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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

Experienced HSE inspectors "leaving in droves"

Prospect members at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) walked out on 15 March after voting overwhelmingly for strike action. The budget day action by HSE inspectors came in response to a chronic lack of resources and low pay at the regulator. In a blog posting on the union’s website Prospect member Sarah Taylor, an acting HSE principal inspector and 14-year veteran, said: “In terms of experienced inspectors, they’re leaving in droves. The lack of staff is affecting every aspect of our work. Morale among the inspectors who remain is rock bottom because we’re all so tired.” Saying HSE inspectors “can’t afford not to strike”, she added: “We are still out inspecting and investigating as much as we possibly can, but the amount of work we’re delivering, particularly on starting new investigations, has fallen off a cliff because there’s nobody left to do it.”
Prospect blog.

Headteacher killed herself 'over Ofsted report'

A popular Reading headteacher killed herself after worrying about a negative Ofsted report about her school, her family has said. Caversham Primary School principal Ruth Perry died on 8 January 2023 shortly after being told her school was being downgraded from outstanding to inadequate following a 15-16 November 2022 Ofsted inspection. The report, which was provided to the school this week and which prompted school unions to call for Ofsted inspections to be suspended, found the school to be ‘good’ in every category, apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be "inadequate". A statement from Ruth Perry’s family accused inspectors of reaching conclusions that were “sensationalist and drawn from scant evidence.” A 2021 report noted Ofsted inspections have been linked to a succession of teacher suicides.
BBC South Today report, 16 March 2023. BBC News Online. Reading Chronicle. The Mirror. Daily Express. The Guardian.
Work-related suicide: a qualitative analysis of recent cases with recommendations for reform, Sarah Waters and Hilda Palmer, University of Leeds, July 2021.

School unions call for pause on inspections

Teaching unions have called for the suspension of Ofsted inspections after the Ruth Perry suicide tragedy. The NEU, school leaders' union NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) all called for inspections to be paused. Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU joint general secretary, accusing Ofsted of "an absolute lack of empathy", said: “Ofsted should pause all its inspections and reflect upon the unmanageable and counter-productive stress they cause for school leaders, and the impact on leaders. This stress is well-documented in literature about Ofsted.” Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “Whilst it should never take a tragedy like this to prompt action, this has to be a watershed moment,” adding: “It is essential that all policy makers, including Ofsted, listen and respond.”
NEU news release. NAHT news release. ASCL news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Work-related suicide highlights lack of oversight

The tragic death of headteacher Ruth Perry after a devastating Ofsted inspection has again highlighted an enforcement anomaly where work-related suicides are not investigated or subject to enforcement action by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Hazards magazine has warned that the UK safety regulator “is sticking with its official blind-eye to work-related suicide risks, despite coroners’ inquests, evidence reviews and campaigners presenting alarming evidence of a substantial but unaddressed toll.” The publication criticised HSE for treating toxic hazards at work as real risks, while ignoring potentially deadly toxic cultures at work. It added that HSE is in the ‘slow lane’ on recognition and reporting of work-related suicides, lagging behind best international best practice, and does not include workplace suicides or suicide risks in its inspection, reporting and enforcement management policies.
Six simple measures to make work-related suicides count, Hazards Magazine.
Send an e-postcard and tell HSE to act on work-related suicide risks.

Women’s health is a workplace issue

The health and wellbeing of women cannot be separated out from the workplace, the TUC has said. Responding to a UK government consultation on its women’s health strategy, the union body said that good workplace terms and conditions and policies that support women at work are essential in supporting women’s health and women’s equality more broadly. Calling for “broader structural issues” to be addressed, it noted “women’s experiences in the workplace and the impact on their health, cannot be separated out from the discrimination and inequality women face more broadly in the labour market and across society.” The TUC response covers the menopause, pregnancy and maternal health, low pay and insecure work, the impact of caring responsibilities, and mental health, bullying and harassment.
Women’s health and the workplace: TUC response to call for evidence on a women’s health strategy, 14 March 2023.

Raising safety concerns led to Crossrail sacking

A long running case concerning ‘contemporary blacklisting’ on Crossrail concluded on 20 March with an open statement in court. Unite member Daniel Collins was employed by the Costain/Skanska joint venture via an agency on the Bond Street Crossrail station project in February 2015, when he raised health and safety concerns. Soon afterwards he was told to leave the project. “Imagine seeing an unsafe walkway at work and putting a note in the suggestion box. Any reasonable employer would fix the walkway,” said Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group. “On Crossrail they sacked Dan Collins and paid £59k to a security firm to spy on union members.” Commenting ahead of the statement at the Royal Courts of Justice, Unite national officer for construction Jason Poulter said: “The union will never take a backward step in fighting for justice.”
Unite news release.

Union concern over funds for school building repairs

Teaching union NASUWT has expressed concern that the government is cutting back on school building refurbishment and repairs, despite the Department for Education’s recent disclosure that there was a “critical – very likely” risk of buildings collapsing. The union said the Spring budget on 15 March had cut the DfE’s capital expenditure limits by £400m, from £6.3bn allocated in last November’s autumn statement to £5.9bn. Patrick Roach, the NASUWT’s general secretary, said: “Now is the time for greater investment in school buildings, not less, with the warnings that some school buildings are at risk of collapse. Schools are already reporting increased revenue pressures as they have less available to spend on repair and upkeep of buildings.”
NASUWT news release. The Observer.

Other news

Government to consult on OHS expansion

The government is to consult on measures to increase access for workers to occupational health services (OHS). The announcement, which formed part of the Jeremy Hunt’s Spring budget ,will look at incentives like tax breaks for firms providing OHS and will expand the small and medium sized businesses pilot subsidy to £25m. It added: “The government will consult on ways to boost UK occupational health coverage, including, for example, through regulations to require employers to provide occupational health services.” Professor Steve Nimmo, president of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, said: “We believe universal access to occupational health would be the most effective approach to keeping people in work and boosting the economy. However, these latest steps are welcome and we are pleased that the value of occupational health is being acknowledged at the highest level of government.”
DWP news release. UK Spring Budget. FOM news release. SOM news release. IOSH magazine.

Ambulance worker’s Covid death was a work disease

An ambulance worker who caught Covid from a patient died as the result of an industrial disease, a coroner has concluded. Alan Haigh, 59, from Cwmduad, Carmarthenshire, died in Glangwili Hospital on 9 February 2021. He was involved in the transport of a patient to the red Covid ward at Prince Philip Hospital on the 28 November 2020. Coroner Paul Bennett said the greatest risk to him was “his employment.” The acting senior coroner for Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire said he thought there was sufficient evidence that Mr Haigh had “two incidents of exposure” to Covid during the possible incubation period for the disease.
BBC News Online.

Under-pressure junior docs suffer panic attacks

NHS junior doctors suffer panic attacks and feelings of desperation because they get so stressed from the pressure they are under at work, research has found. Some also experience intrusive thoughts, migraines and hair loss as a direct result of trying to give patients high-quality treatment in hospitals struggling with serious staff shortages. The author of the Leeds University business school study said some of the detailed accounts provided by junior doctors from across the UK were “harrowing”. Audio diaries recorded by 58 junior – or trainee – doctors over two months showed that the four leading causes of stress in their working lives were heavy workload, understaffing, a lack of support by senior medical colleagues (consultants) and conflict at work.
Leeds University report, March 2023. The Guardian.

Tea firm doesn’t want case heard in Scotland

The boss of a tea company being sued by 2,000 Kenyan farm workers has argued a Scottish court would not understand cultural issues that affect the occupational injuries compensation case and it should instead be heard in Kenya. James Finlay Kenya Ltd (JFK), a subsidiary of Scottish firm James Finlay and Co, is fighting a damages claim at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The tea pickers say they suffered musculoskeletal injuries because of working conditions. JFK's managing director Simeon Hutchinson told the court the claimants may have hurt their backs while carrying water as children. He added the company has no connection whatsoever to Scotland other than its “historical registered address.” However the James Finlay website lists JFK as its part of its global operations.
James Finlay and Co website. BBC News Online.

Government pledge broken over NHS staff abuse data

NHS staff have accused Conservative MP Steve Barclay of breaking a pledge to publish details of how many of them are abused and assaulted in the course of their work. In 2018, when Barclay was a junior minister in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), he promised he would resume publication of those statistics in the following year. However, five years later, Barclay has not fulfilled his pledge, despite being in his second stint as health secretary. NHS Protect’s last dataset showed that the number of assaults on NHS staff rose by almost a quarter, from 56,718 in 2009-10 to 70,555 in 2015-16. They are the last England-wide figures available. GMB policy head Laurence Turner said “this broken promise is bitterly disappointing. How can ministers tackle the problem if they don’t know its scale?”
The Guardian.

Morrisons convicted after employee’s epilepsy death

Morrisons has been convicted of criminal safety offences and fined £3.5 million after an employee with epilepsy died when he fell from the stairs during a seizure. Matthew Gunn, 27, suffered catastrophic head injuries at the supermarket’s store in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. He had been using the staircase to access his locker on the first floor of the shop. Gloucester crown court heard he died in September 2014, three-and-a-half months after his mother had told managers of the risk due to his frequent seizures. Morrisons had denied three health and safety charges but was convicted by the jury. It had admitted a fourth charge before the trial. Judge Moira Macmillan said: “Morrisons fell short of the standards expected for somebody suffering from epilepsy… The company failed to treat [Gunn] as an individual and make appropriate changes.”
The Guardian.

Firm convicted after worker suffers brain trauma

Singh Will Mix It Ltd has been convicted of criminal safety offences and fined £175,000 plus £75,722 costs after a worker suffered serious head injuries. The man, who was 35 at the time, was working at a domestic property on 3 March 2019 when he was injured during concrete pumping operations carried out by the sub-contractor. A concrete pump operator who was not qualified to operate the machine was cleaning the pump’s hose when a sudden release of pressure caused it to whip and strike the worker in the head. The injured worker suffered brain trauma and was hospitalised for seven months. Four years later he continues to have difficulties with his speech, memory and movement.
HSE news release.

International news

Colombia:  Mine explosion leaves 21 dead

A coal mine explosion in Colombia has killed 21 miners. The tragedy, attributed to methane gas build-up in several adjoining coal mines, took place late on 14 March in a rural area of Sutatausa, about 75 kilometres north of Bogota. An investigation to establish the causes of the explosion will take place before a reopening can be considered. Serious accidents are common at open pit and subterranean coal and gold mines in Colombia, mostly at illegal or informal operations and those without proper safety measures. There were 117 accidents at mines in Colombia last year, killing 146 people.
ABC News.

Pakistan: Situation worsening in deadly mines

Pakistan’s government and mine owners are allowing a catastrophic loss of lives to continue, unions have warned. They note that over the last two years, at least 300 miners have been killed and more than 100 severely injured. The 2023 toll to 10 March is at least 30 miner deaths. Sultan Khan, general secretary of the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, said: “The situation in coal mines is worsening due to non-implementation of labour laws as well as the labour department’s negligence. We demand that the mining department conduct a thorough investigation of the accidents and that criminal cases are filed against mine owners.”
IndustriALL news release.

Qatar: Labour rights must happen now

International trade union organisations have expressed serious concerns at the situation facing migrant workers in Qatar now that the men’s football FIFA World Cup 2022 is over. The global trade union confederation ITUC warned if the labour law reforms made by the government at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in November 2017 are not fully implemented and built on there will be no positive and lasting legacy of the FIFA World Cup. The union body added that the existence of trade unions is fundamental to the continuous promotion of better working and living conditions for workers. The Qatar authorities was criticised widely over the deaths of possibly several thousand migrant workers while working on facilities and infrastructure for the World Cup.
ITUC statement. IUF news release. BWI news release.

South Korea: Government backtracks on 69-hour week

South Korea’s government has been forced to reconsider its plan to increase working hours after facing heavy criticism about health concerns. The proposed law would have extended the legal cap on working hours from 52 to 69. The backlash prompted the presidential office to order the government to re-examine the proposed bill and better “its communication with the public to seek improvements”. Prime minister Han Duck-soo said he supported a revision and that the plan would have led to “breaches of employees’ right to stay healthy”. Union leaders agreed, with a statement from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions noting: “It will make it legal to work from 9am to midnight for five days in a row. There is no regard for workers’ health or rest.”
SBS News.

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