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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

Housing workers strike over asbestos fears

Workers at social housing landlord Magenta Living are taking 30 days of strike action over new working practices that could expose them to asbestos. The 100 plus Unite members are employed in repairs and maintenance roles for Magenta Living, which manages 13,000 properties around the Wirral. The dispute arose after the firm imposed a change of policy when dealing with asbestos. Previously, the workforce was trained to stop work when they identified asbestos, with specialist contractors brought in for any removal work. Under the new policy the workers are expected to work with asbestos. Slamming the firm’s “deplorable” behaviour, Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite never takes a backward step when it comes to ensuring the safety of its workers and our members at Magenta will receive the union’s complete support.”
Unite news release. IBAS news report.

McDonald's to be monitored over sexual harassment

Fast food chain McDonald's has signed an agreement with the equality watchdog following complaints over how it handled sexual harassment complaints. The move came after the union BFAWU raised its members’ concerns about inadequate processes to deal with allegations, prompting the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to get involved. BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley commented: “This is not a few bad apples, this is caused by a system of zero hours contracts, when working women are expected to live pay cheque to pay cheque, when there’s a culture of cover up with the use of NDAs [non-disclosure agreements] and when McDonald’s continue to victimise members of trade unions.”
BFAWU news release and BBC News Online.

Equality watchdog concerned by driver only trains

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has expressed safety concerns over staffing cuts on the rail network. Responding to a letter signed by dozens of MPs and peers, highlighting the impact on vulnerable passengers of ticket office closures and driver only operation (DOO) on trains, the EHRC said we “share your concerns that changes to how some rail services operate are making rail travel more inaccessible.” RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch responded: “We welcome the comments from the EHRC, and they reflect the equalities issues raised by RMT since the prospect of ticket office closures and DOO was raised.”
RMT news release.

Network Rail concerns safety regulator

RMT’s concern that Network Rail's Modernising Maintenance programme is “a catastrophe waiting to happen” is shared by the rail regulator, the union has said. The acknowledgment came in a meeting between RMT and representatives of the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). RMT has warned repeatedly that Network Rail's plans to meet a £400m Department for Transport (DfT) mandated cost saving are a serious threat to the safe running of the railways. Commenting after the meeting with ORR, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “Our members fear these plans will lead to a crisis in the safety for our railways and an increased risk of derailments.”
RMT news release.

Suspend Raab over bullying claims

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab should be suspended while he is investigated over bullying allegations, a civil service union leader has said. FDA General Secretary Dave Penman told the BBC: “If that was any other employee… they would in all likelihood be suspended from their job.”
BBC News Online.

Usdaw pushes mental health rights at work

Retail union Usdaw is highlighting the role of workplace union reps play in ensuring workers receive the right mental health support at work. Speaking ahead of Time to Talk Day on 2 February, Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Usdaw reps play a crucial role promoting respectful and safe workplaces and giving members a voice at work, both of which are factors in supporting mental health and wellbeing… our mental health campaign provides the union’s workplace reps with the resources they need to better support members receive the adjustments they need at work.”
Usdaw news release


Other News

Employers guilty of ‘wellbeing washing’

Over half of employers are guilty of ‘wellbeing washing’, safety professionals’ organisation IOSH has warned. The safety body said the term ‘shames’ employers wanting to appear mindful of their workers’ wellbeing yet failing to provide them with any real benefits. The IOSH snap online poll, which attracted more than 400 responses over three working days, “confirmed that wellbeing washing really is a thing, with more than half (51 per cent) of respondents pointing an accusing finger at their employer.” Workers expressed disapproval of online wellbeing services and employment assistance programmes that only deal with personal rather than workplace problems. Also on the list of worker concerns was Mental Health First Aid, which “can sometimes see untrained volunteers do more harm than good.” Workers indicated a preference for workplace stress risk assessments, menopause support, better management and flexible working.
IOSH News.

Fire chief apologies over firefighter suicide

The head of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has personally apologised to the mother of a black firefighter whose suicide triggered a review of the service and found it to be “institutionally misogynist and racist”. The review was launched by the London fire commissioner, Andy Roe, in response to the death of Jaden Francois-Esprit, who was neurodiverse and who took his own life aged 21 in August 2020. Speaking at a meeting of the London assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee on 1 February, Roe directly addressed Francois-Esprit’s mother, Linda Francois. “The system should have recognised his vulnerability. Seeing you here now, I can only apologise for the public record.” He added: “Sadly, Jaden wasn’t the first colleague to take his life. There is a high rate of suicide in the emergency services generally.”
The Guardian. More on work-related suicides.
ACTION! Tell the HSE to recognise, record and take action to prevent work-related suicides.

MPs’ staff facing ‘toxic’ workloads

Staff working for MPs face similar levels of psychological distress as frontline NHS workers, a survey has found, facing a “toxic” workload and fears for their safety. A study of 315 parliamentary workers found many were struggling with the vicarious trauma of helping desperate people in a worsening cost of living crisis. MPs’ caseworkers said there had been a “worrying upturn” in the number of suicidal people seeking their help in the past year. Thomas Fairweather, of the parliamentary Wellness Working Group (WWG), which commissioned the report, said: “Parliament has shown that it is trying to do more but there is still quite a contingent of staff on the cusp of burnout, if not into burnout, with nowhere to go.” The survey found 42 per cent of MPs’ staff met the clinical definition of experiencing psychological distress.
Wellness Working Group. The Guardian.

Stress led to more NHS staff absences than Covid

“Burnout” and stress among doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health staff has cost the NHS in England more than 15 million lost working days since March 2020, about 50 per cent more than the days lost to Covid infections and self-isolation, analysis of official figures by the Observer has revealed. The NHS sickness figures show that between March 2020, the month of the first Covid lockdown, and September 2021, 15.4m working days have been lost in the NHS because of stress-related absences, compared with 9.8m days lost from staff who were required to self-isolate or were ill with Covid.
The Observer.

Burnt out docs say it is getting worse

More than threequarters (78 per cent) of junior doctors in England felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the past year, a survey has found. The BMA’s latest survey, based on nearly 3,000 responses, found about half (49 per cent) described their physical and mental wellbeing as low or very low and over half (55 per cent) said their health and wellbeing was worse than a year ago. Dr Vivek Trivedi, the co-chair of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “It is a huge risk to patient safety for doctors to work under pressure while feeling exhausted, burnt out, and often suffering with poor mental health.”
BMA news release.

Labour vows to help ‘written off’ back to work

Labour plans to reach thousands of people with addiction or mental health issues “written off” by the Department for Work and Pensions to help them back into employment, with personalised support offered through treatment centres. Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Jon Ashworth, said it was wrong to assume those undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction or facing mental health crises did not want to find ways to work. “If you can support people in the first weeks or the first couple of months of the worklessness because of ill-health, you’re more likely to help those people return to work than if they’ve been out of work for at least two years. But what’s happening at the moment is the government has written off a generation,” he said.
The Guardian.

Mechanics in danger working under vehicles

Leading voices in motor vehicle repair have teamed up with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to warn of the dangers of working under vehicles without proper equipment. Figures recorded by HSE in the five years up to March 2022 show that 13 workers in the motor vehicle repair industry were killed when work took place under a vehicle that wasn’t properly supported. Since April 2022, HSE has become aware of another four cases of workers being crushed to death by an incorrectly supported vehicle. Classic Motor Cars (CMC), experts in classic car restoration, are supporting HSE’s call. “The situation could get worse as people and businesses may cut costs with higher energy bills,”, said Tim Griffin, CMC’s production and engineering director. “My plea is that it’s never a good time to cut corners – the stakes are too high.”
HSE news release.

Siemens fined £1.4m following death of contractor

Siemens plc has pleaded guilty to a criminal safety breach and been fined £1.4m and ordered to pay costs of £99,284.84 after a worker was crushed to death by a train motor. Ian Parker, a 58-year-old self-employed technician, was killed on 13 June 2017 when the 650kg traction motor he was preparing for removal from an electric locomotive fell on him at the company’s Train Care Facility in west London. An investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) revealed defects in task planning, which included a failure to carry out an appropriate task specific risk assessment and a lack of clear allocation of responsibility for supervision of the task. Ian Prosser, Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “A catalogue of basic errors resulted in this tragedy.”
ORR news release. The Independent.

International News

Europe: Asbestos protections too little, too late

A new European asbestos exposure limit will be too little and too late to protect workers from cancer, trade unions are warning. The European Parliament voted in October 2021 for a new limit of 0.001 fibres/cm3, based on the finding by the International Commission of Occupational Health that any limit higher than that would not protect sufficiently against asbestos related cancer. But the parliament’s latest report, published on 6 February, instead recommends an asbestos exposure limit that is ten times higher.
ETUC news release.

Europe: Unions protect window cleaners from falls

Window cleaners will not be put at a higher risk of deadly falls after trade unions convinced manufacturers against lowering the safety standards for ladders. The manufacturers, who dominate the committee for standardisation on this issue (CEN/TC 93), wanted to decrease the width of the ladder foot. That would make ladders more unstable and increase the risk of accidents, an expert study of the proposal for the ETUC found. The work is part of the ETUC’s ‘Zero Death’ campaign to eradicate accidents at work in Europe by 2030.
ETUC news release and study on the safety of loft ladders and ladder foots

Turkey: Latest report highlights ‘murders’ at work

At least 1,843 workers in Turkey lost their lives in ‘work-related murders’ in 2022, new research has shown. Health and Safety Labour Watch analysed press reports and reports from deceased workers' colleagues and families, occupational safety specialists, occupational physicians, unions and regional press to estimate the toll. The organisation noted there has been an “increase in work murders this year in Turkey, which has been turned into a haven for cheap labour.” It adds “at least 64 child labourers lost their lives in 2022.” It anticipated the number would rise as further reports were brought to its attention.
Health and Safety Labour Watch/Turkey.

USA: Amazon cited again over unsafe conditions

The US government safety regulator OSHA has issued citations at three more Amazon warehouses – in Colorado; Idaho; and New York – for failing to keep workers safe and has issued hazard alert letters for exposing workers to ergonomic hazards. OSHA inspections followed referrals from the US Attorney's Office. Similar violations were earlier discovered at other Amazon warehouse facilities in Florida, Illinois and New York in July 2022. At all six locations, OSHA investigators found Amazon exposed warehouse workers to a high risk of low back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders. “Amazon's operating methods are creating hazardous work conditions and processes, leading to serious worker injuries,” said OSHA head Doug Parker. “They need to take these injuries seriously and implement a company-wide strategy to protect their employees from these well-known and preventable hazards.”
OSHA news release.
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