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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

Employers must keep staff safe in the heatwave

The TUC is calling on employers to make sure their staff are protected from the sun and heat throughout the heat wave. And the union body is calling on government to improve protections for workers by bringing in rules on maximum working temperatures. The union body warns that working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in the most extreme cases – loss of consciousness. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said “working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous – whether it’s in an overheated shop, a baking office or outdoors in the direct sun.” He added “employers must make sure outdoor workers are protected with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing.”
TUC’s Eight steps to keep cool and interactive guide, Too hot, too cold. HSE news release.

Soaring insecure work left millions at virus risk

The Covid public inquiry must look at how the “unchecked growth” of insecure work left millions of low-paid and frontline workers vulnerable to the pandemic, the TUC has said. A new analysis by the union body shows that between 2011 and the end of 2019, the number of people in insecure work grew by a fifth. In 2011, the numbers in insecure work were 3.2 million. By the end of the decade, the numbers were 3.7 million. The Covid-19 male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared to 24 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations. The Covid-19 female mortality rate in insecure occupations was 25 per 100,000, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations. Black and minority ethnic and low paid workers were “forced to shoulder most risk,” the TUC said.
Austerity and the pandemic: How cuts damaged four vital pillars of pandemic resilience, TUC, 5 June 2023. Morning Star. The Guardian.

New safety rep intro courses

The TUC says while safety reps have the most powerful union rep role, “we know they’re not yet representative of our wider membership. We also know women and Black workers often face more risk at work.” In response, The TUC has organised four free, one-day, online introductory courses. These are open to any member of a TUC affiliated union, but they must be a woman or Black member for each respective course.
TUC introductory course for new safety reps: Women members only on Saturday 17 June and Friday 23 June; Black members only on Saturday 24 June and Tuesday 27 June.

Ofsted school inspections to change after campaign

School inspections in England are to change after the suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry led to pressure for reform. Education secretary Gillian Keegan said the changes announced on 12 June 2023 were “a really important step” and that Ofsted was right to continue to “evolve” to raise school standards. Ofsted will revisit schools graded inadequate over child welfare within three months, and there will be an overhaul of its complaints system, but the one-word ranking system would remain. Ruth Perry’s sister, Prof Julia Waters, told the BBC the changes were a “step in the right direction” to ensure other headteachers were not put under the “intolerable pressure” her sister had faced. On 13 June, the Commons Education Select Committee announced an inquiry into the Ofsted system, with chair Robin Walker noting there had been a “notable groundswell of criticism.”
Education Select Committee inquiry: Ofsted’s work with schools. BBC News Online. Guardian editorial.
ACTION! Send an e-postcard to tell HSE to investigate and record work-related suicides and suicide risks.

Suicide pledge must lead to ‘meaningful change'

The pledge from the education secretary to reform the school inspection system must spark an ‘immediate and meaningful change’, headteachers’ union NAHT has said. Responding to Gillian Keegan’s commitment to make changes to the accountability system, including inspection, and offer further support with school leaders’ wellbeing, Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said “it is regrettable that it is has taken a tragedy of this nature for the government to finally realise that reform of school inspection is required.” He added:  This announcement must open the door to immediate and meaningful change agreed with the profession.”
NAHT news release. BBC News Online.

Ofsted inspection changes not nearly enough

Changes to the Ofsted inspection regime planned by the government do not address the scale of change needed to create an ‘effective and fair’ system, education unions have said. NEU’s joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted commented: “The further investment in the wellbeing of leaders through Education Support is necessary and long overdue. However, more extensive, and fundamental changes are needed to limit the damage done by Ofsted to leader and teacher wellbeing.” She said the measures “do not go nearly far enough to address the deep concerns of teachers and leaders about the surveillance model of school inspection in England.” Community national officer Helen Osgood said: “There must be an end to one-word outcomes.” And NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said problems arising from “the crude grading system” still needed to be addressed.
NEU news release. Community news release. NASUWT news release. GMB news release. DfE senior mental health lead training. Morning Star.

Labour to link procurement to good, safe jobs

Keir Starmer has promised to use public procurement to help create “unionised jobs” in the UK, after being pressed by a striking worker from Amazon’s Coventry warehouse. Responding to GMB member Garfield Hylton, Starmer said: “There’s a framework for public procurement, at the heart of which is dignity and respect, and we expect to see unionised jobs, and support unionised industries.” Gary Smith, the GMB’s general secretary, responded that government contracts “are extraordinary sums of money, when Amazon workers are having to go on strike for decent pay. If this amount of taxpayer cash is spent on a private company, the contract must come with guarantees on worker pay, health and safety and their right to be represented by a formally recognised trade union.”
The Guardian.

Full extent of NHS staffing crisis revealed

Shocking staff shortages in the NHS are directly impacting on patient safety and the health of the workforce, a Unite survey has found. The survey of over 3,000 Unite members, working in a multitude of roles throughout the NHS in England, revealed that 48 per cent said that in the past year staffing levels in their area regularly reached a point where “patient care has been compromised and unsafe”. Unite lead officer Onay Kasab said: “NHS staff are dedicated to the health service but the chronic lack of staff, combined with low pay is making them ill and resulting in skilled, dedicated workers leaving in droves.” The survey found that two-thirds of respondents (66 per cent) recorded that they regularly felt stressed at work and over threequarters (76 per cent) said they were regularly tired at work.
Unite news release.

Strikes over safe staffing intensify

Unite has announced fresh strikes in the NHS as it escalates its industrial action over pay and safe staffing levels. Action this month will involve workers at West Midlands Ambulance Service, Christie Hospital in Manchester, the City Hospital in Birmingham and Yorkshire Ambulance Service. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The pay offer put forward by the government does nothing to address the recruitment and retention crisis of staff which is promoting the current staff exodus. Ministers must know that.” Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab said: “Unite’s members are prepared to stand up and be counted in their fight for fair pay and safe staffing levels. As the dispute escalates there will be further industrial action in the coming weeks and months.”
Unite news release.

Scots bill would support those injured at work

Scottish Labour’s Mark Griffin has launched a new Bill to support those injured in the workplace. The Central Scotland MSP, launching the Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill at the Scottish parliament, said the intention was to set up a new advisory council that would have powers to conduct research into long-term illness in modern workplaces, to improve work safety and to better tailor benefits to victims. STUC general secretary Roz Foyer welcomed the bill. “Workers will suffer in silence no longer and, through the proposed Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council, they can have their voices heard,” she said.
Morning Star.

‘Reckless’ Serco managers putting strikers at risk

Serco management has been urged by the union GMB ‘to act urgently’ after picket line observers reported senior managers at Serco Sandwell driving aggressively around strikers. The complaints came on 8 June, as refuse workers entered the fourth day of strike action in a pay dispute. GMB organiser Justine Jones said: “Our members safety on the picket line is non-negotiable. Tensions are high, but if management can’t control their emotions around the industrial action then they need to steer clear of our picket line.” She added: “This kind of behaviour is reckless and needs to end. We’re calling on Serco to act urgently before this becomes a police matter”.
GMB news release. BirminghamLive.

Greening maritime must include social justice

Maritime unions welcomed a new maritime skills strategy produced by the pan-European SkillSea project, but have said it must combine environmental transition with social justice. Nautilus International executive officer Sascha Meijer said: “Together, we want environmental transition to go hand in hand with social justice and social progress. We want the jobs of the future to be decent jobs, safe jobs, attractive jobs, and inclusive jobs.” She added: “The jobs of the future also need to be workable, with decent hours or work and rest. The seafaring jobs of the future need to be attractive, highly skilled jobs that seafarers are proud to carry out… Not least of all we need to work on mental health, on seafarers' wellbeing and to ban bullying and harassment.”
Nautilus news release.

Drone hits worker during site survey flight

A drone fell from the sky and hit a construction worker during an inspection flight on a house building site in Lancashire. An Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said the drone suffered a rapid loss of battery power above the Garsteng site. The remote pilot initiated an immediate automatic landing from the drone’s operational 50 metre height but it stopped responding to controls. The report stated: “The unmanned aerial drone struck a site worker on their arm, dropped into some cement, and fell to the ground. The site worker was not injured.” Drone technology is being used increasingly in construction applications.
AAIB investigation report, 8 June 2023. Construction Enquirer.

High hazard HSE inspector numbers plummet

The number of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulatory inspectors policing hazardous installations, including chemical and explosive manufacturers and infectious disease units, has fallen by 27 per cent since 2008, a leaked internal document has revealed. The figures, for HSE’s Hazardous Installations Directorate, cover its two separate divisions, Chemicals, Explosives and Microbiological Hazards Division (CHEMHD) and the Energy Division (ED) - both divisions regulating high hazard industries. The figures, leaked to the ENDS Report, show the total number of administrative staff within the Hazardous Installations Directorate has declined by 40 per cent and the number of specialist inspectors has declined by 11 per cent. The only area to see an increase is in offshore specialists, which has increased by 6 per cent.
ENDS Report, 2 June 2023.

Equity launches AI toolkit to fill rules gap

Actors’ union Equity has launched an AI toolkit to protect performers from a surge in the unregulated technology across the entertainment industry. The new resource sets out ethical use of AI and provides legal templates for artists to enforce their legal rights. The toolkit was developed in partnership with intellectual property expert Dr Mathilde Pavis. “The Equity toolkit is a very good, but temporary, solution to protect performers until the UK government reforms the law,” she said. A major concern for the union is ‘performance cloning’, the creation of a synthetic performance by recording, using or reproducing the performance, voice or likeness of an artist by machine learning systems. AI has been linked to a range of workplace health and safety risks.
Morning Star. The TUC AI manifesto. More on the work hazards of AI.

Employers must act on sexual harassment

Employers and unions must focus on “deeds not words” when fighting endemic sexual harassment in workplaces, GMB national president Barbara Plant has said. She told delegates at a GMB congress fringe meeting that having better policies is “never enough — they have to be enacted to build up a cycle of trust” with survivors, adding “there has to be deeds as well as words.” Plant said: “The reason women don’t come forward is because they don’t think they’ll be believed, they’re not treated with empathy.”
Morning Star.

Bring safety critical tube staff in-house

An 8 June 2023 RMT protest outside London Town Hall in Newham has seen Tube workers demand an end to the outsourcing of safety critical track protection staff. The union wants the work undertaken by the Morson and Cleshar Framework subcontracted workers brough back in-house. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said recent dangerous incidents, including one where a track worker was struck by a train at Chalfont Latimer in April last year, exposed “structural issues that go to the heart of problems with this employment model and they show why these workers, like other maintenance workers, should be employed in-house as part of established teams.” An official report linked the April incident to the use of insecure agency workers.
RMT news release.

Deco-Pak boss jailed for worker’s manslaughter

The owner of a garden supplies firm has been jailed and the company fined £700,000 plus £90,000 in court costs after a worker was crushed to death by a robotic packing arm. Andrew Tibbott, 48, died while working at Deco-Pak in Hipperholme, West Yorkshire, on 14 April 2017, after he was fatally injured by the machine. The machine's safety features had been bypassed or disabled, a trial was told. Company owner Michael Hall was jailed for five years after being convicted of gross negligence manslaughter. Mr Tibbott, who had worked for the firm for less than six weeks, was crushed while attempting to clean a sensor on the machine. Prosecutors said senior management at the firm were notified on numerous occasions about the bypassing of safety systems and the likely consequence of accidents and injury.
CPS news release. West Yorkshire Police news release. BBC News Online.

Firm fined following Legionnaires’ outbreak

A plastics manufacturing company in West Bromwich has been fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £11,000 in costs after it put workers and the public at risk of being infected with potentially deadly bacteria. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated Riaar Plastics Limited after members of the public five members of the public were infected with Legionnaires’ disease in September 2020. One was taken to intensive care and put on a ventilator. HSE found the water cooling towers inherited by the firm at its West Bromwich site, were in an extremely poor condition. This allowed Legionella bacteria to grow in the water-cooling towers and pipes, exposing employees and members of the public to risks of significant ill-health.
HSE news release. More on biological hazards at work.

Scots seafood firm fined £80k after fisher drowns

A Scots seafood firm has been fined £80,000 after a crew member drowned when his leg was caught in a rope and he was pulled overboard. Bosses at Scrabster Seafoods Limited pleaded guilty to criminal health and safety breaches at Tain Sheriff Court. The court heard that if the Thurso-based company had updated its risk assessment and put proper safety procedures in place, Mark Elder may still be alive today. An investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) found the directors of Scrabster Seafoods Limited had no experience of operating and managing fishing vessels, and when they purchased the boat in November 2016 they failed to arrange or complete the required risk assessment or a further risk assessment after an extensive refit of the working deck in 2017.
COPFS news release. Daily Record. BBC News Online.

National Hazards Conference, 1-3 September 2023

It’s time to book your place for the national Hazards Conference for trade union safety reps and activists. This year the event, which has a mix of plenary sessions, meetings and a comprehensive workshop programme, runs from 1-3 September at Keele University, Stoke on Trent, or can be attended online. The organisers are also seeking sponsorship for the event.
National Hazards Conference, Keele University or online, 1-3 September 2023. Register for the conference using this form or on Eventbrite. Sponsorship form.

New Zealand: Nurses to ‘bargain hard’ for safety

Nurses, midwives, health care assistants and other staff who work for Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand - say they will continue to bargain hard until their demands to be valued and safe at work are met. Rejecting a pay offer, a resolution agreed by New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) members said they “will decide on necessary actions to achieve an acceptable settlement.” Union delegate Al Dietschin said members were exhausted and burned out from unsafe staffing levels and high patient demand, and that the resolution sends a strong message to Te Whatu Ora that they are not in any mood to accept an offer that does not value them or address their dangerous workplaces.
NZNO news release.

International News

Europe: Make teaching safe to keep qualified staff

Education employers must protect teachers’ safety and health if they want to attract and retain qualified staff, a Europe-wide education unions’ federation has said. ETUCE said the attractiveness of the teaching profession is constantly undermined by the heavy workloads and high stress levels that strongly affect teachers' job performance and satisfaction. It says its ‘Make Teaching Attractive’ campaign spells out the “interrelation between Occupational Safety and Health in education and the status and attractiveness of the teaching profession.” It adds: “ETUCE demands governments and policymakers take effective measures to improve the safety and wellbeing of teachers, academics, researchers, and other education personnel to restore the attractiveness of the teaching profession, with particular attention to the young generations.”
ETUCE campaign and safe and secure workplaces resources.

Global: Night shifts ‘detrimental’ to cleaners

A groundbreaking international survey of cleaners, commissioned by the global union UNI, has shed light on the significant challenges faced by cleaners working irregular and unsocial shifts. The survey, which received responses from over 2,500 cleaners in 32 countries across six continents, highlights the detrimental effects of night time work on the health, well-being, and social inclusion of workers. Adverse effects include isolation, difficulties in maintaining relationships, strained social lives, poor sleep schedules, exhaustion, and adverse impacts on physical and mental health. Eddy Stam, UNI head of property services, said: “This survey reinforces the urgent need for the industry to address scheduling issues and prioritise the physical and mental health of cleaners.”
UNI news release and Global survey on night shifts unveils detrimental effects on cleaners, June 2023.

Italy: Swiss billionaire convicted over asbestos deaths

An Italian court has sentenced a Swiss billionaire to 12 years in jail after convicting him on charges of aggravated manslaughter related to the death of hundreds of people from exposure to asbestos. Judges in the city of Novara issued the verdict on 7 June 2023. Stephan Schmidheiny was found guilty of causing the death of 392 people, including more than 60 workers and around 330 residents in the northern town of Casale Monferrato, where his Eternit firm was based. Schmidheiny's factories had used asbestos in the production of cement between the 1970s and the 1980s. They closed in 1986, but workers and local residents continued to suffer the consequences. Under Italian law, Schmidheiny is unlikely to be jailed until two appeals are exhausted.
Reuters news report. The Guardian. Forbes.

Kenya: Meta ordered to care for moderators

Meta has been ordered to “provide proper medical, psychiatric and psychological care” to a group of moderators in Nairobi following a ruling in a Kenyan employment court. The instruction by judge Byram Ongaya formed part of a broader interim ruling that saw the moderators’ jobs restored after they sued Facebook owner Meta in March for what they termed a “sham” mass redundancy. The moderators, who are looking to organise in a union, said mental health struggles, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation, are a standard outcome of their harrowing work, which requires them to sift through dark material on the internet for long hours.
The Guardian.

Australia: Employers are always behind work fatalities

A ‘ten pathways to death and disaster’ test has established employer culpability was present in all fatalities and serious injuries in Australian coal and metal mining. Heather Jackson, a researcher at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales (NSW), examined 51 fatal or serious incidents in mines in NSW. Writing in the journal Safety Science, she noted that unlike multiple fatalities, incidents involving single fatalities “tend to place a greater focus on individual behaviour.” However “the structural latent failures of the Ten pathways model were present and generally in substantial numbers. Further, detailed examination of these incidents showed system failures often underpinned individual behaviour/decision failures.”
Heather Jackson, Pathways to single fatality and serious injury incidents in coal and metalliferous mining in NSW, Australia: Can we learn from multiple fatality incidents to prevent serious injury?, Safety Science, volume 165, September 2023, 106194, ISSN 0925-7535,
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