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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

‘Stark class divide’ on ill-health job loss

There is a “stark class divide” on workers forced out of the labour market by long-term sickness, the TUC has warned, with older low-income workers far more likely affected. A new report by the union body shows the number of people aged 50-65 neither in work nor looking for a job because of poor health has surged by more than 20 per cent in the last three years to reach 1.5 million. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said tacking the problem means halting planned rises in the pension age and “dealing with the staffing crisis in our public services so that people can get treatment earlier.”
Creating a healthy labour market: Tackling the root causes of growing economic inactivity among older people, Morning Star.

Protecting information about workers’ health

Health information is some of the most sensitive personal information that might be processed about workers and must be protected, the TUC has said. Responding to an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) consultation, the union body said 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. But the TUC warned the draft guidance in its current form would not adequately support all the groups who might seek to use it.
TUC update and TUC response to ICO on ‘Employment practices information about workers’ health’.

'Life-saving' firefighter cancer monitoring study

A first-of-its-kind firefighter cancer and health monitoring has begun as part of a UK-wide research project commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The research is being carried out by the University of Central Lancashire, led by world experts in fire chemistry and toxicology. Participating firefighters are volunteering to provide blood and urine samples to be analysed. The results will be used to identify the number of firefighters with occupational cancers and other diseases resulting from exposure to toxic contaminants in fire. Study leader professor Anna Stec said: “It is vital that firefighters can continue to do their jobs as safely as possible, and the research shows that measures such as health monitoring and reducing exposure from contaminants at the workplace will play an important part in protecting firefighters.”
FBU news release.

Mayors back Unite’s 'Get me home safely' campaign

The mayors of both Liverpool and Manchester have pledged support for Unite’s ground-breaking Get Me Home Safely campaign. This calls for employers to provide safe and free transport home for all workers past 11pm. Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool city region, said: “Too often women in our communities feel unsafe to do simple things that men take for granted. In 2023, it's beyond belief that this is still an issue - but it is - so we need to act.” Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: “Unite’s Get Me Home Safely campaign is the very best way that we can ensure people feel truly safe getting home, without being out of pocket.”
Unite news releases on commitments from Manchester and Liverpool mayors.

Inquiry confirms spying on unions and blacklisting

The first stage of the public inquiry into undercover policing has been completed – and has concluded there was systematic spying on union activists because of their safety and other organising activities, and that this was linked to an employment blacklist. Commenting on the findings of the ‘spycops’ inquiry led by judge Sir John Mitting, a statement from the union-backed Blacklist Support Group noted: “A few years ago, we were slated as conspiracy theorists for suggesting that undercover police infiltrated trade unions and blacklisted activists. This week, the spycops public inquiry has acknowledged that it did happen.” It added: “Counsel to the inquiry also accepts that intelligence was shared with employers to blacklist British citizens because of their perfectly lawful political and trade union activities. This is state sponsored blacklisting: plain and simple”.
Unite news release. Blacklist blog. BBC News Online. The Canary. The Guardian. Morning Star and related story.

FDA calls for investigation into ministerial bullying

The senior civil servants’ union FDA has asked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to conduct an investigation into ministerial bullying in the civil service and the absence of an effective procedure to deal with it. The union says its report on ministerial bullying, submitted as evidence to the HSE, “uses research from our survey of over 650 senior civil servants. This survey found one in six respondents said they had witnessed unacceptable workplace behaviour by a minister in the past year.”
FDA news release, BBC News Online

British workers put in £26bn in unpaid overtime last year

Employers claimed £26 billion of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis by the TUC. The union body was commenting on 24 February – this year’s Work Your Proper Hours Day. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Employers shouldn’t rely on unpaid overtime – that’s just exploitation.” Referring to government plans to sunset EU laws at the end of the year, he warned “the longstanding rights workers have that place safe limits on working time are hanging by a thread.”
TUC news release.

RMT marks anniversary of ferry tragedy

Seafarers’ union RMT has marked the 36th anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster which took the lives of 193 crew and passengers in waters off Zeebrugge on 6 March 1987. After paying tribute to the crew and passengers who died, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch pledged: “This union will re-double its resolve to support high maritime safety standards for all seafarers and passengers using Channel ferry services, despite P&O’s efforts to speed up the race to the bottom by sacking all its British seafarers just over a year ago. This has had a demonstrable adverse effect – as witnessed by the amount of inspections and subsequent defects and shortcomings found – on safety.”
RMT news release.

Other News

Firms want to keep health and safety rules

A survey has revealed that businesses strongly support health and safety regulations and has highlighted fears over the impact of the Retained EU Law Bill, which is in the House of Lords at committee stage. According to the research by Unchecked UK with support from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and others, seven in 10  businesses are not willing to accept lower health and safety standards as part of the Retained EU Law Bill.
Regulation: what does UK business think?, Unchecked UK.

Worker health checks plan to tackle labour shortages

Ministers are looking at bringing in annual health checks for workers and allowing more hospitality staff to come from abroad in an effort to deal with labour shortages. A report notes Westminster’s plans could involve giving companies subsidies for occupational health services to prevent workers going off long-term sick, as part of the government’s review of the workforce. Under the proposal, there could be a trial of a new subsidy for small businesses, which will enable those who purchase occupational health services to claim back up to 80 per cent of the costs from the government.
Sunday Times. The Guardian.

Docs reject plans to force the sick to work

Government proposals to force GPs to sign fewer sick notes for workers have been rejected by Doctors in Unite, which represents GPs and doctors operating in the NHS. Detailed government proposals were first briefed to the media in February, indicating that the chancellor could announce in the budget changes to the sick note system, with the emphasis changing from whether the patient is ill to keeping people in work. Calling for the creation of a national occupational health service, Doctors in Unite said it believes that it is a fundamental duty of doctors to be allowed to record people as sick or able to work solely based on their medical condition and not on arbitrary government guidelines.
Unite news release. Sign the petition demanding that the government does not progress with its plans to change the sick note system.

‘Intrinsic link’ between NHS staff wellbeing and patient safety

NHS staff in England have faced "significant distress" and harm over the past year, a health service safety watchdog has found, identifying an ‘intrinsic link’ between staff wellbeing and patient safety. An investigation team from the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch describes that during interviews ‘many staff cried or displayed extreme emotion’ when they talked about their working environment, their feelings on their decision making and the burden of moral distress.
HSIB news release. BBC News Online.

Hospital workers face massive N2O exposures

The Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) has said it has been called in to several hospitals to measure levels of exposure of nitrous oxide (N2O) following concerns that health worker exposure levels were up to 50 times higher than the legal workplace limit. Because of concerns over workers’ health, a number of hospitals have now stopped using ‘Entonox’ pain relief – also known as ‘gas and air’ or ‘laughing gas’ - for women in labour. The gas is also used by ambulance and other emergency staff. Tests at Basildon University Hospital in Essex found levels at 3,000 parts per million (ppm), compared to the workplace exposure limit of 100 ppm. At Watford General Hospital, air monitoring found levels of almost 5,000 ppm last year. Chronic exposure is linked to serious nervous system damage and other health effects.
IOM news release. BBC News Online.

Royal Mail used trackers to up work pace

The chief executive of Royal Mail has admitted digital tracking devices carried by postal workers were used to pressure them to work faster, blaming rogue managers for using the information in breach of the delivery company’s policy. Simon Thompson was hauled back in front of the business select committee after MPs felt he did not give “wholly correct” answers during his first appearance last month. Darren Jones, chair of the select committee, said since that appearance he had received almost 1,500 communications, including various images of charts used by management and testimony from workers that showed tracking information from PDAs [postal digital assistants] was “100 per cent being used” to discipline and performance-manage staff.
The Guardian.

Labour pledges paid time off for menopause

Menopausal women could be offered paid time off and working environments with temperature-controlled areas under Labour plans to support the wellbeing of women in the workplace. About one in 10 women aged 45-55 left their jobs last year due to their symptoms and ultimately the lack of workplace support, according to research supported by the Fawcett Society. In an effort to support women to stay or return to the workforce, Labour has pledged to bring in a requirement for large companies to publish and implement a “Menopause action plan” that sets out how they are supporting their employees experiencing menopausal symptoms.
The Guardian.

Restaurant worker sacked for being pregnant

A Scottish restaurant worker who was sacked for being pregnant has been awarded almost £16,000 in compensation. The woman was told by an HR boss at Fenwick Tapas in Grennock that she had been “P45’d” when she called to discuss her maternity pay arrangements.
The National. The Mirror.

Retail figures reveal ‘appalling levels’ of abuse of staff

A retail industry annual survey has exposed soaring levels of retail violence and abuse of workers in the sector, now at twice the pre-pandemic levels. The survey revealed the total cost of retail crime stood at £1.76 billion in 2021/22. £953 million was lost to customer theft, with eight million incidents of theft over the year.
BRC news release. Usdaw news release.

Sellafield fined after hazmat worker breaks back

Nuclear decommissioning firm Sellafield Ltd fined £400,000 plus costs of £29,210.64 after a maintenance worker suffered serious back injuries when he fell from a scaffolding ladder at the nuclear site. The employee of Sellafield Ltd was carrying out repair work in a low active chamber at the Magnox Reprocessing Facility at the Cumbrian site. He was wearing a positive pressure hazmat suit while attempting to climb down a ladder, when he suffered a fall of around 3 metres sustaining fractures to his vertebrae. His injuries were described as life-changing with his mobility is still significantly affected, preventing him from returning to work.
ONR news release. Construction Enquirer.

Low dose radiation linked to heart disease

Exposure to low doses of ionising radiation is associated with a modestly increased excess risk of heart disease, according to an analysis of the latest evidence published by The BMJ. The researchers say these findings “have implications for patients who undergo radiation exposure as part of their medical care, as well as policy makers involved in managing radiation risks to radiation workers and the public.”
Mark P Little and others. Ionising radiation and cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis


Our big day is just 7 weeks away - 28 April #IWMD!

In seven weeks’ time, it will be International Workers’ Memorial Day, which as many of you know is an international day marked by the trade union movement to remember all workers who lost their lives to workplace illness or injury, and to recommit ourselves to fighting to keep workers safe: Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living! You might on 28 April remember someone who died as a result of work by using our online memorial wall; check out our workers’ health and safety timeline and use it for member education; host a IWMD event and list it on our website with an interactive map; or ask your local council to sign up to our Stay Safe, Join a Union campaign.
Action: Online memorial wall. IWMD interactive events map. Stay Safe, Join a Union campaign.
Resources: IWMD posters and graphics for social media. Upcoming TUC Education courses for reps.

International news

Australia: Big union wins on deadly silica risks

Unions in Australia have won a major tightening of workplace dust limits on deadly silica and could now see one of the deadliest silica-containing products heavily restricted or banned. A union campaign had already seen the federal workplace exposure limit cut to 0.05mg/m3 for respirable crystalline silica dust, which can cause lung-scarring silicosis, cancer and other fatal diseases. This is half the UK limit.
AMWU news release. AWU news release.

USA: Government clampdown on child labour

The Biden administration is seeking to reverse an alarming upturn in child labour violations involving migrant children at US companies. Leaders of the US departments of Labor and Health and Human Services announced on 27 February they are taking new steps to address exploitative child labour practices, including forming an inter-agency taskforce on ‘Child Labour Exploitation’.
Department of Labor news release. New York Times.

USA: Coal miner dust disease deaths on the increase

Coal miners in the United States are at an increased risk of dying from lung diseases such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and death rates are higher for these workers than they are among the general US population, according to new research from the government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The results show not only that coal miners are more likely to die from diseases of the lung than other workers, but that today’s coal miners actually face greater mortality risk than their predecessors. Mortality was the highest in those born more recently, the study found. 
Modern Coal Miners Have Higher Death Rates From Lung Diseases Than Their Predecessors

USA: Covid top police line-of-duty death

Covid was the top cause of death in the line of duty for American law enforcement for the third year in a row in 2022, although the pace has slowed. Working on the front lines made some face-to-face contact unavoidable – and, as a result, hundreds of law enforcement officers died as Covid swept through the US.
The Guardian.
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