’t miss your chance to have your say!

TUC alert. Take the survey - it should take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

International News

Global: To be fair, ask ‘what work do you do?’

Asking what job a person does is ‘critical’ to addressing social inequalities in health, a new academic paper has concluded. “With work now being a recognised social determinant of health, use of work and employment information, including industry and occupation, is a critical component of core public health surveillance systems,” stated researchers led by Karla Armenti of the University of New Hampshire. “Collection of these variables is important both for routine surveillance activities and crisis responses.” Owen Tudor, deputy general secretary of the global union confederation ITUC, said the paper “is important given the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recognition that a safe and healthy workplace is a fundamental right for workers. Crucial for the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well. Doctors need to ask people routinely 'what work do you do?'.”
Karla Armenti, Marie H Sweeney, Cailyn Lingwall and Liu Yang. Work: A Social Determinant of Health Worth Capturing, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2023; 20(2):1199. 

India: Work deaths a ‘social problem’, says court

Deaths caused by overwork, stress and toxic work environments are a ‘social problem’ in India requiring an urgent, coordinated response, the Delhi High Court has warned. The court was hearing the case of Poonan Gupta, a worker who killed himself after being bullied at work. It emphasised the need for investigation of mental health issues at the workplace. Justice Jasmeet Singh observed “death caused due to overwork and toxic work environment is a social problem which requires the government, the labour unions, the health officials and corporates to formulate appropriate policies. What is needed is an examination of the issues of overwork and occupational stress focusing on mental health at workplace.”
Verdictum. Full Delhi High Court ruling. More on work-related suicide.

South Africa: Union welcomes compensation for ex-miners

South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has welcomed a government commitment to identify and compensate former mineworkers suffering from work-related silicosis and tuberculosis. The Department of Health announced it is to roll out a massive screening, verification, medical examination and payment benefits programme for eligible former mineworkers who developed the conditions as a result of working in certain mines between March 1965 and December 2019. The NUM said it will now work with the Department of Health and ‘all other progressive forces’ to ensure that eligible former miners are registered for payouts.
COSATU news report.

USA: Warning for bosses putting profit before safety

New enforcement guidance from the US safety regulator OSHA will mean harsher penalties and greater scrutiny of employers who put profits before safety. “Smart, impactful enforcement means using all the tools available to us when an employer ‘doesn’t get it’ and will respond to only additional deterrence in the form of increased citations and penalties,” said OSHA head Doug Parker. “This is intended to be a targeted strategy for those employers who repeatedly choose to put profits before their employees’ safety, health and wellbeing. Employers who callously view injured or sickened workers simply as a cost of doing business will face more serious consequences.”
Department of Labor news release. OSHA news release. Confined Space blog.


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