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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

200-fold increase cancelled HSE investigations

The number of mandatory Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigations that weren’t carried out because of resourcing issues increased nearly 200-fold between 2016/17 and 2021/22, the union Prospect has revealed. The union’s report, ‘HSE under pressure: a perfect storm’, uses HSE’s own figures and shows that in 2016/17 there were just two mandatory investigations cancelled because of insufficient resources; in 2021/22 the figure was 389. Mike Clancy, general secretary of the union, which representing HSE inspectors, said: “The bottom line is that if effective investigations cannot be carried out then those who are at fault for an accident may get away with it, depriving victims of justice and making workplaces less safe.
Prospect news release and report, HSE under pressure: a perfect storm, 28 April 2023. The Guardian.

‘Dangerous’ government slammed over law cull

Unions, employers, and occupational health and safety bodies have joined forces to slam the Retained EU Law Bill as dangerous legislation which threatens to rip up key workplace safety protections. In a joint letter to ministers, 25 organisations including the TUC, British Safety Council, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and Institution of Occupational Safety and Health set out why the Bill should be ditched. The organisations say a rethink on the Bill is needed to “ensure that we don’t see a return to the rates of fatal and serious workplace injuries last experienced in the 1970s and 1980s”. 
TUC news release. British Chambers of Commerce news release.

Prospect slams power grab by ministers

A government bill which allows ministers to remove any EU law from the statute book without parliamentary oversight, is a “draconian shift of power to ministers,” civil service union Prospect has said. Commenting on reports the government may be ‘rowing back’ on the Retained EU Law Bill, Mike Clancy, general secretary of the union that counts Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors in its membership, said “even these reported changes still represent an unprecedented transfer of power to the executive and until we know what laws may be impacted, we must maintain opposition. Employment rights, environmental protections, health and safety rules and much more
Prospect news release.

Government must deliver sexual harassment rules

Unions and women’s groups have warned the government not to abandon essential legislation on workplace sexual harassment, following reports ministers will allow the Worker Protection Bill to fall following objections from Conservative backbenchers.  The Bill would introduce a legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and to protect staff from third party harassment by clients and customers. In a joint letter to business secretary Kemi Badenoch, campaigners – including the TUC, Fawcett Society, Amnesty International, Times Up UK, Pregnant Then Screwed, and a number of trade unions – warn that sexual harassment is “endemic” in the workplace. 
TUC news release. Community news release. CSP news release. Musicians’ Union news release.
ACTION: The Fawcett Society is calling on the public to write to their MP asking for them to support the Bill. Further information.

Firefighters’ union calls for cancer compensation  

The firefighters’ union FBU has called on the UK government to introduce legislation to ensure that firefighters with cancer and other diseases linked to their work can receive compensation. The call came on Firefighters’ Memorial Day, 4 May. The union says ‘presumptive legislation’ is already the norm for many forms of cancer and some other diseases in the USA, Australia and Canada. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The USA, Canada and Australia have all faced up to the evidence and introduced legislation to protect and compensate firefighters for cancer other diseases. But the UK is decades behind other countries when it comes to this issue. This is a national scandal.”
FBU news release and FBU research on occupational diseases and firefighters. Details of presumptive legislation in North America and Australia.

Union calls for joint probe after HS2 tragedy

An HS2 worker suffered serious injuries during drilling work on 27 April, dying later in hospital. Unite said it wants to be involved in a “full joint investigation” following the Solihull tragedy. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said  “BBV [Balfour Beatty VINCI] will be conducting its own investigation and Unite believes that this must be conducted jointly with the union. It is only by working collectively together that we can discover what occurred, learn from this tragedy, and provide the workforce with reassurance and confidence that everything is being done to protect their safety.” Unite general secretary Sharon Graham added: “Safety is always a paramount issue for Unite and it is absolutely essential that the full facts of this tragedy are fully established in a transparent manner.”
Unite news release. MSN News. Construction Enquirer.

Fatalities at work double in Scotland

New information revealed by STUC and Scottish Hazards show those dying as a result of their work in Scotland has reached its highest levels since 2019, prompting urgent calls for reform of corporate homicide legislation. The STUC, Scotland’s largest trade union body and Scottish Hazards said provisional data show that 21 workers died as a result of industrial harm this past year, almost doubling the 2019 total (11). Scottish Hazards believe the number is far higher when encompassing road traffic accidents connected to work, occupational disease and workplace related suicides. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer called the data “galling” and called for further protections for those at work. “Bosses are ultimately responsible for workers’ health and safety and they must be held accountable,” she added.
STUC news release.

Unions want injuries council for Scotland

Trade unions from across Scotland have backed the calls from an MSP to establish a new expert council to support the delivery of a Scottish social security benefit to be paid to workers injured as a result of industrial harm. Lead union body STUC and its affiliated unions have backed the Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Members’ Bill from Scottish Labour MSP Mark Griffin. The bill seeks to use new social security powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament to establish an independent council with permanent, independent trade union representation. The council would have powers to research workplace injury and diseases and recommend to government it pays specific welfare benefits to be paid to those injured as a result of workplace incidents.  
STUC news release and statement.

Unhealthy price paid by overworked teachers

A major survey of Scotland’s teaching professionals, carried out by the union EIS, has laid bare the health and wellbeing implications of the ‘severe’ levels of teacher workload, chronic system underfunding and the cost of living crisis on teachers and schools. The union said almost 16,500 teachers took part in its national survey. Almost half said they had poor (34 per cent) or very poor (10 per cent) wellbeing within their job overall. Over two-thirds of respondents said they felt stressed frequently (53 per cent) or all of the time (20 per cent). Almost all of the teachers surveyed (98 per cent) worked above their contracted hours each week.
EIS news release.

Teachers take action over bullying

Teachers at Durham High School for Girls have taken strike action over bullying and intimidation by school management. NASUWT members at the private school say they have been subject to long-standing ‘adverse’ management practices and treatment which has undermined their wellbeing, health and safety. Dr Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, said: “We have given the employer every opportunity to address the concerns of members about the way they are being managed and have presented them with hard evidence of the level of fear and anxiety that staff at the school are experiencing.” He added: “We urge the employer to recognise the seriousness of the situation and to take the steps needed to re-establish professional, accountable and respectful management of the school.” 
NASUWT news release.

Nearly half of bus workers abused at work

Almost half (48 per cent) of bus workers have experienced incidents of workplace abuse in the last two years, an RMT survey has revealed. The most common form of abuse suffered was verbal (90 per cent), over a fifth were spat and over 10 per cent had experienced a physical assault. The survey, based on 694 responses, found racial harassment was experienced by over 10 per cent of staff and over 60 per cent of respondents have had to deal with threats of violence at work. Almost all (97 per cent) said they did not get any support from their employer following an incident. The survey found 94 per cent of respondents were not paid company sick pay following an attack and 84 per cent said they did not get any additional support, such as occupational health assessments or phased return to work.
RMT news release.

Other News

Work chemical exposure causes pancreatic cancer

Every year spent working with chemical agents increases the risk of pancreatic cancer, a study has found. Overall any work with chemicals increased the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 1 per cent. Those with more than 20 years of exposure had a 39 per cent increased risk of the disease, according to a study published in the Journal Occupational Medicine. Researchers analysed 31 studies which pooled together 288,389 participants. The study authors specifically looked at how pancreatic cancer risk changes over time and found that those who worked with chemical agents for 1 to 10 years had a 4 per cent increased risk of the disease, this rose to 11 per cent for 11-20 years of exposure and 39 per cent for 21 to 30 years exposure. 
H Boonhat, A P Pratama, J T Lin, R T Lin. Duration–response association between occupational exposure and pancreatic cancer risk: meta-analysis, Occupational Medicine, 2023, kqad050, 27 April 2023.

Trucking firm fined after worker dies unloading wagon

A North Yorkshire trucking company has been fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £18,355.07 in costs after a worker was killed unloading a wagon. Anthony Clark, 51, an employee of GCS Johnson Limited, was helping move a large piece of machinery from one trailer to another on 17 August 2018 at a GCS Johnson depot. During the move, part of the machine fell from the vehicle trailer and hit the father-of-two, killing him instantly. His sister, Elaine Clark, commented: “He absolutely should not have died at work that day. He should still be here but he’s not. And that leaves a huge void in all our lives that nothing will ever replace.”
 HSE news release.

Joinery workers exposed to dangerous wood dust

A London joinery firm has been fined £20,000 plus £1,500 costs for failing to control its employees’ exposure to wood dust. F&E Joinery Limited was inspected in May 2022 as part of a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) campaign targeting woodworking businesses. Exposure to wood dust is linked to conditions including occupational asthma and nose and lung cancer. During the visit the inspector identified multiple failings related to control of exposure to wood dust, including excessive levels of settled dust around the site. The firm, which had already been served two HSE enforcement notices over a ten-year period, pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (as amended) Regulations 2002.
HSE news release.

Teen injured in fall through dairy farm roof

A Bodmin dairy farm has been fined £63,466 and ordered to pay £4,223.50 in costs after one of its workers sustained multiple injuries when he fell more than 20 feet through a roof on to a concrete floor. Mike Rossiter was just 18 when the shed roof on which he was clearing gutters gave way. The CP Button Limited employee rupturing his spleen and liver and fractured several vertebrae. An additional fracture to his left elbow required surgery and a permanent plate in his arm. “I have been left with permanent damage in my arm and no longer have full movement and I’m unable to lift and carry heavy things,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep working in the farming industry as a result of my injuries.”
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.

International news

Global: Unions strike new deal for aviation workers

Aviation unions say they have made major strides in advancing labour standards for the global aviation industry at a tripartite meeting at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The April meeting, bringing together government officials of ILO member countries, employers and workers’ representatives, recognised the need to assess the exclusion of aviation workers from protections provided by ILO’s international labour standards, particularly on issues of health and safety, and calls for the ILO to address this gap. Workers’ group spokesperson Sara Nelson said: “Decades of deregulation have driven down working conditions, and the effect on health and safety has finally been given the recognition it deserves. We have secured the recognition of this by governments and employers across the world.”
ITF news release and New Deal for Aviation.

USA: Attacks on Florida gig workers raise fears

Recent incidents in Florida where delivery app workers have been shot or injured while making deliveries have raised safety fears among gig workers across the US. The ride share and food delivery companies claim that these violent instances are very rare, however, some app-based workers have expressed increased concerns regarding their safety. In particular, gig workers of colour have described safety fears making deliveries and providing other app-based services. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, delivery and ride-hailing are among the deadliest occupations in the country due to the traffic accidents and assault risks.
AP News.
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