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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

No protection from new AI technology abuses

The government is failing to protect workers from being “exploited” by new AI technologies, the TUC has warned. The union body’s alert came as politicians, tech leaders, regulators and unions met for the TUC AI conference on 18 April. The TUC said AI is “transforming” the way people work, adding AI-powered technologies are now making “high-risk, life changing” decisions about workers’ lives. These decisions include line-managing, hiring and firing staff. AI tools can be used to track worker performance, sometimes making automated decisions to effectively fire employees, the TUC said. It warned AI could “set unrealistic targets that then result in workers being put in dangerous situations that impact negatively on their both physical health and mental wellbeing.”
TUC news release. TUC manifesto on the ethical use of AI at work. BBC News Online. The Guardian. More on work hazards from AI.

Miserly sick pay is punishing low paid

Britain's “miserly” sick pay system is “punishing” low-paid workers, the TUC has said. Commenting on the Resolution Foundation’s Low Paid Britain Report, which criticises the UK’s lack of decent sick pay, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Nobody should be plunged into financial hardship if they become sick. But Britain has one of the most miserly sick pay rates in Europe.” The TUC leader added: “We must fix our broken sick pay system by making statutory sick pay available from day one and raising it to the level of the real living wage. The lack of decent sick pay cost us dear during the pandemic. The government should have learned this lesson.”
TUC news release. Resolution Foundation news release and Low Paid Britain Report. Morning Star.

Evidence sought in blacklisting collusion inquiry

Unite is stepping up its search for information into the possible collusion by trade union officials into the blacklisting of construction workers. In April 2022 Unite established an independent inquiry into allegations that some union officials may have colluded with the blacklisting of construction workers. Workers were frequently denied work for raising safety concerns on site, with an illegal industry-financed blacklisting organisation - The Consulting Association - coordinating a system which included details on over 3,000 site workers. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Blacklisting is a disgusting practice which ruins workers’ lives. Unite has been and continues to be at the forefront of stamping out this practice once and for all.”
Unite news release. Independent Blacklisting Collusion Inquiry. Blacklist Blog. Personnel Today.

Teachers overworked and under-paid – official

Urgent action is required to tackle an ‘out of control’ system that is seeing teachers overworked and driven out of the profession, the NEU has said. The teaching union was responding to a government report that found school leaders reported working on average 57.5 hours in the most recent full working week before being surveyed, with part-time leaders reporting an average of 48.8 hours. Full-time teachers averaged 51.9 hours, with 37.3 hours for part-time teachers. NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney commented: “The inescapable conclusion for all who read it now, is that teacher workload is not only out of control but driving talented people out of the profession.” He added: “The government should act immediately to reduce the excess workload associated with our failing accountability system and should also plan to increase staffing and reduce class sizes.”
NEU news release. Working lives of teachers and leaders report, DfE, 11 April 2023.

Usdaw joins #Shopkind campaign

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed the 19 April launch of national #ShopKind Week, which encourages shoppers to treat staff with respect. New polling reveals that more than one in three people believe that shopping has become more frustrating as a result of the cost of living crisis and 36 per cent of customers have personally witnessed a shopworker being verbally or physically abused by another customer. The #ShopKind campaign is backed by the Home Office and supported by over 100 leading high street retailers and Usdaw. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “These are key workers delivering essential services and we stand together to say that abuse should not be a part of their job.”
Usdaw news release. ShopKind Week.

Ministers must commit to asbestos removal

The TUC is demanding a national plan to remove asbestos from all public and commercial buildings. The TUC call came this week as MPs debated asbestos in workplaces. The parliamentary debate took place just days after an inquest found that former MP Alice Mahon died of an industrial disease linked to asbestos exposure. The union body is calling for a new legal duty to safely remove asbestos, with a clear timetable for its ‘eradication’. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “The only way to protect today’s workers and future generations is through the safe removal of asbestos from every workplace and public building. Ministers must commit to removing all asbestos to keep future generations safe.”
TUC news release. Asbestos in the workplace, parliamentary briefing, 14 April 2023.
The asbestos crisis: Why Britain needs an eradication law, All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, January 2023.

Other News

Labour MP died of industrial disease

A former Labour MP died from the deadly effects of asbestos, an inquest has heard. Alice Mahon, who was Halifax’s MP for 18 years until 2005, died on Christmas Day 2022 as a result of a cancer she developed because of exposure to asbestos, an inquest at Bradford Coroner's Court heard. The former Labour MP worked as a trainee nurse and auxiliary nurse at a hospital in Northowram where she was exposed to asbestos. She also recalled exposure to the dust during maintenance work at her House of Commons office. Assistant coroner Angela Brocklehurst concluded Mrs Mahon died as the result of an industrial disease, malignant mesothelioma.
Telegraph and Argus. Yorkshire Post. Huddersfield Examiner. ITV News.

Alarm as asbestos kills school and hospital workers

Fresh concerns have been raised about the amount of asbestos remaining in dilapidated schools and hospitals, after a new analysis found that almost 150 health and education workers were recorded as dying from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in recent years. According to official data, there have been 147 mesothelioma deaths among health and education workers since 2017. This is likely to be a significant underestimate because of the way someone’s profession is recorded on death certificates. In total, 94 education professionals and 53 healthcare professionals in England have died of mesothelioma since 2017, according to the analysis of death certificate data recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
IBAS News. The Observer. Mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, 2022, HSE, November 2022.

Unions repeat asbestos concerns

Latest statistics on the asbestos cancer mesothelioma have reinforced repeated union warnings about the risk from asbestos in public buildings. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the teaching union NEU, said capital spending on school buildings has collapsed since 2010, with a decline by 50 per cent in real terms. He said this amounted to “a catalogue of neglect which must be addressed urgently with a new focus on retrofitting education buildings to make them safe and sustainable.” Jon Richards, Unison’s assistant general secretary, said: “Public buildings need to be free of the fatal fibres. The solution is a properly funded building programme. Pupils, patients and staff should no longer have to put up with unsafe, unpleasant surroundings. This would help kickstart the much-needed economic recovery too.”
The Observer. The Conversation.

Public buildings asbestos crisis revealed

More than 4,500 public buildings across 20 of the highest populated council areas in Britain still contain asbestos. The figures were collated in response to requests submitted by law firm Irwin Mitchell under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and revealed that 4,533 public buildings across the 20 councils – ranging from as far north as Glasgow to as far south as Cornwall – still contain asbestos. Schools are the largest category of buildings affected, making up almost a quarter of the total number. If this is repeated around the country, the law firm estimates across the 387 local authorities in Britain there are around 87,000 public buildings containing asbestos.
Irwin Mitchell news release and Asbestos in Public Buildings report, April 2023.

Asbestos rogue firm fined after director jailed

Unlicensed asbestos removal company Asbestos Boss Ltd has been fined £80,000 after its director was jailed last month for failing to ensure the safe removal of the dangerous product from premises countrywide. As well as failing to take precautions to protect its workers and customers, the company provided fake air test certificates and waste transfer notes to customers and falsified asbestos training certificates and insurance documents. Company director Daniel Luke Cockcroft was jailed for 10 months in March after pleading guilty to criminal safety offences. At a sentencing hearing on 12 April, Asbestos Boss was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay compensation and court costs totalling £10,000.
HSE news release.

Site suicide rate up for fifth year in a row

The suicide rate among construction workers has increased for a fifth year in a row. Glasgow Caledonian University, in conjunction with the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, found that the suicide rate for construction occupations in 2021 is now at 33.82 per 100,000, up from 25.52 per 100,000 in 2015. Unite national officer for construction Jason Poulter said: “These figures are chilling. Every one of these deaths is an individual tragedy. Sadly, construction suicide rates are inexplicably tied to the way the industry operates, with high levels of working away from home, insecure employment and long hours all being obvious factors.” He added: “Everyone associated with the industry needs to work harder to reduce the suicide rates but until the fundamental structural problems are resolved, this will remain a huge challenge for the sector.”
Morning Star.

ACTION! Send an e-postcard to tell HSE to investigate and record work-related suicides and suicide risks.

Big rise in nurses trying to kill themselves

Hundreds of nurses tried to take their own lives last year, with many feeling at ‘a point of no return’ amid intense pressures and burnout, a mental health charity has said. Data from the Laura Hyde Foundation (LHF) shows a dramatic increase in the number of nurses attempting suicide in the past two years. Some 366 nurses are known to have tried to take their own lives in 2022, a 62 per cent increase from 226 in 2020. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 482 nurses took their own lives between 2011 and 2021 in England. LHF, set up in memory of Royal Navy nurse Laura Hyde, who died by suicide in 2016, also said unrelenting pressures, soaring living costs, poor working conditions and bullying are playing a part in the decline of nurses’ mental health.
Nursing Standard.

Work factors linked to nursing suicides

A new study has found substantial evidence that nursing professionals, especially women, are at a higher risk of suicide as a result of heavy workloads, bullying, understaffing and feeling ill-prepared to do their jobs. Researchers from Oxford University, who examined 100 papers on suicide risks in nurses, found occupational issues appear to have both direct and indirect influences on suicide risk, “perhaps supported by evidence showing suicide rates are lower around retirement age.” The authors note: “Directly, job-loss has been implicated as contributory, and indirectly, occupational difficulties may act as an underlying thread, increasing vulnerability to several risk factors, including physical and psychiatric conditions, substance misuse, and interpersonal problems, all of which have been shown to increase suicide risk in the general population.”
Samantha Groves, Karen Lascelles, Keith Hawton. Suicide, self-harm, and suicide ideation in nurses and midwives: A systematic review of prevalence, contributory factors, and interventions, Journal of Affective Disorders, Volume 331, 15 June 2023, Pages 393-404, ISSN 0165-0327.

HSE challenged on ‘dust lies’

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been accused of condemning over 1,000 workers a year to a slow, agonising death by refusing to follow the US, Canada, Australia and other countries by introducing a more protective workplace exposure limit for silica dust. The UK safety regulator told Hazards magazine there is neither the evidence nor the costings to justify tightening the exposure standard for the lung-shredding dust. But the magazine discovered “HSE has expunged key evidence from its website” and does not intend to do the costs calculation it insists is necessary to justify a more protective standard. It concludes: “Workers are continuing to have what HSE admits are inadequately controlled exposures, with an exposure limit it knows will see hundreds and in all likelihood thousands of workers each year develop life shortening and disabling diseases. It is not a survivable position.”
Dust lies: UK workers face deadly silica exposures while other countries act, Hazards magazine, number 161, 2023.
ACTION! Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective UK silica exposure limit no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³.

Health workers need better radiation protection

Women working in healthcare who are regularly exposed to radiation from x-rays and other imaging procedures need better protection to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. An editorial in the journal BMJ notes that ionising radiation is a known human carcinogen and breast tissue is highly radiation sensitive. However, current radiation PPE provides inadequate protection for breast tissue as it leaves exposed the area close to the armpit (known as the upper outer quadrant and axilla - the most common site of breast cancer). “Providing adequate breast covering PPE could therefore reduce radiation exposure and potentially help prevent breast cancer in female healthcare workers,” write Isobel Pilkington and colleagues.
Isobel Pilkington and others. Editorial: Protecting female healthworkers from ionising radiation at work, BMJ, 12 April 2023;381:e075406

£1m fine for concrete firm after horror death

Concrete manufacturer Creagh Concrete Products Ltd (CCP) has been fined £1m and ordered to pay costs of £47,521.08 after a 24-year-old worker died at a site in Nottingham. Stewart Ramsay suffered fatal head injuries on 15 March 2017. Known as ‘Stew’, he was trying to fix a problem that arose as he and colleagues were using a metal grab to unload Spantherm, a concrete building product, from trailers. His head became trapped in the jaws of the grab after a rope connected to the locking lever snapped. The metal grab should not have been in use.
HSE news release. Hucknall Dispatch. Nottingham Post.

Roofer jailed after fatal fall

A man has been jailed after a worker fell from the roof of a commercial property in North London and died a week later. Patrick McCarthy, trading as All Care Home Improvements, was given a 14-month custodial sentence after the death of Andrei-Ionel Hutanu, 33, in August 2019. McCarthy, 37, had pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found he had failed to install scaffolding around the perimeter of the building or flat roof where both men were working.
HSE news release.

Trucking firm fined after mechanic dies

Lancashire trucking company E Jackson (Chatburn) Limited has been fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,712.80 after a mechanic died while repairing a forklift truck. Joseph Robinson was working with a new employee as they attempted to fix a steering fault on the 30-year-old forklift at the firm’s site Clitheroe on 13 October 2020. While doing this, the 39-year-old told the new employee, who was driving the forklift truck, to move the vehicle forwards. However, the forklift truck reversed and trapped Mr Robinson against a trailer. He was taken to hospital with severe head injuries following the incident and placed in an induced coma. He died the following day.
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.


Are you geared up for 28 April?!

Just over a week to go until International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April – the biggest event on the trade union safety calendar. Make sure you are ready with your own events and activities or know about other local initiatives – check out the dedicated TUC webpage. And get your union publicity out! Excellent resources are also available from the national Hazards Campaign. You can order 28 April purple ribbons, car stickers and ‘Organise!’ posters, bags, t-shirts and hi-vis jackets.
RESOURCES: Hazards Campaign 28 April resources. Organise! 28 April posters, specify A4 or A3, free plus cost of postage. Purple ribbons, £50/100. Car stickers: single £1, 2-10 50p each, 11-100 30p each. Bags, £5 plus postage. Organise v-neck t-shirts or Hi-viz gilets (sizes S, M, L, XL), £10. Contact the campaign for discount rates for larger orders.
Print off order form. Further details, email Janet Newsham or phone 07734 317158.
TUC EVENTS LISTING: 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.

International news

Africa: New plan to protect health workers

In a move to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of health workers in African countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has embarked in a collaboration with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The joint effort aims to strengthen the capacities of African countries to provide occupational health and safety measures for safeguarding their health workers. The joint project will focus on placing safety at the centre of health care, promoting the rights of health workers to healthy and safe environments, and building capacities for improving working conditions in in the health sector.
WHO news release.

Global: Union organisation is a life or death issue

No-one should die to make a living. But a report in Hazards magazine warns bad jobs still kill someone somewhere every six seconds, every day, round the clock. Last year the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) recognised occupational health and safety as a top rated ‘fundamental’ right at work. “Politically, it’s a game changer,” the report notes. “Practically, workers have continued to die, an estimated 3 million in the last year alone.” The report ahead of International Workers’ Memorial Day cites evidence showing clearly that union organising can dramatically reduce risks to health and safety at work. “It shows walking out or being walked all over can be a life or death decision,” the report notes.
Everyday heroes: The lifesaving union effect. Hazards, number 161, 2023.

USA: Serious fungal infection hits paper mill workers

The United Steelworkers union (USW) has called for testing and cleaning in paper mills across the US after an outbreak of the fungal disease blastomycosis killed one worker and sickened more than 90 others at a facility in Escanaba, Michigan. USW international president Tom Conway commented: “Rather than waiting to see if cases develop at other paper mills, management across the industry must be proactive and institute robust safeguards now.” The Escanaba mill, owned by Billerud, is currently idled while it undergoes deep cleaning. The USW is working with management and national health and safety officials to determine the precise source of the outbreak and ensure workers receive appropriate treatment. The fungus responsible for Blastomycosis is typically found in soil and decaying wood.
Billerud news release. USW news release. Detroit News. Detroit Free Press. NBC News. PHDM statement.

USA: Amazon injury rates twice that of competitors

Amazon warehouses have an injury rate more than twice that of their competitors, according to an analysis by a coalition of unions. The report, which was compiled by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), examines data Amazon submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It found the company's injury rate was 6.9 per cent in 2022, down on the 7.9 per cent the year before but up on the 2020 rate of 6.6 per cent. The SOC report said the Amazon injury rate is more than double that of all non-Amazon warehouses, which had 3.2 serious injuries for every 100 workers. Union safety experts blame the higher injury rates at Amazon on the company's fast-paced warehouses that track productivity as part pressure to ensure customers get their packages quickly.
CBS News.
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