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Risks is the TUC’s weekly Union Health & Safety newsletter for union members, reps and activists. Sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.

International Workers' Memorial Day

It’s safety’s biggest campaign day on 28 April!  

Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don't die of mystery ailments, or in tragic ‘accidents’. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn't that important a priority. International Workers’ Memorial Day (#iwmd23) on 28 April commemorates these workers. It's a time for us to come together as a movement and as a community. To remember those who have lost their lives to work, and renew our commitment to fight for the living and make work safe. You can take part in a local event, hold a minute’s silence, honour lost workers on the International Workers’ Memorial Wall, and spread the word using the TUC’s campaign pack and the #iwmd23 hashtag. 

TUC blog - Asbestos is the biggest cause of work-related deaths
RESOURCES: 28 April campaign pack and 28 April resources and events webpages. ACTION: Get your 28 April event on the map! Share your image on the International Workers Memorial Wall.  

Union News

No backtracking on sexual harassment laws  

The government must not backtrack on promised new sexual harassment laws, the TUC has warned. The union body has told the government that it would be “shameful” if it failed to strengthen the law. According to a 24 April report in the Financial Times, ministers will allow The Worker Protection Bill to fall – despite previously vowing to support the legislation that will introduce a new preventative duty on employers to tackle harassment and abuse in the workplace. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak 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 are now backsliding under pressure from backbenchers.” He added: “Rishi Sunak must not abandon vulnerable staff. These protections are essential.”  

TUC news release. Usdaw news release. Financial Times. Government consultation on Worker Protection Bill
 

Usdaw demands action on sexual harassment 

More proactive and robust action is needed from employers to shift workplace cultures and to stop sexual harassment at work, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis has said. Writing in the Morning Star, he noted: “Sexual harassment in the workplace is not acceptable or inevitable. It is entirely preventable and we must always call it out.” He added: “We need a change in culture so that society and organisations don’t tolerate sexual harassment. Existing government and employer responses to workplace sexual harassment are inadequate and fail to protect workers. So we are calling on the government to stand by its 2021 commitment to introduce a new preventative duty on employers and reinstate the protections from third party harassment removed in 2013 to the Equality Act.” 

Morning Star.  
 

FDA inquiry call on ministerial bullying  

Following the resignation of Dominic Raab, after Rishi Sunak received a report on 20 April that upheld claims the deputy prime minister bullied civil servants, theunion FDA has called for reform of the complaints procedure and for and inquiry in to ministerial bullying. FDA general secretary Dave Penman said: “This resignation is not a vindication of the current system, it’s a damning indictment of the inadequacy of a process that relies solely on the prime minister of the day to enforce standards.” He added: “Given the scale of complaints against Dominic Raab and the evidence we have produced of a wider problem, the prime minister must now launch an independent inquiry into ministerial bullying, along the lines of the inquiry conducted by Dame Laura Cox KC commissioned under similar circumstances in parliament.” 

FDA news release. BBC Breakfast. BBC News Online. Newsnight. Channel 4 News. ITV News. The Guardian. The Independent.  

 

PM needs to end government’s ‘toxic culture’  

Civil service union Prospect has called on Rishi Sunak to end the toxic culture at the top of government. General secretary Mike Clancy said: “There has been a toxic culture at the top of government for too long with civil servants and public trust paying the price for this chaos. The prime minister now needs to clean out the rest of the stables.” The Prospect leader added: “These issues go to the heart of the anger and distrust many people feel towards the way our country runs.” He added: “It is never easy to speak out about abuse from someone in power and I would like to pay tribute to those who have had the courage to do so. This should be a wake-up call for ministers, that the way to deliver for the public is to respect and value public servants.” 

Prospect news release.  
 

Major push to test firefighters for work diseases 

A life-saving firefighter cancer monitoring project has begun in Greater Manchester, as part of a new UK-wide research project commissioned by the firefighters’ union FBU. The union said the three-day testing blitz starting on 24 April is being carried out by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), led by a world expert in fire toxicity, Professor Anna Stec.  In total, 100 firefighters are participating by providing blood and urine samples to be analysed for the number of biomarkers of cancers and other diseases, and toxic chemicals. The results will be used to detect cancers and other diseases at the early stages, and to identify evidence linking occupational cancers with exposure to toxic fire chemicals.  

FBU news release. Morning Star.  

 

Bosses not addressing effects of extreme weather 

Companies must act to protect outdoor workers from the dangerous effects of adverse weather conditions, retail staff have said. Usdaw delegates, gathered in Blackpool for the retail union’s 2023 annual delegate meeting, unanimously backed a motion which called for a right to breaks when temperatures plunge or soar. Backing the call, union deputy general secretary Dave McCrossen reminded bosses of their legal right to identify potential risks in the workplace and encouraged them to provide appropriate outdoor clothing and the right personal protective equipment. “But on its own, this isn’t enough,” he stressed. “People working outside need time indoors to dry out and warm up in winter, or to cool down in summer.” 

Morning Star
 

Exploitation continues 10 years after Rana Plaza  

Workers are still facing exploitation and dangerous work a decade after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. Commenting on 24 April, the tenth anniversary of the tragedy in which more than 1,100 workers lost their lives, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Ten years after more than a thousand workers died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse, labour rights abuses are still rife in Bangladesh and many are still working in unsafe conditions. Relentless union campaigning secured important safety protections and rights for factory workers. But many non-factory workers do not have the same protections.”  Calling for “mandatory human rights due diligence,” he added: “It’s time to do right by every single worker that died – fundamental rights must be respected and workers must be able to join a union without fear of attack.” 

TUC news release. ITUC report on Bangladesh, 2022. ITUC Global Rights Index. Morning Star. The Guardian.  
ACTION! Ask your MP to sign the Early Day Motion EDM (1079) on the 10-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster.  
 

Head's sister hits out at Ofsted boss over suicide 

The sister of a head teacher who took her own life after an Ofsted inspection has criticised the watchdog's boss for saying “I don't have any reason to doubt the inspection.” Amanda Spielman told the BBC she had no reason to doubt the report into Caversham Primary in Reading. Headteacher Ruth Perry died in January, knowing inspectors would downgrade the school's rating. Her sister, Prof Julia Waters, said Ms Spielman's response was “totally inadequate.”  She added that there had been a “glaring contrast” between what Ofsted had said about the school compared with an earlier visit in 2019 to test a new framework for inspections in England. That inspection was overseen by Spielman, who met Ruth Perry. Prof Waters said the Ofsted's system was “not fit for purpose” with urgent reforms needed to “prevent another tragedy occurring.” 

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, BBC One, 23 April 2023. BBC News Online and related story. Metro. The Guardian.  
ACTION! Send an e-postcard to tell HSE to investigate and record work-related suicides and suicide risks. www.hazards.org/hsesuicide 


Ofsted’s ‘tentative’ moves not enough 

Ofsted has lost the trust of the teaching profession and needs to reverse its ‘mad’ decision to retain the single-word grading system implicated in the suicide death of headteacher Ruth Perry, the school leaders’ union ASCL has said. General secretary Geoff Barton, commenting on a statement by Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman which announced limited changes but defending the current grading system, said: “Despite the chief inspector’s insistence that the grading system plays an integral part in the school system, the truth is that it is the grading system that is the single biggest problem.” He added: “It reduces everything that a school does to a blunt single-word description, and when this is below good, it is deeply stigmatising and damaging to the school concerned. It ends careers and makes school improvement harder to secure. In what mad world can anyone seriously think this is a good thing? 

Ofsted commentary, 21 April 2023. ASCL statement.  

 

Ofsted not listening on ‘bad system’  

Ofsted continues to be out of touch and must recognise that its approach to safeguarding needs to change, the teaching union NEU has said. Commenting on the statement from the chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, Dr Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said the “proposals try to make a bad system and more bearable” and “it is clear from the proposals outlined that Ofsted has not properly listened to, or reflected enough about, the concerns and harms that teachers and leaders have spoken out about for so long.” She added: “The NEU is asking heads not to engage in becoming inspectors until Ofsted engages with health and wellbeing concerns more seriously. We are asking school leaders who are currently employed as Ofsted inspectors to step down from this role as soon as is feasible.” 

NEU statement.  

 

Heads call for Ofsted reforms 

There needs to be a ‘fundamental review’ of the Ofsted inspection system going far further than the proposals from the chief inspector Amanda Spielman, headteachers’ union NAHT has said. The union’s general secretary, Paul Whiteman, commented: “It would appear that Ofsted is now beginning to respond to some of the issues that we have been raising following recent tragic events. It should never have taken something like this to bring about such a response, but the change in tone is helpful.” But he added: “In the longer-term we want to see a more fundamental review of how inspection works. It is becoming very clear that overarching judgments have had their day and a fundamentally different approach is required.” 

NAHT news release.  

 

Shopworkers put safety high on the agenda 

Delegates at the annual conference of the retail and distribution trade union Usdaw have put health and safety firmly on the agenda, debating issues from risk assessments, to sexual harassment, pregnant workers’ safety, safe transport, abuse and workplace temperatures. Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw general secretary told delegates: “Health and Safety is a fundamental aspect of what trade unions do. It impacts every worker, in every workplace. It's our role to ensure employers are operating in line with health and safety legislation, that they have the right policies in place, that those policies are followed and to robustly challenge them when they fail in their legal obligations.” He added: “As trade unionists, we should be using health and safety legislation and issues to organise. We need to show members and non-members that unionised workplaces are safer workplaces, that we will raise and resolve concerns at the earliest opportunity and that members' health and safety is at the forefront of our priorities.” 

 Usdaw news release

 

Union says Amazon needs to talk 

Workers at the retail giant Amazon have had enough and the company has to start listening, the GMB has said. Commenting after publication of a highly critical report from a committee of MPs, Laurence Turner, GMB head of research and policy, said: “This report confirms what Amazon workers tell us - they are stressed and burned out due to punishing targets, low pay and constant surveillance. There are serious problems at Amazon that are harming the mental and physical health of its workers.” He added: “Amazon workers at Coventry are striking because they have had enough, and more workers are other sites are now balloting for action. It's time for the company to listen to its workers and talk to GMB so we can make work better at Amazon.” Workers at the warehouse have applied for union recognition after GMB membership doubled, with the majority of the workforce now in the union.  

GMB news release and release on the Amazon strike. The Guardian. BBC News Online.  

Other News

MPs speak out Amazon's 'climate of distrust' 

A committee of MPs has warned that workplace surveillance by global retailer Amazon is stressing out its workers. The cross-party House of Commons' BEIS Committee's report on UK labour markets warns that Amazon's “surveillance practices (for whatever intention they are deployed) are leading to distrust, micromanagement and, in some cases, disciplinary action against its workers.” The Committee said that it had written to the company “expressing our dissatisfaction with the discrepancies in Amazon’s evidence and reiterated our concern that its use of surveillance technology to monitor the performance of its workers would no doubt put undue stress on its workforce.” The intervention came after Amazon admitted that workers can be fired if they do not meet productivity targets. 

Post-pandemic economic growth: UK labour markets, BEIS committee tenth report, 21 April 2023. 

 

CBI hired 'toxic' staff and failed to sack offenders 

The UK's biggest business group has admitted it hired “culturally toxic” staff and failed to fire people who sexually harassed female colleagues. The CBI said a failure to act allowed a “very small minority” of staff to believe they could get away with harassment or violence against women. In an open letter, the business lobby group - which claims to represent 190,000 firms - admitted to a series of failings and said it had made mistakes “that led to terrible consequences.” The letter from CBI president Brian McBride said there was a collective “sense of shame” at “so badly having let down the...people who came to work at the CBI.” The future of the CBI is hanging in the balance after an exodus of big name members. It has suspended its operations until June while it tries to reform its workplace. 

CBI open letter. Personnel Today. BBC News Online. The Guardian.  

 

Stressed ambulance staff quitting  

NHS ambulance trusts in England are struggling with high staff turnover as key workers leave the crisis-hit service for less stressful or better paid work, according to figures obtained by the Observer. Data sourced under the Freedom of Information Act reveals the turnover rate for advanced paramedics is 20 per cent, rising to more than 40 per cent for dispatchers, 55 per cent for assistant dispatchers, and 80 per cent for emergency call-takers and NHS 111 healthcare advisers. Sickness absence rates are higher than before the pandemic. Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said “it is no surprise that the stress they face has increased since the pandemic,” adding: “The absences caused by staff shortages and overwork are already contributing to potential delays in attending incidents.” 

The Observer.  

 

Small fines after site worker injured  

Two construction companies have been fined for criminal safety offences that saw a worker on a Newcastle site hospitalised for nearly two weeks after being struck by a 124kg panel. The lift supervisor had been using a tower crane to lift a structured insulated panel (SIP). During the operation in January 2020, the SIP struck steelwork and fell on top of the worker. He spent 13 days in hospital with fractures to his collarbone, shoulder blade, left ankle and a rib. Principal contractor Tolent Construction, which went into administration earlier this year, pleaded guilty to criminal safety offences and was fined £1,000 plus £8,468.50 costs. Recorder James Wood KC said if the firm was still trading the fine would have been £1m. Clad Build UK Limited, which was responsible for the installation of the panels, was fined £12,000 plus £45,000 costs. 

HSE news release. Construction Enquirer.  

International news

Global: 28 April call to organise for work safety  

On International Workers’ Memorial Day, 28 April, trade unions are promoting the role that organising plays in making workplaces safer and healthier as we remember all working people who have lost their lives to workplace accidents and disease. The global trade union confederation ITUC says unions are planning to use the new ILO fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment to tackle the shocking death toll of three million workers who die each year because of their work, with tens of millions more suffering life-changing injuries and ill health. ITUC says around the world, unions will use 28 April to fight risks like asbestos and toxic chemicals, and hazards like long hours and stress in the workplace, as well as demanding an increase in the number of countries ratifying and implementing all ILO health and safety conventions. 

ITUC news release in English, French and Spanish. Resources: ITUC 28 April infographics in English, French and Spanish. ITUC International Workers Memorial Day #iwmd23 graphics webpage. Find out what is happening worldwide. ILO fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment

 

Global: More brands must sign the Accord  

Global unions are calling on garment and textile brands to sign the International Accord to safeguard worker safety in Bangladesh, Pakistan and beyond. They say the legally binding Accord, orchestrated by IndustriALL and UNI in 2013 and signed with global brands and retailers, has since transformed factory safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry, given workers the right to refuse unsafe work, saved lives, supported freedom of association and increased collective bargaining. Currently 194 brands and retailers are signed on to the Accord, covering around 2.4 million workers in Bangladesh, and 46 brands and retailers – and counting – have so far signed the Pakistan Accord.  

IndustriALL news release. IOSH news release

 

Global: Amazon must sign up to safety 

The Make Amazon Pay coalition is calling on Amazon to sign the International Accord for health and safety in the apparel and textile industry.  “Amazon’s failure to sign the Accord is a failure to respect the workers producing goods in its supply chains, said  Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the global union UNI. Over 200 brands have signed the International Accord since its launch, securing safer jobs for over two million garment and textile workers in Bangladesh. The Accord established an independent body to inspect factories and set timelines for correcting occupational hazards. Lauded as “the most effective campaign of the globalised era,” UNI said it ‘revolutionised’ safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry and has now expanded to Pakistan.  Amazon is the largest retailer of clothing in the US.   

UNI news release.  
 

Europe: Top court condemns EC over carcinogen  

The EU’s top court has condemned the European Commission over its 2020 decision to allow a group of companies to continuing to use chromium trioxide, a cancer-causing chemical found in everything from chrome plating to lipstick cases. The Court of Justice of the EU found that the assessment on which the Commission based its decision did not comply with the EU’s chemicals legislation, REACH, as it had “too many shortcomings.” In written findings, the court concluded: “The Parliament is justified in arguing that the Commission was not in a position to conclude that the socio-economic benefits of those uses outweigh the risks they entail for human health.” 

Politico.  

 

New Zealand: Call for silica action spreads 

New Zealand’s national union body NZCTU is calling on the country’s government to protect working people who are being exposed to deadly dust from engineered stone. NZCTU president Richard Wagstaff said workers across multiple industries are facing unnecessary risks associated with hazardous exposure to silica and other dust. “There is a need for strong and swift regulatory action to properly protect workers, including moving towards a ban on the material, as Australia is currently doing,” said Wagstaff. “We need to act now to stop or face another epidemic of the size, scale and impact of that caused by asbestos.” 

NZCTU news release.  
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. www.hazards.org/HSEstopkillingus 

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