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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

Fears sexual harassment law could be dropped

The government has been urged to protect vulnerable workers as media reports indicate ministers may backtrack on plans to strengthen workplace sexual harassment laws. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said it would be unacceptable to drop the worker protection bill in response to a backlash by Tory politicians, who claim that the new rules will force business owners to run their firms like a “police state”. The TUC leader said: “It would be utterly shameful if the government allows this bill to fall. Ministers promised to bring in new laws to tackle sexual harassment, but now appear to be backsliding. Let’s not forget – women are experiencing sexual harassment and abuse on an industrial scale.”
Update from the This is Not Working Alliance on the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill. The Telegraph. The Observer. Morning Star.

NEU votes to abolish Ofsted inspections

School inspections in England and Wales should be abolished and headteachers should refuse to work as inspectors until “toxic” pressures on mental health have been resolved, a teaching union has agreed. Delegates at the NEU’s annual conference backed a new campaign by the union to abolish Ofsted. The motion calls on the NEU to develop alternative methods of school assessment in England that are more “supportive and collaborative”, and states that “Ofsted is causing significant risk of harm to our members”. It also calls for Estyn, the schools inspectorate in Wales, to be abolished. NEU wants a freeze on all inspections until a mental health impact assessment on teaching staff is carried out, and for data on work-related suicides to be collected.
NEU news release. Morning Star. The Guardian. BBC News Online.
ACTION! Send an e-postcard to tell HSE to record work-related suicides.

Life blighting Ofsted should go - NASUWT

Teaching union NASUWT has become the latest union to call for the abolition of Ofsted, adding to growing pressure on the schools watchdog. Teachers described a “deep-seated fear” of Ofsted inspections at the union's annual conference. A motion passed at the conference acknowledged that the “perceived demands of Ofsted are the major contributor to the excessive workload and bureaucracy that blights the lives of teachers.” It instructed the NASUWT's national executive to work with other education unions to call for an immediate inspections freeze, and to launch a campaign to abolish the system in its “current form”, replacing it with a supportive framework.
BBC News Online. The Guardian.

Teachers average 54-hour work week

Teachers are working 54 hours a week on average – with about 13 of these falling outside of the normal school day, an NASUWT survey indicates. Nearly nine in 10 (87 per cent) of teachers surveyed said their workload has increased over the last year, according to a poll by the teaching union. The survey, of 8,464 NASUWT members across Britain last month, suggests that 83 per cent of teachers believe their job has adversely affected their mental health over the last 12 months. NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: “We urgently need working conditions that let teachers teach. It’s time for a limit on working hours and an end to abuse at work. Urgent reforms are needed to provide clear working rights and entitlements within a national contractual framework of a maximum 35-hour working week.”
NASUWT news release. Morning Star.

Teachers should not have to tolerate violent pupils

More than one in ten (13 per cent) teachers have been physically assaulted by a pupil in the last year, research by NASUWT has revealed. Assaults are being treated as a normal part of working as a teacher in too many schools, representatives at the teaching union’s annual conference heard. The NASUWT’s Big Question Survey also showed that teachers have in the last year been subjected to, pushing/shoving (22 per cent), threats of physical assault (19 per cent), and verbal abuse (58 per cent) by pupils. The union found 48 per cent of teachers do not feel that their school’s behaviour policy is effective or fit for purpose, and 36 per cent of those who have experienced abuse from a pupil did not feel their employer dealt with the issue satisfactorily.
NASUWT news release. Morning Star.

Teachers highlight ‘unacceptable’ asbestos dangers

It is totally unacceptable that staff and children are at risk of cancer because of the buildings in which they work and learn, delegates to the annual conference of the teaching union NEU have said. Commenting on as asbestos motion passed at the conference, Dr Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, said: “Since 1980 more than 400 school teaching professionals have died of mesothelioma in Britain, with 300 having died since 2001… it is totally unacceptable that education staff and children should be put at risk of developing this terrible disease because of the condition of the buildings in which they work and learn.”
NEU news release.

Action call on ‘workforce crisis’ in social care

The TUC and the leaders of the largest unions representing social care staff – UNISON, GMB and Unite – have called for an urgent and “critical” meeting with ministers to discuss the workforce crisis in social care. The joint letter to care minister Helen Whately came in response to the government announcement it was halving its planned funding for the social care workforce, from £500m to £250m. The unions warn “there is no serious plan in place” to address the staffing shortages in social care and describe the decision to reduce funding as a “huge step backwards”. High levels of stress and poor morale have been reported by unions in the sector.
TUC news release. GMB news release.

TSSA marks rail worker’s Covid death

Rail union TSSA has marked three years since Belly Mujinga died from Covid-19 and is calling for greater focus on health and safety for workers. The TSSA member, who died on 5 April 2000, worked at Victoria station in central London. The union says she was one of the first frontline workers to die of the virus, after she was reportedly coughed and spat at by a member of the public on the concourse. Marios Alexandrou, TSSA’s interim president, said: “What happened to Belly could have been prevented if better protections had been in place. While we remember Belly today, our union continues to fight for safe and healthy workplaces for all of our members across the rail, transport and travel industries and we want more focus put on health and safety for all workers."
TSSA news release.

New Boohoo shame over warehouse work

More than 200 low paid Boohoo workers at the firm’s giant warehouse in Crick, Northamptonshire, have lodged a collective grievance against the imposition of ‘unconscionable’ shift changes. Unite said the workers are angry that the new shift patterns will leave the mostly female workforce having only one weekend off in every five. The new shift patterns will also leave workers with fragmented single days off. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “People are not machines and deserve to able to spend time with their families, rest and have a life outside of work.” Unite regional officer Sean Kettle added: “Boohoo must allow Unite access to the Crick site to organise and represent workers to negotiate ethical and fair shift patterns.”
Unite news release.

Other News

Government to put plan to ditch EU laws on hold

Ministers have begun a full-scale retreat over post-Brexit plans to ditch thousands of EU laws by the end of this year, after Tory peers warned they would join a mass cross-party revolt in the House of Lords. The Observer reports the government has dropped plans to hold the report stage of the retained EU law bill (REUL) in the Lords soon after Easter, apparently to prevent a row in the run-up to the local elections on 4 May and to allow it time to consider a list of likely concessions to rebels. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak, commenting on reports the bill - which could have seen core workplace safety laws disappear on 31 December - could be pushed back, said the bill “put a ticking time bomb under crucial workers’ rights and environmental protections… it's why it is time to dump the bill altogether.”
The Observer. The Independent.

HSE implicated in NHS Covid ‘cover-up’

Almost two-thirds of NHS employers did not make a single, legally-required report of Covid being caught by staff working during the first 18 months of the pandemic. And four fifths (82 per cent) of NHS employers have not reported a single death of a worker from Covid caught while working in those first two waves. This equates to 127 NHS Trusts and Boards in England and Wales failing to report a single case of Covid being caught amongst healthcare workers between 1 March 2020 and 2 September 2021. An investigation by Byline Times found the reporting failure was linked to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) actively discouraging trusts from making reports under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases & Dangerous Occurrences (RIDDOR). Hundreds of these cases were subsequently established to have been transmitted to health care workers by patients.
Byline Times.

The job you did determined your Covid risk

A new study found that occupation was a major contributor to increased risk of Covid-19 infection among a number of groups of workers in England and Wales, and this risk was independent of other socioeconomic and demographic risk factors. The University College London study found healthcare workers and teachers were among those occupational groups found to be at highest increased risk of infection. The authors conclude: “These findings illustrate the importance of work as a source of infection risk during the Covid-19 pandemic, with substantial fractions of infections attributable to occupation in at-risk groups. Occupations with persistently elevated risk (ie. teachers) should be an ongoing target for interventions such as improved ventilation in schools, while understanding processes that shape differential risk in earlier phases of the pandemic is relevant for future outbreaks of respiratory infections.”
Sarah Beale, Susan Hoskins, Thomas Byrne and others. Differential Risk of SARS-CoV-2 Infection by Occupation: Evidence from the Virus Watch prospective cohort study in England and Wales, Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, volume 18, number 5, 2023.

Mental health sick days soar in civil service

Whitehall civil servants took a record 771,433 days of sick leave last year because of stress and other mental health problems, figures obtained by Labour show. That number of mental health sick days taken by officials working for government departments was 38 per cent higher than the 558,125 recorded the year before. Labour said the “shocking” figures, which they obtained under freedom of information laws, revealed “a mental health crisis at the heart of Whitehall”. The Conservative government had not properly supported people with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions, it claimed. The figures show that the amount of mental health-related sick leave across the heart of government has been rising continuously for the past decade.
The Guardian.

‘Scandalous’ mental health crisis in civil service

Unions representing Whitehall workers have blamed soaring levels of mental health sick leave on increased workloads, the impact of Covid-19, staff cuts, low pay, long hours and poor morale. The figures underlined the “scandalous” extent of mental health problems in the civil service, one said. Lucille Thirlby, the assistant general secretary of the FDA, which represents many civil servants, said: “It’s not surprising that civil servants’ mental health is suffering, as our members report increasing workload pressures and regularly working well beyond their contracted hours.” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka criticised “the government’s appalling treatment” of staff, adding: “Staff cuts, increased pressure from unmanageable workloads and low pay have worsened the already rock-bottom morale of staff.”
The Guardian.

HSE not ‘ambitious’ enough on forever chemicals

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommendations on how to deal with ‘forever chemicals’ are only a limited step forward, the national Hazards Campaign has said.  The charity was commenting on the regulatory management options analysis (RMOA) on per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) published this month by the regulator. Janet Newsham, chair of the campaign, warned the proposed action was much less ambitious than proposals being considered by the European Union. She said the EU proposal to restrict PFAS covers more than 10,000 substances. “For UK workers the HSE RMOA relies on poorly enforced COSHH legislation to protect workers and an HSE that runs scared of regulation,” she said, adding the HSE report plays down cancer risks. “The HSE needs to be bold, and ambitious, not weak and ineffective!” she said.
Hazards Campaign news release. HSE news release.

Report confirms firefighter exposures to PFAS

Firefighters face an occupational risk from exposure to PFAS ‘forever chemicals’, a report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed. Riccardo la Torre, national officer with the firefighters’ union FBU, said the regulator’s RMOA report “rightly refers to the ‘occupational exposure’ firefighters face from PFAS in foams. No-one should face losing their health because of their job. That’s why the FBU demands urgent action on all fronts to protect firefighters from these deadly health risks while they are protecting the public from fires.” He added: “In addition to eliminating exposures to PFAS we need other vital measures in place to prevent, mitigate and address exposure to dangerous chemicals. Firefighters also need annual health monitoring to catch diseases early, and access to compensation if they are diagnosed with an occupational disease.”
FBU news release. HSE news release.

‘Forever chemicals’ linked to infertility in women

Women with higher levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in their blood have a 40 per cent lower chance of becoming pregnant within a year of trying to conceive, according to a new study on the effect of PFAS on female fertility. The research was conducted in Singapore, where contamination levels are lower, but the scientists still found a strong correlation with reduced fertility. “Our study strongly implies that women who are planning pregnancy should be aware of the harmful effects of PFAS and take precautions to avoid exposure to this class of chemicals,” said Dr Nathan Cohen, lead author of the research. The study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, included more than 1,000 women of child-bearing age in Singapore who were trying to conceive.
Nathan J Cohen, Meizhen Yao, Vishal Midya and others. Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and women's fertility outcomes in a Singaporean population-based preconception cohort, Science of The Total Environment, volume 873, 15 May 2023, 162267. The Guardian.

Amey Rail fined over £500k for electrical shock

Amey Rail Limited (ARL) has been fined £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £41,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal safety offence. An investigation by industry regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) followed a serious electric shock experienced by self-employed senior linesman Allister Hunt during remedial ‘snagging’ works to overhead lines outside Paddington Station, London. The on-site team were unaware that they were working outside the electrical isolation and as a consequence Hunt touched the live 25,000 volts contact wire, which resulted in electric shock injuries. He suffered 55 per cent burns, which required skin grafts. His eyesight and hearing were also affected.
ORR news release.

Firm fined after worker’s leg crushed by forklift

Manufacturing company AkzoNobel Packaging Coatings Limited has been fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,188.60 after a worker’s leg was crushed by a forklift truck. The man had been walking across a pedestrian crossing at the Birmingham workplace when a forklift truck, being driven by another worker, collided with him, crushing his leg and ankle. The driver did not slow down and his vision was restricted as the forklift truck was carrying multiple intermediate bulk containers (IBCs). A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation identified AkzoNobel Packaging Coatings Limited’s criminal failure to provide an adequate risk assessment nor a safe system of work. There was a lack of appropriate supervision.
HSE news release.

Factory fined over vibration failure

Trucast Limited has been fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £12,204.06 costs for failing to adequately assess and control the risks to its employees when using vibrating tools. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that prior to June 2019, the manufacturer of turbocharger wheels for the automotive industry had failed to assess or take action to reduce the health risks to employees using vibrating equipment. The investigation also found the company failed to put in place an adequate health surveillance programme to monitor its workers’ health for vibration-related health effects.
HSE news release.

Communications job at hazards charity

Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (GMHC) is recruiting a communications worker. The 10-hours a week job includes liaison with the national Hazards Campaign, working on multi-media campaigns on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and contributing to delivery of multi-media campaigns and training.
GMHC job description, notes for applicants and application form.


Less than three weeks to go to #iwmd23!

There’s just over two weeks to go until International Workers’ Memorial Day, the world’s largest occupational health and safety event. The 28 April day of action, which was created by unions, sees thousands of protests, trainings and workplace activities worldwide. There are around 40 events around the UK already posted on the TUC website. Check out the website and get resources for your own event!
Britain: TUC 28 April resources and events webpages. Get your 28 April event on the map!
Global: ITUC 28 April infographics in English, French and Spanish. ITUC International Workers Memorial Day #iwmd23 graphics webpage. Find out what is happening worldwide.
Create your own customised #iwmd23 ‘Organise!’ events poster! Just add details of your own event to the Hazards poster and use online or in print.

International news

Global: Keep working for safer garment factories

24 April – four days before International Workers’ Memorial Day - marks the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, an ‘industrial homicide’ that killed more than 1,100 people and injured many more, says global union IndustriALL. The tragedy served as a turning point for the textile and garment industry as out of the rubble, the Bangladesh Accord was created. The historic union-brokered agreement to make garment factories safer, which saw hundreds of global brands sign up, has now expanded to Pakistan. “Safe factories for garment workers still need to be fought for,” say IndustriALL. “For the anniversary of Rana Plaza, please join us on social media in the fight for safe factories and to support the demand for a global agreement on factory safety.”
IndustriALL news release. Download the poster, take a photo, post on social media tagging @industriALL_gu on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @industriALL_gu. Use the hashtags: #GarmentWorkersNeedUnions, #GarmentWorkersNeedSafeFactories #RPNeverAgain

Global: Medical guide a lifesaver for work at sea

A new medical guide for ships has been published by the global shipowners’ association, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). Welcoming the new guide, which was produced with input from the global seafarers’ union ITF, general secretary Stephen Cotton said: “Crew are often hundreds of miles from shore when illness, accident or injury takes place onboard – leaving them without internet and dangerously far from the nearest hospital. In those circumstances, having up-to-date medical guidance to hand can make a real difference for limiting adverse health and safety outcomes for seafarers and fishers.” Cotton said health and safety was a “core focus area” for the ITF, which has more than 670 affiliated unions from more than 147 countries.
ITF news release.

USA: Injuries expose racism in safety enforcement

A union survey of 347 service workers in the US South has found that 87 per cent were injured on the job in the last year. The workers surveyed by the Strategic Organizing Center came from eleven states across the “Black belt,” or Southern states with historically large Black populations. Workers organised under the Union of Southern Service Workers have now filed a civil rights complaint against South Carolina’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (SC OSHA), alleging that the state agency “discriminates by disproportionately excluding black workers from the protection of its programmed inspections.” The complaint notes: “SC OSHA neglects key industries whose workforce is 42 per cent black employees, while focusing the vast majority of its programmed inspections on industries made up of only 18 per cent black workers.”
News Click. OHS Canada.
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